March 8, 2013

With "Friends" Like Yemen's, No Enemies Needed

In early January 2011, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Sana'a to manage the autocratic habits of a useful ally in the war against al-Qaeda.

Having warned other allies (Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria) of a youth bulge prior to the Arab uprisings, the Secretary now found herself just above the surface of a volcano as she mingled with Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. U.S. policy needed his approval to facilitate an expansion of military and counter-terrorism platforms in the country, but that need required less antagonistic leadership atop the government. For Clinton, this meant walking Saleh away from a parliamentary proposal that would eliminate term limits and allow him to run indefinitely, which he eventually agreed to in return for Washington's political and military assistance.

“We support an inclusive government,” Clinton replied when asked how the Obama administration could support Saleh's government and human rights at the same time. “We see that Yemen is going through a transition. And you’re right: it could one way or the other. It could go the right way or the wrong way.”

Yemen's revolution would spark weeks after Clinton shook hands with Saleh and departed the capital, never to return. Despite her professed support for a representative government, the Obama administration first treated Yemen's uprising as an obstruction to be neutralized, fearing a loss of influence with the next government. During this time al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) capitalized on Saleh's distraction in the cities to expand its ranks and territorial control in Yemen's southern governorates; Saleh's U.S.-trained counter-terrorism forces aided the process by fighting Yemen's revolutionaries and tribesmen rather than terrorists. However this chain of events ultimately created an opportunity for Washington and its allies, namely Saudi Arabia and European partners, to replace the duplicitous Saleh with his vice president and continue their policies unimpeded.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, "elected" through the UN's single-candidate referendum in February 2012, doubles as a leading proponent of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.

This hegemonic policy was displayed again on Thursday when the Obama administration released a two-part press notice from the White House and State Department. Lying to the American people when talking Yemen, unfortunately, is simpler and easier than stealing candy from a baby. The American majority lives in ignorance of Yemen's troubles and their government's own interference in the country. Chronic fear of al-Qaeda and a high degree of hostility, reminiscent of American attitudes towards Pakistanis and Iraqis, contribute to this detachment, which in turn allows the Obama administration to interfere in Yemen's affairs without domestic cost.

Lack of political incentives to support the Yemeni people have endangered them in multiple ways: undermining their quest for representative government, damaging property and life without legal recourse, and ensuring that AQAP retains a presence in their country. Such a defeat in the war for "hearts and minds" is especially tragic when considering Yemenis' fondness for Americans themselves.

Current U.S. policy presents a view diametrically opposed to Yemen's streets, where the actions of Washington and its allies have obstructed a continuation of the revolution.

"Over the past 15 months,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told the latest "Friends of Yemen" Ministerial, "Yemen – with the support of all of its friends – has made important progress in implementing the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative. Yemenis elected a new leader for the first time in three decades, launched a major reform of their armed forces, regained control of large areas of their national territory held by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and today stand on the cusp of an historic National Dialogue."

Burns' statements are constructed on the boundary of inaccuracy. Yemenis selected Hadi out of necessity and coercion rather than free will, while Hadi himself was tasked to clean up a mess made by Saleh and the foreign policies that supported him. The so-called GCC initiative also excluded the same youth that the White House claims to support. Instead, the power-sharing agreement granted immunity for Saleh's human rights abuses (some committed with U.S. equipment), as well as preserving military influence with the new government. That U.S. interests in Yemen have improved since Saleh's resignation is unquestionable, even as U.S. policy remains unpopular with everyone outside the GCC initiative: the independent revolutionaries, northern-based Houthi sect and secessionist-minded Southern Movement.

Yemen's youth received the least seats of all parties - nearly four times less than Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) - in the heralded National Dialogue.

Further complicating the situation, the GCC's power-sharing agreement obstructs deeply-rooted political causes in the north and south, as their autonomous designs threaten the central government's authority and, by extension, involved foreign powers. In mid-February the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) released a statement warning against interference in Yemen's affairs, only this statement targeted Saleh to the extent that it isolated a former Vice President and current Southern activist, Ali Salim Al-Beidh. The statement had minimal effect on Saleh, who copied the UNSC's message (minus himself) during a speech to commemorate Hadi's promotion, but it did spark Southern protests that led to clashes with the government and oppositional Islah party.

Hadi eventually met with Southern leaders to ease tensions and coax them into the National Dialogue, but the movement's leaders and followers remain leery of participating under UN-GCC terms. While a national dialogue is needed to advance Yemen's revolution, the present environment could degenerate into political warfare between the ruling GPC, Islah and Hirak.

To some credit U.S. non-military assistance has increased since the revolution launched in January 2011. Problematically, the long-term reality in Yemen indicates that these measures serve as camouflage for widespread geopolitical interference. U.S. aid has risen above $100 million to keep pace with a similar figure in the military column, and this information is used to promote a comprehensive policy. Since military and counterterrorism spending is especially obscured in Yemen, one of Washington's biggest "small wars," State Department officials and CIA Director John Brennan can now claim with greater safety that non-military spending exceeds military spending.

However U.S. policy remains decisively oriented towards influencing Yemen's political and military spheres - economic development and humanitarian support furthers this goal.

Yemen's revolution is effectively over in the eyes of UN, EU and GCC powers, and they have stopped at nothing to control its "transition." In their world 2014's elections will continue the reforms started by Hadi and Yemen will be gradually integrated into the GCC with Western assistance. Far from genuinely helping its people, U.S. policy in Yemen currently amounts to a joint neocolonialist takeover with neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose government rivals Washington and Tehran in unpopularity. All have worked tirelessly to prevent a national revolution in Yemen, while at the same time claiming to advance it.

"The transition is about to enter a new, critical, phase," Burns told his audience in London. "While Yemenis courageously work to rebuild their country, extremists and their patrons are working hard to tear it down. The Co-Chairs called on all parties to commit to the principle of non-interference and the unity, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Yemen. This is an effort we endorse in the strongest terms."

Rampant foreign interference is no secret amongst Yemenis and concerned observers. Burns' own statements demonstrate the oxymoronic forces at work: supporting Yemen's unity and territorial integrity, for instance, directly contradicts the principles of sovereignty and independence. Washington, Riyadh and their allies are not looking to create a new future based on self-determination, but to recreate Yemen's old hegemonic model using new tactics and materials.

