May 31, 2011
Not even a manufactured civil war, stimulated al-Qaeda takeover of a city, and repeated massacres on peaceful protesters can wake the Obama administration from its slumber. On Memorial Monday, an off-day for media briefings, the U.S. Embassy “condemned” the “unjust attack on peaceful protesters in Taiz.”
Except, “We reiterate President Obama's recent call for President Saleh ‘to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power,’ and we emphasize that the way forward is not through violence. Parties must work together with one another and with the youth, who are the future of Yemen, to build a more peaceful, prosperous and secure nation.”
Apparently Saleh’s “commitment” still stands after massacring the Yemeni people - and the youth are still supposed to work with his ruling party!
As his assault on protesters continued overnight and the brutality began to stack up - upwards of 50 dead in Taiz, some of them burnt alive - the White House escaped comment on Tuesday. Dirty work was pushed into the State Department, however this machine has also jammed. Spokesman Mark Toner disturbingly remarked, “I think there was violence over the weekend in Ta’izz, and we condemn those indiscriminate attacks by Yemeni security forces.” His idea of a “path forward” requires Saleh to “live up to commitments he’s made to accept the GCC’s agreement...”
The administration’s decoy is then asked, “That means you’re asking him to leave power, to leave Yemen?”
“He’s made the commitment to sign this agreement for a transition to take place and a transfer – a democratic transition, rather, to take place,” Toner replies. “He needs to simply, as I said, live up to the commitments that he’s said publicly he would do.”
This commitment, in reality, is a myth perpetuated by Saleh and his political supporters. U.S. officials acknowledge his duplicity to save themselves from total embarrassment, then appeal to his “honest” side out of their own dishonesty. Saleh is actively trying to start a civil war to fracture the peaceful revolution, yet the Obama administration still clings to his “commitment to transfer power” and boasts of such a position on the U.S. Embassy site. This script should have been burned weeks ago.
To repeat now after last week’s chaos has greatly offended Yemen’s pro-democracy protesters.
Yemen as a whole represents a dark era in U.S. foreign policy, and massacres are being committed in silence by a U.S.-supported ally. The Obama administration is acting as though it doesn’t hear the protesters’ cries, who in turn cannot understand America and the international community’s silence. Unfortunately the more likely scenario is worse - the West is ignoring them - and many popular coalitions including The Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change CCYRC have expressed shock at the mute reaction to Taiz.
“It's a real shame, while Yemen has been crying loud to the world, we see no actions whatsoever from the international community, Yemen partners, UN Security Council or the League of Arab States, and sadly the neighboring GCC countries,” CCYRC said on Tuesday. “The abandonment of the Yemeni people by the international community is disgrace to global world peace.”
By once again backing the GCC’s proposal, the Obama administration has further trapped itself in Saleh’s collapsing regime. Far from “backing away from him” as so many U.S. media outlets report, the White House continues to hold Saleh’s hand by offering a 30-day transition and immunity. Signing the GCC’s proposal will contribute to Yemen’s instability and suffocate the revolution’s demands. The GCC itself has declared the deal dead, as have the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) in response to the youth’s pressure. Saleh hasn’t even agreed in the past, instead using party officials as a stalling tactic.
That leaves Washington and Riyadh as the only supporters of their own proposal, more an endless circle than a path forward. Relative to Saleh's hardening position, the Obama administration has actually softened on the besieged ruler.
To be fair the rest of the international community continues to sleep on Yemen as well. With Saudi Arabia failing to act on its “pressure” and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) awaiting orders from the West, the EU isn’t making up for a loss of reason. High Representative Catherine Ashton repeated Washington’s memo on Tuesday by continuing to support a dead proposal from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
'I am shocked and condemn in the strongest terms the use of force and live ammunition against peaceful protesters in the city of Taiz. Reports of attacks on medical facilities are appalling," she said before a session with between EU Foreign Ministers. 'The continued repression by the Yemeni regime and grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law cannot be accepted. Those responsible for such deeds must be held accountable.”
Ashton does request an independent commission from the UN Human Rights Council. However she also falls back on the old position: “I urge again President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh to address the legitimate demands of the Yemeni people regarding political transition, to refrain from violence and to end abuses of human rights... It is now time, without further pretexts, to sign and implement the GCC initiative on political transition.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights fell into the same trap.
"Such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately,” said Navi Pillay. "Further violence will only yield more insecurity and move the country further away from a resolution to this political crisis.”
Yemen isn’t undergoing a political crisis but a total revolution, a misunderstanding that was intentionally glossed over during negotiations with the GCC. Yet the U.S. above all has failed to lead. Being the world’s police has nothing to do with Yemen’s situation - America fed the monster in Saleh and is now trying to disown him while cleaning up the trail of U.S. collaboration.
That the Obama administration has yet to correct its errors generates a frightening amount of skepticism going forward. Yemen’s events are happening too fast for the administration to process, similar to a drunk driver. Saleh’s “commitment to peacefully transfer power” doesn’t exist, as admitted by U.S. statements deploring his violence assaults. To latch on and not let go suggests a deep fear of the unknown, contrary to President Obama’s fearless front during his “Moment of Opportunity.”
The White House has chosen security over democracy in Yemen, and nearly cost the country both. Fortunately the revolution will prove stronger in the end, but for now Washington has destabilized the very al-Qaeda safe haven it was trying to eliminate. This can be described as nothing other than failed counterinsurgency.
Now Saleh is manipulating AQAP in Yemen's south to "prove" his allegiance to the West. His ruse must be discounted at all costs; it is a hostile act against the Yemeni and American people. He is playing on both peoples’ fears to stave off elimination for another several months. More people will die so he can live another week or three. His end is the height of injustice, and he cannot be allowed to escape under U.S.-Saudi immunity.
Saleh has issued a number of threats throughout the week, so any U.S. statements are unlikely to get through. He’s barricaded himself in Sana’a and isn’t leaving. Abdu Ganadi, spokesperson for the Yemeni Govt said that protesters in Taiz kidnapped security forces and beat them. "We did not attack the Protesters. Reports are all exaggerated. Only two were killed," said Ganadi. "President Saleh is with the youth and their demands so he would never allow their killing."
