Posts Tagged ‘Al-Qaeda’

Assad’s gambit but is it Putin’s end-game being played out in Syria?

November 10, 2013

The Hindu carries an interesting editorial on Assad’s Gambit:

In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Paradoxically it is the destruction of his chemical weapons which has made Assad an indispensable part of the solution. If it was one of the rebel groups (Al Qaida or a group supported by Turkey or by Iran or by Saudi Arabia or by the Kurds or by the Muslim Brotherhood) which actually did use the chemical weapons (Sarin gas) in September, then their ploy has misfired spectacularly. If it was Assad’s forces which released the gas (whether with or without his knowledge), it has certainly brought matters to a head and – also spectacularly –  shifted the course of this civil war. Syrian Opposition became “armed rebels” and are now equated with “terrorists”. From being about Assad’s repression and justified opposition the conflict is being transformed to Assad versus the terrorists.

Keeping score in the Great Syria Chess Game is not easy and when the chemical inspectors were called in I wrote

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons. ….

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

But I think the Hindu is wrong to think that it is merely the infiltration of rebel groups by Al Qaida which has damaged their support from the West. The point is that the rebel groups supported and supplied by so many surrounding countries are not a home-grown opposition but are essentially a collection of mercenary groups fighting proxy wars for many players. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in particular were and are heavily involved – and may even have been instrumental in starting the armed conflict. Now of course Iran and the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood are providing succour and support for their pet groups. Al Qaida has its fighters from all over the region (and from radicalised youth in the West) trying to attain eternal salvation through martyrdom. The EU and the US supply arms through third parties to a variety of the rebel groups – and it often seems they have no idea who the arms are going to. Russia supplies Assad. Israel no doubt stirs the pot whenever it can and using whichever faction is available to maintain the turmoil.

As Aron Lund writes in his report,Divided they Stand” An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions

The opposition landscape is so fragmented and disconnected, that there is little clarity even among activists themselves about what groups and coalitions are truly effective or enjoy popular support. ….

While it is unlikely that any of today’s political opposition groups will control the future Syria, they are likely to play a significant role in a future transition phase or reconciliation process. Regardless of who rules Syria in the future – the current regime, breakaway elite factions, a government installed with foreign backing, or armed rebels – they will need to connect with the political opposition to legitimize their own position.

Assad’s Gambit may be paying off but it is just a few moves within the Putin initiated defence. Whether the Putin defence also has an end-game in mind is as yet difficult to discern. It may just lead to a stalemate and a long drawn-out conflict. It may lead – in the best scenario – to a gradual political transition where Assad has an “honourable” discharge and exile waiting for him sometime late next year.

There are no longer any outright victories in sight in this multi-dimensional chess game where the rules keep changing. But if there is any overall direction to this end-game it is probably coming from Putin and Lavrov. Whether Obama and Kerry are playing the game, or are just bystanders providing infrastructure for the playing of the game remains to be seen. The EU is almost as divided as the Syrian opposition and are very good at mouthing platitudes. The dilemma that the US and the EU face is that support for secular forces in Syria is inevitably support for Assad. Support for any armed rebel group is also support for Islamist jihadists.

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What do Obama, Blair and Al Qaida have in common?

September 6, 2013

They all want a  US strike on Syria – each for his own reasons.

Al Qaida has the most to gain by a weakening – rather than an elimination – of Assad’s regime. That would give them time to consolidate their dominance among the opposition groups while ensuring the eventual demise of Assad.

Tony Blair is desperate to show that all attacks by Western interests which help regime-change in the area are justified in themselves. His duplicity about WMD and Iraq will always dominate his place in History and that rankles. He is still looking for the argument which can support his fantasy that the intervention in Iraq – even without any WMD – was a good thing. He has just been interviewed by the BBC and this is to be aired on Monday. The excerpts released so far clearly reveal how utterly self-centred and self-serving he is.

What exactly Obama hopes to accomplish is quite unclear. It could be for intellectual satisfaction for having – recklessly – made his red-line box for himself. It could be to demonstrate his “moral superiority” and by extension that of the US. He (through Kerry) says 1429 people were killed by sarin gas. The French put the number at 281. The British said it was about 350. How will Obama measure success? By the number of fresh bodies on the ground? Score 1 for every Assad soldier killed! An “eye for an eye” or will he need to multply by ten to ensure that his actions are a deterrent? It is the gassing of children that must be addressed he says.  Is it only the manner of their deaths he wants to react to? How many children have died in US drone attacks so far?

Israel will be very satisfied if Syria remains in internal turbulence for as long as possible. Turkey’s Islamists will be very happy to see Assad go. Will Obama be satisfied for having strengthened Al Qaida and other Islamist groups?