These "friends" will sell anything except the truth to Yemenis and Americans alike.

March 5, 2013

"National Dialogue" Masks Foreign Interference In Yemen

UN envoy Jamal Benomar presents a distorted view of Yemen's situation and the GCC's power-sharing agreement via a Saudi daily: "The Yemenis have done this without any foreign dictates."

To be fair to him, though, the general script of his interview was presumably written by those working above him:
Yemen is perhaps the most troubled state in the Middle East with a history of poverty, civil war and division. Uncertainty about its future following the instability that led to and followed the resignation of its former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has prompted regional and UN intervention in a bid to prevent the state from descending into chaos.
The first meetings of a conference that brings together political parties, regional factions, interest groups and civil society organizations from across the country will get underway soon, in a bid to stabilize the situation. Prompted by the UN and Yemen’s neighbors, Yemen’s quarreling groups will attempt to thrash out a settlement on elections and a new constitution among other issues, a settlement that many hope will allow Yemen to avoid secession and possible civil war.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Jamal Benomar, an Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and the organization’s special envoy to Yemen, who has played an important role in the organization of the forthcoming National Dialogue Conference. Speaking by telephone, Benomar told Asharq Al-Awsat about his hopes for the conference, the obstacles it faces, and the efforts of the UN and Yemen’s neighbors to assist the process of a peaceful transfer of power in the troubled state.
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March 1, 2013

Zainab Al-Khawaja Ruling Disregards Bahraini Rights

The latest evidence of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa's resistance to self-determination and denial of human rights couldn't be more blatant. 

Arrested on Tuesday during a protest for Mahmoud al-Jazeeri, Zainab Al-Khawaja found herself back in a holding cell only for the moments before she was whisked away to a court. Al-Khawaja had joined protesters in demanding the proper burial of al-Jazeeri - the government is keeping his body in an attempt to dictate the funeral's location - when arrested by security forces. She was immediately charged with obstructing traffic, violating a regime structure and damaging property.

Since February 2011 Al-Khawaja has been arrested multiple times, endured physical and mental abuse from Bahraini security forces, and faces over a dozen charges related to "illegal protesting." All of her protests have been conducted peacefully, and many by herself. She is simply too popular and symbolic to leave on the streets, and too defiant against King Hamad's personal authority to escape retribution. Al-Khawaja is known to chants slogans and craft placards against the King, and was picked up in Tuesday with a sign that read "your prisons we don't fear."

She is regularly jailed because Bahrain's monarchy fears peaceful protesters more than violent ones.

Now, after being acquitted from a separate charge of insulting a public official (Bahrain's judiciary throws out certain charges while keeping the more severe ones), the monarchy's Court of Appeals has overturned the ruling and sentenced her to three months in prison. She joins her father Abdulhadi, activist Nabeel Rajab and other oppositional figures in the unfriendly confines of Bahrain's political prison system.

A major security crackdown or political jailing in Bahrain is often accompanied by statements of support for human rights, and Friday's ruling adhered to this pattern when Human Rights Affairs Minister Dr. Salah bin Ali Abdulrahman met with UNHRC Ambassador Remigiusz Achilles Henczel in Geneva. Bahrain has slipped through the UNHRC's sessions with ease, demonstrating the UN's level of compliance in Bahrain and its inability to defend the rights of those who are being trampled on by a power-hungry monarchy. None of the monarchy's words should be believed when its own actions oppose them. Promotion of human rights is mainly a political and propaganda exercise.

"According to a statement issued by the Human Rights Affairs Ministry, Dr. Salah congratulated Mr. Henczel on the new post and lauded the advanced level of the communication and coordination relations between the Ministry and the Human Rights Council, asserting that Bahrain is among the main supporters of the UN mechanisms in all fields, especially the human rights one."

Al-Khawaja's ruling is self-explanatory in its counterrevolutionary nature. Unfortunately the U.S. response was mute as usual, a reaction that jars with the Obama administration's attempt to restart a National Dialogue between the monarchy and opposition. No debate of national proportions can lift off of the ground in the current environment, but the monarchy has taken great efforts to portray the National Dialogue as a success.

It will crash again soon if this denial continues.

February 28, 2013

Ali Saleh Mimics UNSC's Statement On Yemen

On February 15th the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a statement of support for Yemen's political transition and warned potential spoilers against interfering with the UN's diplomacy. Taken at face value, the UNSC's statement appears to spotlight former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and threaten him with financial sanctions. However Saleh's inclusion was primarily based on the art of concealment, as the UNSC couldn't aim at its real targets without first naming Yemen's duplicitous strongman. The other "spoilers" come next: former Vice-President Ali Salim Al-Beidh and the Iranian government.

Accordingly, Saleh has now attempted to blend in by pasting the UNSC's statement into his own rhetorical bag of tricks. Speaking to supporters at a rally organized to mark his transfer of power to Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, his vice president of nearly 18 years, Saleh demonstrated the notorious oratory and scheming mind that maintained his power for over three decades. Ignoring the hundreds of civilians killed by government forces during the first year of Yemen's revolution and his own refusal to resign, the former president claims that he "handed over power peacefully and willingly" to Hadi, and never turned to violence. He also called for "reconciliation, shaking hands and forgiveness of the past to build a new Yemen."

“Forget about the past and look at the future."

Saleh can afford to forget about the past because his crimes against the Yemeni people are insulated by the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing initiative, a U.S.-Saudi proposal that kept Saleh's ruling party in power and granted his family personal immunity. This agreement not only encourages Saleh to continue resisting the formation of a legitimate government, but to play along with the GCC and UNSC's diplomacy so as not to permanently sever the hands that protect him. The U.S. State Department refused to take a definitive stand when quizzed on the content of Saleh's speech, saying only that all parties should "play a positive role in Yemen's political transition."

According to U.S. and UN terms, Saleh is playing a positive role by supporting his former VP, rhetorically targeting Iran and opposing secession in the south - all actions undertaken by the UNSC. Washington and Riyadh both oppose the loss of influence that would result from the autonomous agendas of the northern Houthi sect and Southern Movement, and relevant international blocs have followed suit. All, of course, oppose Tehran's sphere of hegemony in Yemen.