Saleh doesn’t know the meaning of peace. He actively seeks to destabilize Yemen as much as possible, create as many grievances and distractions as possible. Divisive tactics are all he knows. However the lateness of the hour cannot stop Washington from choosing the revolution’s side.
It is the very reason to join before everyone’s worst fears become reality.
May 30, 2011
“We are prepared to stand by the Pakistani people for the long haul,” Clinton declared in reference to the U.S.-Soviet exodus from Afghanistan.
Except the soft side of her diplomacy quickly wore thin. At a surface level, Clinton’s non-military and military message provides the necessary balance for successful counterinsurgency. In addressing the youth, education, economics and Pakistan’s suffering at the hands of extremists, nowhere is the controversial North Waziristan to be found. The balance of U.S. policy, however, cannot be concealed and remains tilted in the Pentagon’s favor rather than Clinton’s department.
According to the latest reports out of Pakistan, Clinton and Mullen received a taste of what they really came for - more war in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA). The overriding question is whether a new campaign in North Waziristan will heal Pakistan’s wounds and its relationship with America, or tear them further apart.
This new COIN operation is already showing cracks in the foundation. Far from being approved during Clinton and Mullen’s visit, Islamabad’s green-light into North Waziristan went on several weeks ago. Aid agencies reportedly received a two-week notice to prepare for displaced peoples in excess of 50,000. Islamabad appears to have made the tactical decision soon after the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden, when it realized the looming combination of U.S. and militant pressure.
Amid this chaos, Islamabad could approve a long-delayed, controversial assault into North Waziristan under the pretext of targeting threats to the nation. U.S. officials would be placated with minimal fallout in the Pakistani public sphere. Thus Islamabad hasn’t been “pressured” to the extent portrayed.
The immediate mix up in motivation and objectives outlines the problematic nature of a future invasion. Because the announcement followed Clinton and Mullen’s war council with Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, U.S. media is under the impression that the Haqqanis will serve as the main target. Yet the ideal U.S. scenario is unlikely to play out over the coming months; who the Pakistani military will target - the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Haqqani network - already appears to have been decided.
“There are indications that the Pakistani military may undertake a targeted operation in North Waziristan to tackle the TTP and other foreign and local militants fighting the state of Pakistan, and sending suicide bombers to hit targets in the cities,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, The News International’s Peshawar bureau chief, predicted a week before Clinton and Mullen arrived. “But such an action could still fall short of US expectations. Pakistan’s plea is that the Haqqani Network isn’t based in North Waziristan and that its fighters and head, Commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, are all fighting across the border in Afghanistan. In case of a military action by Pakistan’s security forces in North Waziristan, the Haqqani Network is unlikely to suffer any major losses.”
Unless coerced under enormous pressure from Washington, the Haqqanis will remain a secondary target to feed the Obama administration’s craving for their blood. The network, one of Islamabad’s oldest Afghan assets, opposes TTP attacks on Pakistani military and civilian targets, believing the group should focus on Afghanistan instead. Local reports already claim the civilian government has been tasked to spin the invasion against Pakistan’s real enemies - rogue elements within the TTP.
Moreover, those commanders that pay allegiance to the TTP are likely to be left alone, including its commander of North Waziristan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur has maintained a tentative truce for years and is largely uninvolved with attacks on the Pakistani establishment, including those in response to bin Laden’s death. Launching an invasion of North Waziristan solely to eliminate Gul Bahadur makes no sense from Pakistani’s viewpoint. There is a high probability that the invasion will only target one key figure in the TTP: its chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
Earlier this month we documented how Mehsud isolated himself due to his uncontrollable behavior. An al-Qaeda follower to the core, the brash Hakimullah succeeded Baitmullah Mehsud against the will of Bahadur and Waliur Rehman, the TTP’s commander in Southern Waziristan. Both would like to get rid of him and work more closely with the Afghan Taliban, which Mehsud defied (along with the Haqqanis) when he executed long-time ISI spy Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) Tarar in January 2011.
The ISI allegedly tasked Tarar with cleaning up Mehsud’s criminal network, which had begun to act independently of the TTP.
As Mehsud and his military camps moved into North Waziristan after the 2009 invasion of South Waziristan, Hakimullah could serve as the real target and a fall guy for the entire operation. Removing him while abstaining from the Haqqanis and loyal TTP commanders would play well to the Pakistani public, which doesn’t perceive the Haqqanis and Gul Bahardur as equal threats. Meanwhile Islamabad is planning a jirga to peel away these very assets before the operation begins.
The Nation reports, “Sources said that the military leadership has advised the government to follow a multi-track approach in tackling domestic extremists. ‘The focus should remain on eliminating extremism rather than cleansing extremists,’ sources said, while reflecting on the resolve at the highest level. ‘A comprehensive national reconciliation policy must be in place before military action against militants that now is reportedly on cards in North Waziristan.’”
This strategy won’t satisfy Washington, foreshadowing an incompatible concept of the mission.
The ultimate question, then, comes in two parts: will a full-scale invasion of North Waziristan improve America's position in Afghanistan? Despite the “thousands” of Taliban killed over the last year by U.S. Special Forces and Predator strikes, U.S. and NATO deaths in the first five months of 2011 remain level to 2010. Hakimullah likes to taunt the CIA, but his direct impact in Afghanistan is negligible. So long as the Haqqanis escape devastating punishment, these figures are unlikely to see significant reduction. While the Haqqanis base themselves in North Waziristan, they have also diversified their network throughout the FATA in preparation for a potential invasion. North Waziristan’s operation may contribute to the illusion of success more than tangible benefits in Afghanistan.
“For the US to achieve or claim victory in Afghanistan, weakening of the Taliban is essential and it believes this cannot happen unless their safe havens in Pakistan are dismantled,” concludes Yusufzai.