Perhaps Obama with his drones and his “limited and targeted strike on Syria” is just one of the wannabe soldier(s who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare”.

I think war is deplorable but unfortunately necessary. Human behaviour has not yet evolved to be able to avoid it. But war without any objective and primarily to demonstrate “moral superiority”?

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College and writes in the Washington Post:

A war the Pentagon doesn’t want

…. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

They are repelled by the hypocrisy of a media blitz that warns against the return of Hitlerism but privately acknowledges that the motive for risking American lives is our “responsibility to protect” the world’s innocents. Prospective U.S. action in Syria is not about threats to American security. 

 The U.S. military’s civilian masters privately are proud that they are motivated by guilt over slaughters in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and not by any systemic threat to our country.

They are outraged by the fact that what may happen is an act of war and a willingness to risk American lives to make up for a slip of the tongue about “red lines.” These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president. Our serving professionals make the point that killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us. The Iranians have already gotten the message.

Our people lament our loneliness. Our senior soldiers take pride in their past commitments to fight alongside allies and within coalitions that shared our strategic goals. This war, however, will be ours alone.

They are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare. …. 

…. Soon the military will salute respectfully and loose the hell of hundreds of cruise missiles in an effort that will, inevitably, kill a few of those we wish to protect. They will do it with all the professionalism and skill we expect from the world’s most proficient military. I wish Kerry would take a moment to look at the images from this week’s hearings before we go to war again.

Read the whole article.

Yemen a clear target in US drone sights

August 6, 2013

Perhaps it is all connected to the current global alert and threats of terrorist actions supposedly emanating from Yemen, but there certainly seems to be a major US operation ongoing in Yemen.

File:Yemen division 2012-3-11.svg

Yemen Divisions – wikipedia

UPDATE 2:

Drone strikes kill eight suspected militants in Yemen on Thursday 8th August

UPDATE!

Another 7 were killed in Yemen by US drone attacks on Wednesday, 7th August.

============================================

In the last 10 days since July 27th , there have been at least 4 drone attacks killing 17 people in Yemen.

  • July 27th: 6 killed in Abyan province
  • July 30th: 3 killed in drone attack on a car in Shabwa
  • August 1st: 4 killed in drone attack in Habramawt
  • 5th August: 4 killed on Tuesday when two unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at two vehicles in Wadi Abidah district. 

According to the Washington-based New America Foundation, the US killer drone attacks in Yemen almost tripled in 2012. 

The advantage with drone attacks is that they are impersonal, supposed to be clinically accurate, relatively cheap and put no personnel from the attacking side at risk. The downside is that they pre-empt any due process, are subject to the accuracy of very fallible intelligence gatherers and are inherently inhumane being “untouched by human hands”. And the civilians and children who frequently are killed on the ground get brushed under the carpet of “collateral damage”.

All those who have been killed recently in Yemen are said to have been affiliated with Al Qaeda.

But the dead cannot deny their alleged guilt and we will never know.

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

Paradigm shift: Proof is only needed if Osama is alive – his death no longer does

May 5, 2011

The ground has shifted.

The default position has changed to be that Osama is dead. No further evidence is necessary  or can actually contribute further to that default position. The decision not to release any photographs for now makes sense. The additional benefit it can provide is marginal. No doubt the conspiracy theorists and many others will screech and wail about this lack of evidence and how it may be that Osama was not killed.

They miss the point. The “Kill Osama” game is over.

The common perception and consciousness is  that he is now dead.  It is no longer politically tenable to demand that “something be done about Osama” or to criticise the US administration for not having done enough to achieve justice for 9/11. The burden of proof is no longer on the US Administration to show that Osama is dead but is on those who wish to show that he is alive.

Perception is reality.

President Obama can no longer be criticised for any sins of omission regarding the hunt for Osama bin Laden. A partial closure of events of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” has been achieved.  US foreign policy has been a hostage to the events of 9/11 for almost a decade. Some of the constraints are now removed. It frees Obama’s possibilities for actions which were unthinkable as long as the common perception was that Osama was still alive and 9/11 was an open wound. The wound has not healed yet but it now begins to close. A withdrawal or partial withdrawal from Afghanistan now becomes politically possible. US policy can now begin to look beyond what was possible with the shackles of 9/11.

Whether all this was intentional or just a happy coincidence will never be known.

Perception is reality and the perception now – with or without any further evidence –  is that Osama is dead. From the view point of foreign policy development this is not just a shifting of ground – it is a magnitude 9 earthquake. It can allow a freedom of thought in US domestic and foreign policy which has not been possible for this decade of the “War on Terror”.

This represents a fundamental paradigm shift.


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