"No to secession... Our people in the south are with unity," Saleh told supporters who had gathered in Sanaa's Sabiin Square. "A small minority which supports secession is funded from abroad... Those who receive money from Iran know that their days are numbered."

The Southern cause is rooted in Saleh's own misrule and operates independently of Tehran. Southerners regularly stage mass protests in favor of self-determination.

Whether viewing him as too much trouble or too useful to drop, international powers have yet to make any serious move against Saleh and are unlikely to do so unless he takes extreme measures that cannot be ignored. Only Washington and Riyadh wield the political power capable of uprooting him from Yemen's tense environment, but he is instead treated as an emergency asset and a loose end that must be guarded. Saleh is privy to U.S. and Saudi intelligence, along with the human rights abuses that he committed (against the Houthis, Southern Movement and independent revolutionaries) with their military assistance. 

The resulting policy allows him to roam relatively free within Yemen's politics, contrary to warnings from Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni activists and even the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

Saleh, in turn, has little reason to act out of line so long as he enjoys international protection. Although he has seen a number of relatives dropped from their political and military positions, Saleh has weathered the brunt of Yemen's political transition and remains a source of power. His mere presence creates a negative inference on foreign politics in the country, while his equally arrogant son Ahmed, former commander of the U.S.-trained Republican Guard, is set to be reassigned rather than stripped of his authority. Saleh's party, the General People's Congress (GPC), also received the most seats of any bloc for Yemen's upcoming National Dialogue, sponsored by the UNSC and GCC.

A gradual reacquisition of power forms the backbone of Saleh's long-term strategy and Wednesday's speech confirmed the planning of a worst-case scenario: the GPC intends to contest next year's parliamentary and presidential elections, and Ahmed has long been feared as an eventual contender.

Everything Saleh says and does obstructs Yemen's revolution, so anything less than international accountability equates to complicity.

Bahrain's Monarchy Defies Promotion of Universal Rights

On Wednesday Bahrain's Minister of Foreign Affairs' Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, hosted a lunch banquet for Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Nabil Al Arabi and other diplomats participating in the island's Manama Conference. His motivation: praise King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's initiative calling for the establishment of an Arab Court for Human Rights. Establishing such a court sounds promising in theory, but promoting human rights doesn't sit atop the agenda of Hamad or other regional governments invested in maintaining authority. One gets the distinct impression that Hamad is more concerned with image than reality.
"The Foreign Affairs' Minister pointed out that the initiative of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to establish a special Arab Court for Human Rights reflects the concern to keep pace with modern international trends towards the promotion of Human Rights practices."

A busy man, Al Khalifa also made an appearance at a security briefing by Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, one of Bahrain's hard-line personalities and a skilled propagandist. The island has experienced chronic unrest since February 2011 and endured new hostilities following the mayhem of February 14th, when 16-year old Hussain Ali Ahmed Abrahim was fatally shot at close range. Demonstrations ignited around the capital's security cordon and have yet to abate. However the Interior Minister "stated that both the static and moving police patrols that have been deployed throughout Bahrain over the past several weeks were successful in helping to maintain order."

"He said that police patrols are using restraint and are following the law when interacting with those engaging in criminal behavior."

Independent accounts of Bahrain paint an opposing scenario with a few basic pieces of evidence. Several of the island's prominent oppositional leaders remain jailed for peacefully defying King Hamad's rule, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and the latter's daughter (Zainab) was just arrested again for protesting the death of Mahmoud Issa Al-Jazeri. Al-Jazeri was struck in the face with a teargas canister during February 14th's protests and his body has yet to be released by the government. Later that night, 63-year old Abdul-Majeed Mohsen was arrested at a checkpoint when he allegedly flashed a victory sign to passing demonstrators. The well-known protester has been arrested twice before and stands accused of possessing Molotovs, participating in an illegal protest and disturbing public security.

Any protest against King Hamad's rule - especially the peaceful variety - is considered illegal and unorderly at a metaphysical level. Promoting human rights and maintaining order also necessitates control over basic symbols of resistance, including the V symbol and Guy Fawkes masks. Popularized by the movie V For Vendetta, the mask's importation has now been banned by Bahrain's Industry and Commerce Minister, thus assuring that the mask's popularity will continue to rise.

Contrasting with the island's latest abuses is the acquittal of four policemen involved in the murder of protesters. These rulings highlight the gamut of Bahrain's flaws: a corrupt judiciary, the government's manipulation of legal evidence and public information, King Hamad's resistance to promoting accountability within his security forces, and the inability to limit outrage with "non-lethal" tactics. Bahrain's monarchy has demonstrated acute skill in parts of its public relations - specifically Western lobbying and demonizing the opposition - and woeful ignorance at other times. Acquitting the policemen in question defies the King's own Commission of Independent Inquiry, naturally upsetting Bahrain's streets and online networks, but that reaction may fit into the government's plans to undermine them during the ongoing National Dialogue.

The circumstances surrounding Fadhil al Matrook, who was fatally shot with bird pellets on February 15th, 2011, reach to the heart of civil disobedience as practiced on the ground. Matrook was shot while attending the funeral of another protester when the procession came under attack, and he allegedly stopped to assist a wounded protester before being shot himself. Bahrain's Ministry of Interior said that police came under attack from the crowd and fired warning shots before applying lethal force. The outcome, in either case, is the type of disproportionate force that drives an escalating cycle of civil disobedience.

These decisions are made by a government lacking in the ability resolve the long-standing grievances of Bahrain's Shia majority.

February 27, 2013

US drones blow up any hope of close ties with Yemenis

 A true representation of U.S. policy in Yemen: 
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. - See more at:
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen.

Government troops and local militias had been battling fighters from Ansar Al Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, and had forced them from the area only two days earlier. There were reports that some had shaved their beards and stayed. If they had known an American reporter was around, they would have had a golden opportunity for a kidnapping.

Before we boarded the plane in Beirut, I had told McEvers that I would assure her safety. As one of the rare Americans who understands Yemen well, she knew that I was saying I would do whatever it took to protect her, putting her personal security above my own.

As it happened, the people of Abyan were hospitable and friendly, although their region had been badly damaged by the fighting.