The second half of this equation asks whether an invasion will stabilize the FATA, and thus hurt or restore U.S.-Pakistani relations. As a reaction to U.S. pressure after bin Laden and before the July withdrawal deadline, rushing a military attack for political motives doesn’t inspire the overwhelming confidence necessary to support it. Rather than create the appearance of a mutual agreement, the timing of Clinton and Mullen’s visit has reinforced the idea of Pakistan fighting America’s enemies for it.
Dr. Stephen Philip Cohen of Brookings Institute consistently upholds the Indian line in Pakistan. However even he admits, “I don’t have evidence of Pakistan army as radical in the extreme sense. However, it has become more anti-American. Some sections of the army are more anti-American than they are anti-India.”
Washington still hasn’t succeeded in convincing Pakistanis that their war is a joint effort - they feel that they’re fighting America’s war on their own soil. It is a highly conflicting war, religiously and politically, to wage among the military and civilian ranks. And in damaging Islamabad’s credibility before an operation is launched, the Obama administration has likely reduced its intensity and length. An incomplete mission will then validate public doubt.
Whether Islamabad possesses the means to both clear and hold all of North Waziristan feeds into this risk. An estimated 34,000 troops are already stationed in the territory, but they lack the density and capabilities to permanently hold their ground. South Waziristan remains a war-zone despite continual operations over the past two years, and restoring authority in North Waziristan may come second to Hakimullah.. A powerful account of the territory’s conflicted tribal elders and alienated youth also reveals the limited reach of Pakistan's nation-building. Restoring authority in the territory may come second to Hakimullah.
The uncertainty of an operation in North Waziristan is further compounded by the possibility of joint-U.S. operations - or unilateral raids. The Long War Journal reported one such raid today against the Haqqani network, and a Pakistani invasion could provide cover for U.S. operations. This arrangement would further inflame national tensions, particularly if U.S. troops mis-targeted civilians on Pakistani soil. Regardless, North Waziristan has become the Predator fleet’s main hunting grounds, and drones will pursue those militants fleeing Pakistan’s ground wave.
Unfortunately the youth’s anti-Americanism in North Waziristan is attributed to frequent drone attacks, a counterproductive counterinsurgency in the end.
Clinton insisted in Islamabad, “America cannot and should not solve Pakistan’s problems. That’s up to Pakistan. But in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear. It is up to the Pakistani people to choose what kind of country they wish to live in.”
Conspiracies are one thing, but anti-Americanism isn’t some hoax to be disbelieved. It exists for legitimate reasons that remain ongoing, many of which can be glimpsed within the potential invasion of North Waziristan. As the situation stands, an operation is likely to create more problems than it solves. Try as they do to speak in unison, Washington and Islamabad are still reading from different scripts.
Expectations and objectives remain incongruent, and risks appear to outweigh the reward.
May 29, 2011
Ignored for months compared to those uprisings America has actively supported during the Arab Spring, Yemen suddenly finds itself back in the news with the flick of a switch. Both U.S. and international media rushed to Sana’a after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to cede power - nearly a month ago. Although a select crew of journalists on the ground continue to broadcast Yemen’s revolution through the U.S. media blanket, their superiors fled the crime scene once they realized their mistake.
A mistake so many Yemenis have become immune to: never trust Ali Saleh.
Returning intermittently as Syria’s revolution took center stage, mainstream media seemingly landed for good last Sunday when Saleh’s loyalists besieged the UAE embassy, trapping U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein. A helicopter rescue triggered a small debate over whether Saleh had violated international law, until then a non-issue despite his ruthless crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. This informed media is now warning of civil war, the kind of prediction that would follow five months of inattention to an extraordinary non-violent revolution.
A Master of "Creative Chaos"
The buildup in Sana’a was felt for months. However this expectation had less to do with the real possibility for tribal conflict and more to do with Saleh’s continual threat of civil war, exploited along with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to keep Washington and Riyadh on his side. Perhaps a cog in his scheme to provoke Yemen’s various and well-armed tribes, Saleh’s brutal crackdown on street demonstrators eventually forced the youth coalitions to request additional protection. Thousands of tribesmen flooded into the capital in May. Many regional leaders declared their support for the peaceful revolution, but cautioned their readiness to use force if attacked.
Officials of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) countered that tribesmen affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were “smuggling” weapons into Sana’a. Abdu Ganadi, the deputy Minister of Information, said at the time, "The youth are calling for peaceful protests while they know that inside their camps they have hundreds of machine guns, especially in the Houthi camps.”
Saleh’s trademark duplicity and divisive tactics explain why a Libyan-style civil war is not threatening to engulf Yemen. Having perfected his art with deadly precision during three decades of misrule, Saleh triggered an artificial chain reaction throughout the past week to stave off elimination. Security forces had removed themselves from the streets by the time Saleh’s armed “loyalists” surrounded the UAE embassy in Sana’a. Here he gathered with officials from Western capitals and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who held out hope that Saleh would finally sign their “power transfer” after months of resistance.
Most Yemenis have no doubt that Saleh planned to interrupt the ceremony. He had, in fact, informed everyone of his intention not to sign on Saturday, when he rejected the revolution as “creative chaos” orchestrated by foreign powers.
In a premeditated response to the ensuing international firestorm, Saleh ordered his remaining security forces to raid the residence of his own Hashid chieftain, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar. Fighting quickly spread to government buildings as al-Ahmar mobilized his own army, a substantial number of disciplined militiamen. Saleh then killed part of his own mediation team after sending them to negotiate a ceasefire, including Bakil tribal sheik Muhammad bin Muhammad Abdullah abu Lahum.
This melee sparked fresh clashes outside Sana’a with Nehm tribesmen of the Bakil; Saleh’s government and local fighters claim they came under attack from each other. Residents reported, “terrifying scenes throughout Friday of civilian houses coming under missiles and rocket-propelled grenade attacks by the government trying to rout out militants from villages.” Although al-Ahmar declared a ceasefire that night, sporadic gunfire and explosions still interrupt the tense capital.
The al-Ahmars made for a naturally artificial target, one that Saleh saved for an emergency. Having passed the point of no return, moving on the powerful tribal federation is being interrupted as the finale of his 33-year rule. Saleh and the al-Ahmars share a rocky relationship; Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who headed Yemen's parliament and worked with Saleh until his death in 2007, supposedly opposed his rule in private. The al-Ahmars also possess a vast business empire and the accompanying wealth, making them a necessary but suspect ally. Conversely, Saudi Arabia funded the al-Ahmar family as a countermeasure to Saleh's instability.
Neither side trusted the other completely and Hamid al-Ahmar, Sadiq’s younger and more ambitious brother, even informed U.S. diplomats in 2009 of his plans to spark a revolt. Hamid was one of the first tribal leaders to jump ship in February, and Sadiq would follow him after the brutal March 18th sniper attack in Al-Taghir (Change Square). Saleh unsuccessfully attempted to guarantee the al-Ahmars’ removal during two months of negotiations with the GCC, outraging him and adding to his list of excuses not to sign. The end result is a largely manufactured crisis wrapped in legitimate grievances against the al-Ahmars, with the purpose of interrupting a non-violent revolution and scaring Washington and Riyadh.
Even Maj. Gen. Abdullah Ali Elewa, Saleh’s freshest defector, announced with eight fellow officers, “He wants to confirm his false claims that if he gives up power, the homeland will be destroyed."
Think Egypt, Not Libya
Elewa, like rogue General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, by no means enjoys the support of Yemen's revolutionaries. His statements merely illustrate how many people see through Saleh’s transparent ploys, and that his grand scheme failed to distract the millions who march against him. Duplicity isn’t the only reason to disbelieve a civil war - the revolution’s youthful purity provides a second counterweight. Hashem Nidal of the Independent Movement for Change explained, "They wanted to push the revolution towards violence and we refuse this completely."
For now Yemen’s tribes also remain unified against Saleh. His constant rhetoric has inoculated every actor to the point where he contributed to the revolution’s cohesion. His fall could still trigger the very war he has attempted to spawn, yet the threat of civil war is diminishing compared to pre-revolutionary Yemen.
“Saleh is a member of our tribe, but he turned bloody," al-Ahmar said from Al-Taghir at Sana’a University. "Saleh wanted to create discord in the country and he wanted to drag us to a civil war. We wanted it (revolution) to be peaceful but Saleh, his sons and his clique wanted war. We will not leave them the opportunity to turn it into a civil war.”
This possibility is rejected by established U.S. analysts such as Christopher Boucek of Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Gregory Johnsen of Princeton University. Boucek recently warned, “The opposition appears to be united only in their opposition to President Saleh. This tactical cooperation will likely dissipate if Saleh steps down.”
Johnsen believes, "The more tribes and groups that get sucked into the fighting, the greater the danger of civil war becomes," and U.S. officials fear a suspiciously similar outcome.
One administration official deployed to leak the current U.S. position warned, "We are very concerned that the unsettled situation in Yemen is bringing longstanding tribal rivalries to the surface, which is further complicating the process of reaching an agreement on an orderly transfer of power. Tribal as well as extremist elements are attempting to exploit the current instability in order to advance their own parochial interests."
How coincidental - Saleh’s exact threats! Not to mention parochial is the perfect description of U.S. policy in Yemen.
Yemen’s tribal situation isn’t complicating the environment. The one of Saleh is attacking the many, stimulating Yemen's unity. Although danger remains in a post-Saleh environment, the Hashid and Bakil (Yemen’s most powerful and numerous tribal federations) have closed ranks in an attempt to bury past animosity. Bakil sheikhs immediately declared the attack on al-Ahmar as an attack on all tribes. At a popular level, the political opposition remains open to reconciliation with Saleh’s average supporters.
On the tactical side, Saleh has already lost much of the country and begins far more isolated than Gaddafi. Rather than seizing the country’s eastern half and moving west, these regions already fall under the opposition's tribal authority. The north and south, largely under the control of the Houthi sect and Southern Movement’s network, can be taken over after widespread government defections. AQAP poses its own dilemma, but Sana’a is and has always been the epicenter of Yemen’s revolution, and would remain ground-zero in a climactic battle.
Any major military conflict won’t pit Yemeni against Yemeni, but Saleh's last Republican Guards against a sizable majority of the country. In trying to divide everyone against each other, he finally united the majority against him.
Turning U.S. Inaction into Action
With the proper strategy, Yemen doesn’t require U.S. air support to counter Saleh’s decaying military and ineffective air force. Tribes are also armed to the point where they can match Saleh’s firepower, relatively speaking, and got the upper hand of many battles last week. Rather than intervene, Washington needs to stop obstructing the revolution and sever all life-lines to Saleh, political and military. These funds should be switched to humanitarian assistance. The Obama administration must publicly oppose Saudi Arabia’s steadfast obstruction rather than acquiesce to its counter-revolution.
And if Washington's fear of another Libya is sincere, now is the time to prevent the worst case scenario from happening. As NATO jets pound Gaddafi’s compounds, the Obama administration and European Union (EU) continue to hold out the GCC’s proposal as an escape ladder for Saleh. Reports of civil war expounded by the Western media also outline the GCC rather than announce the revolution’s demands. The GCC proposal isn’t just dead, it’s been dead since the beginning phase. The youth gave it one chance two months ago and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) destroyed the last of its credibility.
In its latest letter to President Barack Obama, the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) explained, “We understand that the United State continues to hedge on the initiative on the Gulf Cooperation Council, in which, in all honesty, the overwhelming majority of the Yemeni people had no faith from the very start.”
The GCC will keep Saleh in power, not remove him, by allocating a 30-day transition period. Immunity for his family will rob the oppressed of justice, while his party harbors intentions of seizing interim power. Thus a completely new document must satisfy the will of Yemen’s incalculable revolutionaries. If the GCC is to revive from the dead, it must include his immediate resignation and remove his immunity clause. Saleh will resist, of course, but he has manipulated the GCC and Washington the entire time, stirring mayhem without consequence.