On the edge of the town of Ja'ar, while interviewing some local people, we heard a noise overhead. People peered into the sky until the sharp sunlight forced their heads down. Their expressions changed to alarm - the sound was that of a US drone, they said.
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Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen.
Government troops and local militias had been battling fighters from Ansar Al Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, and had forced them from the area only two days earlier. There were reports that some had shaved their beards and stayed. If they had known an American reporter was around, they would have had a golden opportunity for a kidnapping.
- See more at:
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. - See more at:
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. - See more at:
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. - See more at:
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. - See more at:

February 23, 2013

Ongoing Mystery of Afghanistan's Post-2014 Force

When Hamid Karzai visited the White House in early January to discuss all things Afghanistan, a peculiar piece of disinformation awaited him at the doors of America's capital. Karzai had arrived to sort out the details of many issues, from prisoner treatment to NATO training and air strikes, but most Americans only concern themselves with one topic in Afghanistan: when all U.S. soldiers are coming home for good. Thus the White House exploited this singular concern and deployed its communications director to leak the unrealistic possibility of a "zero option" during Karzai's visit.

Barring a veto from Afghanistan's parliament or Karzai himself (or his potential replacement after 2014's election), the only zero in this plan is the zero possibility of implementation.

That the Obama administration desires a post-2014 military presence (U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta uses the phrase "enduring presence") in Afghanistan is no secret. Having watched Iraq regress into political deadlock and asymmetric warfare following the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, the White House and Pentagon presumably realize that the scope of Afghanistan's challenges exceed its sister war and will not bow easily. They will push Karzai or his replacement to the limit of their political influence. Assuming they comply, the only certainty of a post-2014 force is a number higher than zero.

The mystery over President Barack Obama's final decision is fueling a repetitive cycle of media speculation, with no credible source venturing outside the 3,000-15,000 range. The latest estimate has emerged as NATO ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the war's options: between 8,000 and 12,000 NATO troops. This reasonable estimate was immediately struck down by the Pentagon as hearsay, suggesting that a force of similar proportions may be anticipated. Given the possibility of covert forces, though, the American and Afghan publics are unlikely to receive the full truth.

"First of all, that report is not correct..." Panetta told a press conference on Friday. "I don't want to go into particular numbers, because, frankly, we want - we want to be able to have the flexibility to look at a range of options that we ought to have for our enduring presence. But I want to make very clear that the range of options we were discussing was with regards to the NATO force."

Pentagon spokesman George Little added, "A range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution."

A "range of options," amongst other advantages on the battlefield, helps keep the Pentagon in control of policy rather than locked into a set exit. The DOD has privately and publicly resisted the White House's troop caps and deadlines, and the loss of a residual force would erode the Pentagon's grip on Afghanistan (as in Iraq). Whatever the relationship with NATO, whose participation is mostly due to appearances and politicking, Washington is certain to provide more troops than any other country.

The size of this force also nullifies any potential agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, at least in theory. Rumors from within the insurgency's leadership have claimed that the Taliban's shura may be willing to accept a U.S. presence after 2014, but American troops will only stay to kill Taliban and train Afghan forces to kill Taliban. This policy will be sold as "counter-terrorism operations" against al-Qaeda "and its affiliates," largely meaning the Taliban itself and the elusive Haqqani network that serves as one branch of the movement. U.S. commanders were unable to conduct a planned operation in eastern Afghanistan and resorted to drone operations as a patch - they have yet to give up completely on a ground operation.

For this reason, a more plausible scenario will operate along Mullah Omar's lines and not accept the presence one U.S. soldier after 2014. Ongoing hostilities could then break down a political deal between Kabul and Islamabad, prolonging the war indefinitely.

U.S. forces plan to stay until 2020 and possibly beyond.

Lacking air power from NATO, how long will the fight continue between ANA troops, their U.S. trainers and the Taliban? Washington seems to expect a shorter time-line, and all U.S. officials shy away from the slightest negativity in Afghanistan (but not before cautioning against hard times ahead). Panetta told reporters that "expectations" set at last year's Chicago meetings were "truly exceeded": "The ANSF are now in the lead for nearly 90 percent of combat operations. And they are on track to step into the lead for all of these operations by this spring."

"Afghanization" offers the only hope for Washington's controlled withdrawal and has been highlighted over all other aspects of U.S. policy. To what degree desertion takes hold after 2014, and how often U.S. forces need to reinforce their Afghan counterparts, remains to be seen.

The Obama administration intends to leave 52,500 troops in the country until November, hoping to inflict more damage on the Taliban ahead of a political resolution. The insurgency has already survived the full brunt of Obama's surge and will not be significantly impacted by another summer of losses; while the group's foot soldiers may see a time of rest ahead, they are equally unlikely to surrender at this time. One final season (the last 34,000 troops will begin to withdraw after February 2014) may follow to keep the Taliban off-balance ahead of December 2014.

Yet two summers of fighting will simply reinforce Afghanistan's stalemate and leave a bad taste in both parties' mouths. Abruptly shutting off the conflict after more bloodshed is impossible. Considering the war's present conditions and future outlook, the U.S. and its NATO allies are preparing a recipe for ongoing low-intensity conflict that will stretch far past 2014 - when Obama will be tempted to replicate his policy in Iraq and declare an false end to the conflict. This lack of attention is feared by Afghans across the country, as evidenced by a question from Tolo TV Afghanistan.

"Sir, most of the Afghans believe that the U.S. will abandon Afghanistan again when the combat mission finishes in Afghanistan.  What type of guarantee you can give them, sir?  Because on one hand, Taliban still pose a serious threat to the Afghan government, and the peace process is also not going well."

"I want to make clear," Panetta answers, "that the United States and ISAF, the NATO -- the NATO countries that are involved in the ISAF effort, all of us are committed to supporting Afghanistan, not just now, but in the future. And that commitment is unwavering."

How these words translate into confidence amongst Afghans and Americans alike is much less certain.

February 17, 2013

Amid Peace Talks, Bahrain's Monarchy Cries Iran

The Bahraini monarchy's second attempt at a poorly-named "National Dialogue" has become inevitably obscured by the haze of asymmetric warfare. Given the common theory that King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa's regime is provoking Bahrain's opposition to justify harsh retaliation - whether jailing its leadership or shooting its youth - one must speculate on the timing between political negotiations and the February 14th anniversary. The monarchy clearly anticipated demonstrations on this day and has worked diligently to exploit their fallout in its favor.

Restarting the National Dialogue after its first government-induced collapse accomplishes multiple objectives at once: the opposition's actions in the streets are subverted by diplomatic outreach and ultimately held responsible for any failures at the negotiating table.

Days of running battles between protesters and security forces have also presented an opportune time to announce Bahrain's latest "terrorist cell" and bomb plot, courtesy of Iran's shadow. After highlighting the government's own casualties and the vicious actions of "saboteurs," meaning rock and Molotov-throwing youth protesters, Minister of Interior Lt-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa informed a televised audience that a 2-kg bomb had been defused at the King Fahd Causeway. Five men linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard already stand accused of receiving training in a camp along the Syrian-Lebanese, and allegedly admitted (during interrogation) that they planned to start a terrorist organization in Bahrain.

Accordingly, Al-Khalifa confirmed the arrest of eight individuals with "links to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon," where they received weapons and explosives training similar to the previous cells.

The possibility that Iran and its proxies are operating through Bahrain is high, but they are equally unlikely to cooperate with the island's opposition. These actors are pursuing their own ends rather than the democratic opposition's cause of political representation, and in doing have been conveniently shackled to the youth and Al Wefaq. The Iranian specter undermines Bahrain's opposition too efficiently for anyone other than the Bahraini monarchy's enjoyment - combined with Saudi backing and America's Fifth Fleet, Iranian-funded terror cells and bombs form the trump cards in its arsenal. Now, instead of covering the disproportionate force that triggers civil disobedience, Bahrain's narrative in the international media has mutated into terrorist plots.

The contrived elements of this situation are rendered evident by the precise media roll out of Bahraini officials, beginning with hardline Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and his speech of "unity." Regardless of the messenger, the overall message of King Hamad's royal circle remains unchanged: cast protesters as the island's problem and King Hamad's rule as the solution.

"We will not be discouraged by the actions of those who are intent on undermining the stability and peaceful endeavors of Bahrain's government," the Interior Minister declared on Saturday night. "Ours is a nation committed to reforms, human rights and the rule of law."

All of these transparent moves are too insincere to improve the noxious climate of Bahrain's National Dialogue.

February 16, 2013

Iran warns Israel: We'll avenge Guards commander

A variety of allied and competing forces are attempting to pull Syria's revolution into a wider regional conflict. The possibility of deescalation currently rests at 0%.
Iran will soon exact revenge on Israel for the recent killing of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander in Syria, an aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted on Saturday as saying.

Iran said on Thursday that an Iranian military commander named Hassan Shateri, also known as Hessam Khoshnevis, had been killed in Syria by rebels fighting President Bashar Assad, an ally of Tehran.

But Iran’s envoy to Beirut, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, on Thursday drew a link between the killing and Israel.

Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative to the IRGC’s elite Quds force, said on Friday evening that Iran’s “resolve against Israel” had only grown stronger with Shateri’s killing.

“Our enemies should also know that we will quickly get revenge for [the death of] Haj Hassan [Shateri] from the Israelis, and the enemies cannot shut off the Iranian people with such stupid acts,” Shirazi was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students’ News Agency on Saturday.

Israel has not commented on the killing.
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February 14, 2013

Bahrain Monarchy Greets Feb14 With Gas, Pellets

In order to tamp down national and international pressure against its totalitarian methods - especially during the 2nd marking of Bahrain's revolutionary ignition - King Hamad's monarchy has arranged the second launch of a National Dialogue to buy time and appease foreign backers. A detailed report of this process will be published shortly, but the National Dialogue is already treading on thin ice and may collapse soon if the situation fails to improve.

To mark February 14th, 2011’s "Day of Rage," Bahraini protesters flooded the streets on Thursday to express their demands for political representation and judicial accountability. Many were met with the type of force that suggests that Bahrain's monarchy won't be changing its ways any time soon. Clashes between demonstrators and state security have been reported around the capital of Manama, which generally remains off limits to organized protests, and feature the King's ubiquitous combination tear gas and bird pellets. Particular incidents were recorded by cell phone in Al Musalla, Bani Jamra, Bilad Al Qadeem, Duraz, Karranah, Sar and other villages that incubate the uprising outside Manama. 

Most urgently, clashes in Al Daih resulted in multiple injuries and at least one casualty after 16-year old Hussein al-Jazeri was shot at close range with a pellet gun. Photographic evidence indicates that he was unarmed - and throwing rocks or Molotovs wouldn't justify the excessive use of force applied to his body. 

On the contrary, disproportionate force is both the strength and fatal weakness of an autocratic regime. Al-Jazeri's killing immediately raised parallels to Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, whose murder accelerated the uprising on February 14th, 2011, and the residents of Al Daih (home to Mushaima and al-Jazeri) have already responded in the streets.

They too encountered the toxic gas of Bahrain's King and are currently demonstrating in resistance.

Both sides have wasted no time responding with further escalation to Thursday's events. A maximum deployment of security forces has established checkpoints around Manama, leading protesters creating makeshift roadblocks to counter government patrols, and neither side holds any intention of backing down. Meanwhile, the monarchy is content to keep Bahrain's political leadership in cells and further inflame the streets, rather than work to reduce tensions. Various opposition leaders outside of jail have preconditioned their participation on the release of Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and their comrades.

A functioning National Dialogue cannot exist under the present conditions - not when force and deception remain the only languages of Bahrain's monarchy. So long as these types of actions continue, it shouldn't be long before the wobbly legs of King Hamad's "Dialogue" give out again.

February 13, 2013

After Mali Comes Niger

This report on Niger makes no mention of a potential U.S. drone base in Niger, except in a negative context at the end, but also favors increased support to an admittedly corrupt government:
Last month, the French army's rapid advance into northern Mali and the timely deployment of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seemed to result in a swift victory over Islamist and Tuareg militants there. Equally important, however, was the Islamist and Tuareg militants' hasty withdrawal into northeastern Mali. With France planning to pull its troops out of the country as soon as March, Mali will almost certainly be turned into an ECOWAS trusteeship. The most likely upshot is not a neat end to the conflict but, rather, a migration of the problem into neighboring Niger.

Parts of the Tuareg leadership, which signed a power-sharing agreement in March 2012 with three jihadist militias -- al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa -- have already fled across the unguarded Nigerien border, where they will try to regroup. Given Niger's weak government structures, they also pose a serious security threat to the country as a whole.