Only the Obama administration seems to continue biting as U.S. policy remains unchanged: “the GCC proposal is a good one and Saleh should sign it.”
This policy must undergo an immediate reversal from its current position. Cutting military aid may not make an immediate difference and sanctions are dicey; Saleh has outmaneuvered Washington by lining up Beijing and Moscow on both fronts. The real push must be political, legal and moral in nature: unilateral declarations and sincere support for the revolution, not the unjust extraction of a U.S. asset possessing incriminating evidence. Yemen’s health will immediately improve once Saleh is removed and isolated from power.
Fulfilling the revolution’s demands and building a new Yemen remains an uphill battle from there. However Saleh’s fall will cleanse much of the poison accumulated over his turbulent rule.
Afghan authorities said Sunday NATO had killed 52 people, mostly civilians, in air strikes against insurgents as violence picked up in recent weeks with the start of the fighting season.
In the southern province of Helmand, local authorities said at least 14 civilians, including women and children, were killed and six injured in an air raid on Saturday.
US Marines in Helmand's Nawzad district called in air support after their base came under attack from small arms fire, the provincial government said in a statement.
"During the air strike, two civilian houses were targeted which killed 14 civilians and six others were wounded," it said.
The statement said the dead included five girls, seven boys and two women.
"ISAF are aware of the reports that civilians were allegedly killed in an ISAF air strike," Major Tim James, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told AFP.
"(The) Regional Command South West has sent a joint assessment team to the area to look into the allegation and they will issue their findings to the press."
Aslam, a local elder of Nawzad district, told AFP he "lost 12 relatives while 10 others including children were injured" in the air strike.
He said some shots were fired at ISAF helicopters which flew into the area, adding that the choppers returned after 10 to 20 minutes and fired rockets, killing the "innocent civilians."
According to him, five children, five men and two women were killed in the attack.
Separately the governor of Nuristan on Sunday told AFP that 18 civilians and 20 police were killed by "friendly fire" during US-led air strikes against insurgents in his troubled northeastern province.
Nuristan was the scene of heavy battles last week between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. The police and civilians were targeted on Wednesday after they were mistaken for militants, Jamaluddin Badr said.
"The policemen were killed due to friendly fire," Badr said, adding the air strike in the troubled district of Do Ab targeted a location that the officers "had just" taken from the insurgents during fighting.
"Civilians were killed because the Taliban... (who) ran out of ammunition fled into the civilians' houses and then the civilians were mistaken with the Taliban and fired upon," the governor said.
Major James said those allegations were also being investigated.
"ISAF has sent a fact-finding team to investigate the allegations about civilian and police casualties in Nuristan," he said.
"Our initial reporting does not indicate civilian casualties in that air strike," he added.
Civilian casualties in the US-led war against Al-Qaeda-linked Taliban insurgents is a sensitive issue and one of the main causes of a widening drift between President Hamid Karzai and his US backers.
Karzai on Saturday ordered Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to take over control of night raids from the NATO forces. Karzai's administration says most civilian casualties occur during such operations and that night raids of civilian homes drive war-weary Afghans against his already-fragile administration.
May 28, 2011
“I learnt early on that your audience take the songs in the way they want to rather than the way you might want them to,” he said in February. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – that was satire. People would try and argue that it was this militant message, but just how militant can you really be when you’re saying, 'The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner’?”
Regardless of how serious Scott-Heron intended to be, the legendary East Coast poet inspired generations of revolutionary-minded individuals through his music. The schism between material and mental satisfaction remains a central dilemma of the human species. Now he’s died in the crucible of revolution, as the Arab Spring unfolds in high-definition across the digital spectrum. Scott-Heron’s personal message may have reached as few ears as it did in 1970, but the spirit of revolution finally erupted in a global shift in consciousness.
This force will be resisted so long as it seeks to overturn the status quo. However the revolution will not stopped being televised either. It’s on 24 hours a day.
“The [GCC] accord as it stands is no longer acceptable to us unless it provides for his immediate departure. The protesters didn’t approve of it in the first place. And with the clashes this week, the tribesmen can no longer accept it.”
- Mohammed al- Mutawakkil, a member of Yemen's Joint Meeting Parties’ higher council, calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to immediately transfer power to his deputy, Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi
While Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the TFG’s Western-educated Prime Minister, has rallied the frail government into a semi-stable position, the TFG remains politically gridlocked heading into August. Due to expire at the month’s end, the TFG’s mandate was extended months ago but remains in limbo due to a variety of factors. President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Sharif Hassan Adan, the Speaker of Parliament, have dueled over term extensions. After blocking Ahmed’s own extension and calling for a parliamentary election to determine his future, Adan extended his own term another three years.
Parliament is considered the TFG’s least efficient body, and stiff Western resistance negotiated Aden’s extension down to one year. Conversely, a national election was delayed for one year in accordance with the TFG’s mandate. Except like many of the TFG’s internal dilemmas, this crisis remains unresolved and the two officials have yet to bridge their differences. Earlier this month Augustine Mahiga, UN special representative to Somalia, told the Security Council, “The problem is that neither Parliament nor the Government want change. And that is the crux of the paralysis.”
“What we are trying to do in the Security Council and [other] stakeholders in the region, the African Union and IGAD [regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development] is to heal this paralysis and provide a fresh momentum to push the peace process forward by agreeing on the necessary benchmarks for the end of the transition.”
Sounds like a plan - if more benchmarks create less confusion, not more.
The UN generated further headlines after blasting TFG officials for smuggling up to $70 million in Western cash out of the country. These rumors have circulated for years, but they come at a make-or-break point for the UN’s AMISOM campaign. Western donors continue to withhold their pledges due to the political crisis and widespread corruption, and expect major reforms to be hammered out by August. The task may be too large for the TFG to handle, and the immediate fear is that political stalemate will jeopardize the AU’s military gains against al-Shabab.
“This is the worst possible time to be distracted by untenable election processes and the divisive campaigning that will inevitably take place,” Mohamed warned as the AU gears up to seize Mogadishu’s notorious Bakara market. “We need to defeat these aggressors at their source and this needs strong political will, cooperation and collaboration.”
The African Union now lands amid the TFG’s crisis with hopes of untangling at least some of these knots. Somali Minister for the Presidential Palace Abdulkader Moalim Nur told reporters, “Today Somali president received a high level AU delegation here at the presidential palace—the AU delegation congratulated AMISOM and Somali government forces on the successes they gained in recent combat operations against Al-shabaab terrorists.”
If the TFG and AU want to keep and build on those gains, they will have to spend the majority of their conversations on Somalia’s political crisis. A reconciliation summit is scheduled for next month and a clear position still needs to be developed before testing the waters. So many things to do, so little time and “will,” as Mahiga complained. Somalia’s politicians may find resolving their differences and correcting their own behavior to be like seizing ground from al-Shabab.
It remains to be seen how AU officials respond to the blood of their men being wasted on political feuds.
May 27, 2011
Although preaching Yemenis’ universal rights in the last week, the Obama administration has expended much of its energy suppressing their five-month revolution. Protecting U.S. counter-terror assets (Saleh’s family) and Saudi interests has superseded Yemen’s own security and the freedom of its people. White House and Pentagon officials frequently warn that the vacuum benefits al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), now considered al-Qaeda’s most potent branch.
What they surely realize but cannot admit is that current U.S. policy also benefits AQAP, first by propping up a ruthless dictator and now by delaying his fall.
In order to derail a signing ceremony last Sunday that would theoretically cede power, Saleh momentarily removed his security forces from the streets as “armed loyalists” besieged the UAE embassy in Sana’a. U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein was trapped in the melee before escaping to Saleh’s palace, where the embattled president again refused to sign a power transfer outlined by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Personally affronted after going easy on Saleh during Yemen’s National Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reverted to scolding him as “the only party that refuses to match actions to words.”
Except this isn’t true. Beyond four months of relative silence, the last week has proven a disaster in U.S. crisis management. One White House official anonymously told The New York Times on Wednesday, “Even by his own standards of what is rational, he is not being rational.” The next day, as Saleh launched new attacks on his own Hashid tribe, Obama and Clinton repeated their calls to Yemen’s deaf president.
Whether by choice or force, the White House continues to buy into Saleh’s threats despite his unflinchingly hostile behavior. Off in Britain, Obama’s personal appeals to resign were greeted with steadfast resistance. As Saleh busied himself orchestrating a civil war in response to domestic and international pressure, his spokesman Ahmed al-Soufi delivered a defiant message: "I will not leave power and I will not leave Yemen. I don't take orders from outside.”
U.S. officials nevertheless rely a small box of standard lines to throw at Yemen. Something about “a path forward” that will “resolve the current political crisis” and “really chart a way forward out of this violence towards a democratic transition.” The United States “continues to support the efforts of the GCC” and “the departure of President Saleh, who has consistently reneged on those agreements.”
As such, Yemen’s crisis “could be resolved by President Saleh simply signing the agreement that the GCC put in front of him.”
The reality is that Saleh never truly committed to the GCC’s proposal, instead speaking through his spokesmen and ruling General People’s Party (GPC) in an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors campaign. He’s backtracked on his rhetoric, not his actual intentions. Now he’s provoking a crisis with his own tribe, all in a vain effort to stall for time and legitimize his rule through the threat of civil war.
Worse still, the GCC’s proposal is rotten to the core and rejected by the popular revolution, including the Coordinating Council for the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) and Civil Coalition of Revolutionary Youth (CCRY). With Saleh perched on his ledge, giving him another 30 days as specified by the GCC would only intensify the crisis. Immunity encourages a suicidal crime spree, and his GPC has been allocated substantial authority in a potential transition council. At one point the GCC included a clause that protesters return home, contrary to U.S. support for peaceful demonstrations.
Negotiated behind their backs with the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a coalition of political actors, U.S. and Saudi officials crafted the GCC’s document on input from Saleh’s GPC. It will not “simply” chart a way out of Yemen’s crisis or address the aspirations and demands of its people. It does not support “a peaceful and orderly transition.” The streets are screaming their demands to the White House yet it refuses to listen.
Contrary to “changing” U.S. policy, the administration’s line since Sunday has weakened relative to Saleh’s hardening. While Obama declared from Britain, "the time for our leadership is now," his leadership has been M.I.A. in Yemen. So has his judgement. After allowing U.S. policy in Yemen to erode and reacting with exceptional hesitancy, The New York Times recently revealed a call between Saleh and John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism chief. Brennan had phoned Saleh on Wednesday hoping to score big for Obama’s “Moment of Opportunity.”
Although Saleh would reject his offer immediately, only later did their secret deal emerge from the shadows. Obama had offered to, “single out the Yemeni president as a positive example of change in his long-awaited speech on the Middle East,” if he signed the GCC’s proposal.
Such a move would have committed a blunder of monstrous proportions. Slaughtering hundreds of protesters just in the past four months and tormenting every piece of Yemen’s diverse society for years, Saleh will never be considered an example of positive change. Obama probably would have been forced to retract this offense. His one-liner on Saleh ended up outraging Yemenis as it is; to excuse his behavior through the GCC would have displayed a frightening level of ignorance.
Sadly Saleh’s version of audacity has overpowered Obama’s. Rather than take a bold risk in Yemen, his administration insults Yemenis through empty rhetoric and meek support. Saleh just attempted to manufacture a civil war to remain in power and is now deploying the last of his air power, yet the U.S. continues to hold his hand through the GCC. The political bloc is a coffin for Yemen’s revolution, not unlike those coffins protesters carry through the streets reading “GCC initiative.”