Niger presents an appealingly easy target. For one, despite several attempts at reform by President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in April 2011, Niger's secular political elite lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its largely illiterate, rural, and deeply religious population. Numerous failed attempts at democratization and rampant corruption by previous governments have plagued the country for over two decades. Among the population, this troubled legacy has fostered a general sense of alienation from the capital.

Large parts of the Nigerien army, meanwhile, are opposed to the notion of civilian rule. Ever since it was pushed out of power in 1991, the army leadership has cultivated a deep mistrust of the civilian elite among all military ranks. Consumed with hatred for the Tuareg following two major military campaigns against them (1990-1995 and 2007-2009, respectively), the Nigerien army has overthrown three civilian governments since 1993. Although recent coup attempts in 2011 and 2012 proved amateurish and lacked sufficient support among both the armed forces and the population, they indicate long-standing tensions between parts of the military and the civilian elites.
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February 12, 2013

Afghan peace plan in trouble as Pakistani clerics balk at proposed meeting in Kabul

Why anyone would propose a six-month deadline to an Afghan-Pakistan-US-Taliban peace agreement makes little sense, given that such a deadline is doomed to fail:
A portion of a peace plan intended to smooth the way for an exit from Afghanistan of U.S.-led military forces already is in trouble, before it has even gotten underway.

At issue is a conference between Pakistani and Afghan religious leaders scheduled for next month in Kabul, the Afghan capital, that was intended to provide religious support for efforts to resolve the war in Afghanistan. But the Pakistani clerics are refusing to participate unless the Taliban are included, something that would be impossible in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis also said they were unwilling to participate in any conference if it could be seen as an endorsement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

An emergency meeting Monday in Islamabad between Pakistani and Afghan delegations seemed to make no progress.

“How come people can talk to the Taliban all over the world but not in Kabul?” asked Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, a leading organization of Pakistani clerics, who was seen as a possible leader of the Pakistani side of the conference. “We support peace talks. But if we are to discuss peace, then how can you leave out one of the parties to the war?”

The proposed conference was announced last month at a meeting in Great Britain between Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Zardari, hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

With virtually no chance that the Taliban will be defeated on the battlefield, a peace deal with the insurgents is considered the most hopeful way of avoiding Afghanistan sinking into chaos as the American-led coalition force leaves next year. Washington is eagerly supporting the peace process. 
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February 8, 2013

Foreign Insensitivity Showers Yemen's Crisis

Despite being publicized on several occasions during its multi-year operations, America's "secret" drone base in Saudi Arabia has flooded the international media cycle with recycled news and non-revelations. All that is being reported is the base's leading "architect," John Brennan, and the rationale behind concealing U.S. drones in Saudi Arabia. The location of the drone base itself - the only missing link - remains a mystery and doesn't alter the story greatly.

U.S. imperialism in the Gulf is no secret, and neither is the cycle of warfare perpetuated by U.S. and Saudi policies in the region.

Whether or not Washington accepts al-Qaeda's creation as a response to U.S. troops in the Holy Land, this grievance connects a loop of propaganda and violence that won't broke so long as U.S. troops and war machines remain inside Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, at least on the surface, even acknowledges this dilemma while pursuing an uncompromising course of action on the Arabian Peninsula. Karen DeYoung, who covers national security for The Washington Post, told NPR's All Things Considered that the administration kept the base off record "because of sensitivities in Saudi Arabia itself." False sensitivity is the result - knowing something is offensive but doing it anyway.

"Because of their internal politics and because of what they see as their position in the Islamic world, they didn't want it published that they were allowing the CIA to actually occupy real estate inside Saudi Arabia."

Equally disturbing is the notion that Riyadh's interests, and not the average Yemeni's, dictates the information surrounding U.S. drone operations inside Yemen. Being bombed and monitored without recourse is frightening enough - opposing U.S.-Saudi air strikes and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) isn't mutually exclusive - without the internal threat. Flying drones out of Saudi Arabia, a popular enemy in Yemen, simply adds fuel to a long-standing fire and runs contrary to the essence of counterinsurgency. The base offers one example of why true COIN isn't being pursued in Yemen, as imperialism interferes with relating to the population.

Another insensitive act has also emerged on the horizon and, at this point, is less certain than the aforementioned injustice. On the positive side, Yemeni state media finally announced the participants and starting date for the country's National Dialogue after a four-month delay. The necessity of a conference is beyond doubt, but the same cannot be said for its prospects, and a tense situation could escalate further now that a new date has been assigned: March 18th.

This pivotal day rests at the heart of Yemen's ongoing revolution. Two years ago Saleh's security forces (including snipers) opened fire on Freedom Square in Sana'a, killing at least 52 protesters and wounding over a hundred. The massacre would bring the wealthy al-Ahmar brothers and their tribal militia into the streets, trigger the defection of Saleh's northern commander, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and squeeze the first statements out of President Barack Obama after two months of demonstrations. However no one was held accountable due to Yemen's gridlocked politics and the U.S.-sponsored GCC initiative, which granted Saleh and his family immunity from human rights abuses.

Now Yemen's National Dialogue is scheduled to open without any resolution to Saleh's crimes or restitution for the martyrs' families. While Ali Mohsen and Saleh's son, Ahmed, were reassigned by Transitional President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi in early January, they will also remain in their positions for up to six months and stand a good chance of receiving new commands. Thus the National Dialogue will unfold in the presence of Yemen's counterrevolutionary powers, reinforcing the obstructive influence that Saleh maintains in Sana'a. 

His General People's Congress (GPC) has even threatened to not participate in response to the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), which in turn accuses the GPC of interfering with the Dialogue's formation.

"We say yes to Yemen National Dialogue but within the right framework, not as a parody," GPC member Ibrahim Sharaf was quoted as saying on Wednesday, despite the fact that Saleh's party received the most seats of any political bloc.

It's possible that the GCC and UNSC - meaning Riyadh and Washington - want more time to arrange a vacation for Saleh, as they did for Hadi's UN referendum in February 2012 (he returned to swear his VP in). However the likelihood of Saleh presiding over the National Dialogue's shadows remains too high for comfort. Only an exceedingly reckless move will turn UNSC threats of sanctions into reality, and sanctions aren't designed for accountability so much as control. As for the March 18th start date, The Trench is inquiring into the motivation behind this choice and hopes to obtain an answer soon.