Terminating hundreds of millions in U.S. aid (counter-terrorism support is ongoing) and levying UN sanctions may not impact Saleh with Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia positioned to cushion his fall. Saleh isn’t leaving - he’s stalled for time through the U.S. sponsored GCC since the charade began. The last four months have been one fantastic act, and he’s prepared to end it on his own terms. However America and the rest of the international community can still lead the moral assault against him. U.S. pressure remains begrudging rather than sincere - this must change immediately.
For now the Obama administration remains willing to turn Yemen’s power transfer over to Saleh; the G8 continues to follow despite him barricading himself in Sana’a. President Obama must personally condemn Saleh’s regime, scrap the GCC proposal immediately, and engage the popular coalitions in an effort to construct a power transfer based on their aspirations. Yemen isn’t undergoing a political crisis, but an unconditional revolution aimed at total regime change.
Washington may not be able to remove Saleh by carrot or stick. That doesn’t mean the Obama administration should gamble every last chip on the wrong side of Yemen’s future.
Mahdi Mohammed didn’t sound like himself. He didn’t sound like the smiling young father I’d met among a throng of anti-government protesters in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, in February. And he didn’t sound like the earnest activist who promised me, when I was deported from Yemen in March, that he’d welcome me back to a “free Yemen” in April. The Mahdi I spoke to early Tuesday morning sounded—along with the rest of the Yemeni protesters I spoke to this week—like he was at the end of his rope. That’s because, with President Saleh’s third rejection of a brokered peace deal over the weekend, Yemen’s revolutionary youth movement finds itself teetering at a dangerous crossroads: continue negotiations with a duplicitous tyrant who has no intention of leaving office, or take up arms against a regime that heavily outguns both the protesters and the tribes that oppose it...
May 26, 2011
Despite the UN’s mobilization and mediation efforts through Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the situation in Abyei is looking increasingly dire on the ground and within the national context. At least 30,000 people are estimated to have fled the territory, with death tolls ranging from 68 to 100+. Both the North and South accuse each other of provoking another civil war.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the nascent Southern Sudan, issued a reassuring statement that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), “We will not go back to war. It will not happen.” Unfortunately this is about the only good news.
On Monday we analyzed how the Northern Sudanese government patiently eyed its time to strike into Abyei. By tempting the SPLA into infiltrating Abyei and awaiting July 9th, when Southern Sudan is scheduled to declare its formal independence, the North encouraged an artificial pretext to “cleanse” the territory of an estimated 2,500 units. UN officials were in the process of negotiating a mutual pullout when a UN-escorted Northern force was ambushed by unidentified assailants. Both accuse each other of staging the attack.
Either way, UN ambassador Susan Rice conceded on Thursday that the North’s invasion of Abyei territory and the town itself is looking increasingly premeditated. Another mystery still unresolved is the use of proxy militias. Resolving the crisis, already an extreme task, now needs the help of a miracle.
“The situation in and around Abyei remains very, very volatile," said Elizabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN's humanitarian office (OCHA), citing reports from staff on the ground. "The Sudan armed forces (SAF) maintain their presence in the town and the presence of a large number of Misseriya militia has been reported.
According to the AP, “The nomadic and Arab Misseriya, historically allied to Khartoum, have rejected allegations that their militias are involved in the unrest.”
As we also observed from the North’s aggressive rhetoric, President Omar al-Bashir has no intention of leaving Abyei without a favorable political agreement. The territory failed to meet the CPA’s requirements and was withheld from the January 9th referendum; a special referendum was to be held sometime this year. The North wanted to interrupted both Abyei and the South’s political cycles, first destabilizing the environment and then demanding new negotiations on its terms.
Rice confirmed these fears during a conference call on her latest African trip: "There's real concern that the government of Sudan may have taken a decision to continue to occupy Abyei for its own political advantage for an indefinite period.”
Abyei’s situation is so tightly gridlocked that General Lazarus Sumbeiywo, chief mediator of the CPA, proposed an independent state on Tuesday. Although the idea was widely greeted as impractical, his admission reveals the depths of Abyei’s crisis. Perhaps it will untie itself before July 9th - an invaded Abyei may not even affect the South’s independence day.
Murphy’s Law shouldn’t be tempted though, especially in Sudan.
May 25, 2011
His cabinet bristles at the notion of him being disconnected from foreign affairs, and Obama speaks with a confidence that verges on the absurd.
“Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts,” he begins before addressing Osama bin Laden’s death. “After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead.”
However some executive decisions also exceed his control as a figurehead, and Iraq’s withdrawal is trending in that direction. At this very moment unarmed members of the Mahdi Army are marching through Sadr City, a Baghdad slum that pays allegiance to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Updated figures estimate their number at 18,000. With U.S. officials provoking an intense debate within Iraq’s parliament over the extended presence of U.S. troops, al-Sadr ordered the march to inject himself into the political debate through his most powerful asset.
They demand a firm commitment to the December 31st, 2011 withdrawal deadline.
According to U.S. military officials, Obama is prepared to approve a 10,000 unit force to remain for an undisclosed number of years. An Iraqi media outlet reported a plan of 20,000. Either way, both the Obama administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hope to extend the deadline in the near future. And they share the same obstacle: al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which is threatening to activate in the event of continual “occupation.”
Although the Army committed itself to grassroots organizing since a 2008 ceasefire, it has stockpiled a bounty of weapons and issued a steady flow of threats against an extension. Ali al-Kufi, Sadr’s head of media affairs in Najaf, told The Washington Post, “The march is a way we say... in case the American forces insist on staying... we have a military choice to face them.”
The final question, then, is whether al-Sadr will risk his political gains and pull the trigger on a military campaign. While no party in the Iraq’s parliament wants to take ownership of the SOFA, each hoping a mandate is reached without offering themselves up first, al-Sadr’s party stands to lose more than anyone else. Part of his political platform is based on defeating the U.S. occupation, and it’s credibility is already facing a direct attack before a potential conflict.