One theory: Hadi intends to contrast the positives of his government with the negatives of Saleh's regime, possibly through a grand gesture to recognize Yemen's martyrs. However anything less than accountability lacks the power to satisfy revolutionaries who remain leery of the National Dialogue, and outright distrustful of the international community for favoring Saleh's regime.

“He has a lot of money that he uses to destroy Yemen, harm the political process and execute vengeance,” Nobel Laureate Tawwakol Karman recently told The Associated Press. “The political transition process is not going according to the mechanism set in the Gulf initiative, which was imposed on us and we accepted it only on the condition that it will be fully implemented."

She has suspended her participation in the National Dialogue until further notice.

The positions of various networks towards Yemen's dialogue underlines the geopolitical forces at work. Revolutionaries and tribal authorities disapprove of drones, believing that the immediate benefits of al-Qaeda casualties aren't worth the long-term risks to their sovereignty. They want the opportunity to combat AQAP themselves and have been marginalized instead due to their independence. The northern-based Houthis also want to join in theory but treat the process with entrenched skepticism. For years the sect waged an insurgency against Saleh's regime and Saudi forces (with U.S. assistance), pushing them to a stalemate, and Houthi leadership has trained their eyes on autonomy. Riyadh and Washington, however, reject this position and are extremely unpopular as a result.

The Southern Movement is idling in a similar position as the Houthis, looking to enter a dialogue with the central government as another state rather than a political party. UNSC powers also rejects this act of self-determination in favor of "unity" - the same word used by Saleh to justify his oppression of the south - to protect their own interests. The U.S. stands to lose control of its assets in South Yemen, including the drones parked at Al-Anad Air Base in Lahij province and the Special Forces training Yemeni personnel in the south, so unity is the only option available to the Southern Movement.

Washington and Riyadh prefer to stick a thorn in their side rather than aid their cause.

The U.S. media attention generated from civilian casualties misses the wider political interference transmitted by drones and their logistics in Yemen. Keeping drones operational and maintaining U.S. hegemony entails the alienation of the same populations that the Obama administration claims to support in their fight against AQAP.

February 6, 2013

No "Winning" In Yemen With Brennan

On Thursday, February 7th, a relatively quiet affair will unfold at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington DC.

His path to the top finally cleared by marital scandal, John Brennan is set to assume the CIA's Directorship after what should be a smooth confirmation before the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence. President Barack Obama's counterterrorism coordinator has been lauded as a tireless model of integrity, portrayed by the U.S. media as one of the President's closest advisers, and delivers the cost-efficient counterterrorism favored by the majority of Congress. Some Senators promise hard questioning - particularly in regards to torture policies, foiled terror plots and the constitutional legality of killing U.S. citizens in foreign countries - but Brennan and the Obama administration expect minimal objections to his promotion.

"There's no indication of any trouble," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Monday.

Accordingly, few Senators are likely to challenge Brennan too deeply on the future of U.S. counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda's remaining networks (dubbed al-Qaeda 2.0), and this outcome is especially probable in a country where Brennan's unpopularity rivals al-Qaeda's. Never mind that his confirmation hearing is scheduled to revolve around the targeted assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, whose case just resurfaced in the form of a Justice Department "white paper" that backs the use of lethal force. This topic, although highly relevant in general, skims right over al-Awlaki's Yemeni homeland and conceals the many gaps that prevent U.S. policy from establishing sustainable relations with its people.

This attention deficit will similarly disregard Brennan's personal approval in Yemen, a reckless way of overseeing an expanding "small" war that was never formally declared by Congress. The systematic bombing of Yemeni territory and any resulting civilian casualties - Brennan estimates few - has been attributed to his hands, and Yemenis rightfully expect the worst from his future actions. Speaking to The New York Times in August 2011, Brennan defended the accelerated use of drones by claiming, "for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq."

If this statement was accurate, and independence evidence suggests otherwise, the argument still functions as a temporal loophole in Yemen. Dozens of civilians (including women and children) were killed by the administration's initial Tomahawk and drone strikes following the attempted Christmas bombing in December 2009, christening the front against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in disastrous fashion. Amnesty International later published evidence of U.S. cluster bombs and their lethal bomblets, and the Yemeni journalist investigating this event was jailed indefinitely under pressure from the Obama administration.

Brennan has repeatedly argued that U.S. counter-terror operations succeed when the U.S. "supports good governance that addresses people’s basic needs, when we stand up for universal human rights."

Human rights didn't make the agenda on October 14th, 2011, when al-Awlaki's 16-year old son Abdulrahman (a U.S. citizen with no proven involvement in terrorism) was assassinated following his father's execution on September 30th. Abdulrahman's death has never been fully acknowledged, investigated or explained beyond an "outrageous mistake." More civilian casualties would follow up to the present, including one high-profile bombing of a bus in Rada'a, and many Yemenis question the veracity of official statements announcing the deaths of "suspected militants." The New York Times recently published an account of the August 2012 strike that killed Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a cleric that denounced terrorism only to be bombed when AQAP came looking for him.

Suffering from a total lack of credibility, the latest uptick in Yemen's drone strikes has created the impression that Brennan is padding his stats before confirmation, a charge he that surely denies but cannot erase. In coordination with Brennan's hearing, Yemenis are organizing a Twitter protest - #NoDrones - to express their advice and ignored feelings to the Obama administration.

Furthermore, Brennan played an integral role in negotiating David Petraeus's secret arrangement with dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, which opened Yemen's skies to drones under corrupt and obscure terms. The unstable interchange between Saleh and the Obama administration manufactured numerous coverups (Saleh infamously promised Petraeus that he would take credit for U.S. air strikes, but exploited the collateral when things went wrong) and a "secret" drone base along the Yemeni-Saudi border, and seeded the ground for political hegemony during Yemen's revolution. Brennan was later deployed to assist the equally unpopular Gerald Feierstein, Obama's ambassador in Sana'a, in orchestrating the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing agreement between Saleh's ruling party and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

This agreement, among other injustices, offered immunity to Saleh for the very crimes committed jointly with the Obama administration.

Perhaps worst of all is Brennan's public and egotistical indifference to these issues, as this attitude suggests a continuation of the present course. At first the Obama administration's counter-terrorism team would ignore the rancor bubbling up from inaccurate drone strikes and local resentment, whether in Yemen or Pakistan. Following the triumphant killing of Osama bin Laden, the administration elected to take the offensive and began a media rollout of its legal argument for targeted assassinations, led by Brennan and Attorney General Eric Holder. During this phase Brennan rejected a cautionary letter authored by Yemenis and foreign observers, demonstrating his inflexibility by arguing that drone strikes don't cause as much hostility as believed.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in August 2012, "we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP."

Accompanying this statement were outlandish claims of a relationship that few Yemenis would recognize. Of course Brennan would never speak of his own role in the undermining of Yemen's revolution, and won't touch Abdulrahman al-Awlaki's death. He appears to have convinced himself that U.S. policy fully addresses Yemen's non-military needs, and supports the Yemeni people in their quest for political representation and universal rights. Flatly denied is the "suggestion that our policy toward Yemen is dominated by our security and counterterrorism efforts." Nor does Brennan acknowledge the widespread negativity directed towards Riyadh, Washington's partner in crime in Yemen.

"Whenever I go out to Yemen, I invariably will go to Saudi Arabia, sometimes before and as well as after my visits there, because what the Saudis and the Yemenis want to do is to make sure that we're working this together."

As a result, the Obama administration's public stance towards Yemen's people gives the impression that the White House is viewing an alternate reality, or else weighs political and military access with Yemen's transitional government above local sentiments. Left over is the pervasive feeling that U.S. economic support increased as a counterbalance to political interference and military operations; up to this point Brennan and the Obama administration remain unresponsive to Yemen's revolutionaries, activists, tribal authorities, common citizens and whole political blocs. Brennan and U.S. commanders of Special Forces go so far as to claim that "great progress" has been made in Yemen, and that "the corner" is finally being turned against AQAP.

Several questions immediately leap to mind, questions that won't be asked at the Senate's confirmation hearing. First, what happens if transitional President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi follows through on his public intention not to run for president in 2014? Will the U.S. lose operational access due to a less cooperative government, strong-arm this new government into submission or fly over its head? Will Hadi remain in power at the urging of Washington, and would another cooperative government pose the same threat to democracy as relations with Saleh's regime? More to the point, how can the solution to a problem be as problematic as the problem itself?

Brennan represents the antithesis of democracy in Yemen and offers an ideal villain for AQAP's propaganda - so how can his image or strategies defeat al-Qaeda's ideology?

February 5, 2013

Tunisia Opposition Leader Assassinated In Capital

A grave turn of events in Tunisia that will hopefully inspire renewed effort rather than new divisions:
A top Tunisian opposition figure, Shokri Belaid, leader of the left-leaning opposition Democratic Patriots party, has been shot dead as he was leaving his home.

He was transported to a hospital in the suburbs of Tunis on Tuesday, where he died of his wounds, his bother confirmed.

"My brother was assassinated. I am desperate and depressed," Abdelmajid Belaid said. The wife of the opposition leader, speaking to Radio Mosaique, said he had been hit by two bullets.

Al Jazeera's Youssef Gaigi, reporting from Tunis, said the murder came as a shock for many in Tunisia.

"This was clearly a targeted killing of a high profile politician, the first of its kind in this country."

Ziad Lakhader, a leader of the Popular Front, an ally of the Democratic Patriots, said Belaid was killed by bullets to the head and chest; "Doctors told us that he has died. This is a sad day for Tunisia."

Vocal critic

Belaid had been critical of Tunisia's leadership, especially the Islamic party Ennahda that dominates the government.

He had accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam.

Government spokesman Samir Dilou called it an "odious crime".

February 4, 2013

Al-Qaeda Rises, Falls According To U.S. Politics

Last Sunday, The Washington Post published a not-so-fascinating map of al-Qaeda's diversification and decentralization from its previous headquarters in Pakistan and Afghanistan (although Osama bin Laden began jihad in response to U.S. troops on Saudi territory and Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands). The simplistic map is mis-weighted by an inaccurate assessment of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose prospects in Yemen remain on an upward "trend" despite losing territory. The insurgency is, at the least, treading sideways rather than permanently falling, and swapping AQAP would give three "green arrows" to al-Qaeda's core.

In any event, measuring the protracted nature of insurgency and terrorism in dualistic terms of "up" and "down" is the realm of mainstream media.

The Washington Post offers few pieces of information that would catch the attention of international observers, but one startling figure is the high estimate of al-Qaeda in Iraq: 2,500. The largest operational count on the map (if roughly accurate) not only occurs within a country that al-Qaeda entered after American soldiers - al-Qaeda has maintained a presence in a war that was supposed to be over. Today the network allegedly struck again when a suicide bomber infiltrated the Sahwa - "Sons of Iraq" - headquarters in Taji, presumably as retaliation for the so-called Sunni Awakening. An estimated 340 civilians were killed and many hundreds wounded in January alone and, with Baghdad paralyzed by a power struggle between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sunni opposition, Iraq's violence stands to persist and possibly intensify.

While al-Qaeda's ideology may be on set on a long-term "path to defeat," as the Obama administration and U.S. mainstream media continue to assert, an entire war has been declared over when it is far from it. This broken "promise" became the third leg of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, illustrating how al-Qaeda's estimated strength varies in relation to the administration's political needs at a given time. Taking Syria into account adds a new dimension to this dilemma. Now the same war that is supposedly "over" is fueling a new war across the border and new fears in Washington, where concerns of al-Noura's influence have overshadowed other aspects of Syria's revolution.

The administration clearly wants these situations to cut both ways - Syria is new news, Iraq is old news. Highlighting accomplishments and concealing failures is standard practice.

Add al-Qaeda's operations Iraq and Syria to AQAP and, to a lesser extent AQIM's activities in North Africa, and al-Qaeda's momentum doesn't feel as weak as the Obama administration claims. This isn't to lobby in favor of escalation, but to advise against an endless campaign of militarizing Muslim states and the undermining of their peoples. In order to truly counter al-Qaeda's ideology over the long-term, U.S. foreign policy must invest in the political energy needed to compliment military operations and establish genuine relations with local populations.

Such a multidimensional policy remains sorely missing in Yemen, Iraq, Mali and Pakistan.