Yet Sadr’s party is also aware of al-Maliki and Washington’s plot. In pushing for something that the Sunnis and Kurds privately seek, they hope to isolate al-Sadr politically and tempt him into overreacting militarily. Baiting him into becoming an enemy of the state could offer justification to restrict or shut down his entire operation.
Sadr party officials have tried to shape a nationalistic Iraqi narrative over al-Sadr's personal message.
Only the Army’s mobilization wouldn’t break Obama’s promise even if U.S. troops suddenly found themselves in combat operations again. Three days after Obama reaffirmed “combat missions” as over, two U.S. troops were killed in an IED attack in Baghdad. 16 U.S. troops in all have been killed in hostile incidents since Obama declared combat missions over in August 2010, in addition to 19 “non-hostile” fatalities.
Now he’s prepared to sign off on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ troop extension.
If and when Obama administration renegotiated Iraq’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), it will be done mostly against Obama’s personal will. He may acquiesce under the rationale that Iraq’s practical reality demands an extension, and its security situation is still far from livable on a daily basis. The renewed presence of U.S. troops could destabilize the environment as well. U.S. troops are deployed to counter Iran first, help Iraqis second.
"It would be reassuring to the Gulf States,” said Gates, always happy to do Saudi Arabia's biding. “It would not be reassuring to Iran, and that is a good thing.”
The Defense Secretary has angled al-Maliki since coming onboard the Obama administration. He’s tried so many times that an extension appears to be a given, contrary to Obama’s pledge to remove all U.S. troops by 2012. Meanwhile the White House has ignored Gates’s politicking, refusing to diverge from the scheduled time-line. Campaign promises would be broken - Afghanistan’s deadlines would start to look shaky too.
Except Obama is finally relenting. Although blatantly lying about the end of Iraq’s combat operations, never does he actually commit to a 2011 withdrawal. Soon, if Gates can corner al-Sadr with al-Maliki’s help, he will approve an extension to maintain Iraq’s sovereignty, or something to that effect.
And the Pentagon will get its way again in a foreign country.
The time to sever U.S. support for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived long before his loyalists surrounded the UAE embassy in Sana’a, trapping U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein in the process. It came before Saleh repeatedly backtracked on the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) power transfer, a document partially authored by U.S. and Saudi officials. Certainly before Saleh manufactured a fresh round of civil strife by assaulting the head of his own Hashid tribe, Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar, who decided to back the revolution months ago.
From the revolution’s beginning, the Obama administration should have realized the inevitability of Saleh’s collapse and chosen the right side of history - those pro-democracy protesters filling Yemen’s streets by the millions. Yet the timing hasn’t been good for Washington and Riyadh, forcing them to put their own interests ahead of Yemen’s revolution.
Now its people’s safety, U.S. interests and regional stability are in greater danger than before.
The “friendly” neighborhood dictator
Many questionable factors account for America’s stubborn support of the GCC initiative, rejected as illegitimate by the popular revolution and declared dead by GCC officials. While al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) serves as the main excuse for supporting Saleh, its small force doesn’t justify obstructing an entire revolution. Especially when the opposition, far from adhering to an extremist ideology, pledges to be a more trustworthy partner against AQAP.
On WikiLeaks’ record for redeploying U.S.-trained counter-terrorism units against Yemen’s political opposition, Saleh has sought to regulate AQAP more than eliminate it. Doing so has brought in hundreds of millions in U.S. military aid, along with economic aid to siphon and Washington’s comfy political blanket to hide under. Aware of his unstable personality and his crime rap, the Obama administration continued to let Saleh slide because it "needed him.”
This dependency encouraged his bad behavior, antagonized Yemen’s populace, accelerated the revolution, and expanded AQAP’s area of operations. U.S. policy run through AQAP's militaristic prism has proven a counterinsurgency disaster on all fronts: political, military, economic and social. Saleh always advertised himself as the only man who could hold Yemen together. He ended up uniting all segments of society against him.
However the Obama administration’s immediate concerns appear to have glossed over this reality. Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) is slated to play a key role in a potential transition, contrary to the revolution’s demands. Seeking to place another subservient regime in Saleh’s void, the administration also needs time to identify new military liaisons. Saleh’s son, Ahmed, and his nephews currently serve as the Pentagon’s point-men, and U.S. Special Forces have run counter-terror training through the Republican Guard.
Widely vilified and compromised as U.S. assets, all of Saleh’s branches need replacing.
Equally important is scrubbing the trail of evidence back to Washington. Facing increasing military defections at the tribal level, Saleh has relied upon his personal Republican Guard and Central Security to suppress the revolution. While U.S. officials claim to see no “bleed-over” from U.S.-trained units into his street crackdown, Yemeni accounts claim otherwise. Meanwhile Republican Guard troops under Ahmed’s command were recently spotted heading towards Hasaba district, home to al-Ahmar and the Interior Ministry building that has been taken over by his militia.
Saleh is equivalent to Osama bin Laden; if protesters catch him and hold a trial, he could spill America’s every misdeed into Yemen's political arena. Saleh wasted no time calling President Barack Obama out personally for directing “creative chaos” from Washington, and repeated this accusation before ordering his loyalists to obstruct Sunday’s signing ceremony. He will certainly turn on Washington even if Yemenis discount his intel, and AQAP would exploit this material to reinforce bin Laden’s narrative of Western puppets. Treating Saleh with kid gloves and silence has more to do with him targeting the U.S. government than Yemenis.
Thus the Obama administration has attempted to extract Saleh with immunity rather than punish him like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On a higher geopolitical level, Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to see any more waves crash along its border. Although King Abdullah and Saleh share a close relationship, the royal family is no fan and runs a tribal intelligence network to counter his loss of authority in the north. This network could erode in a democratic Yemen, and Bahrain's regime might collapse from Saleh’s aftershocks. Perceiving its outer walls as crumbling, Yemen fell into Riyadh’s grander counter-revolution.
U.S. policy is drifting in the same counter-revolution, caught in the false choice of “security” over “democracy” that Obama rejected during his “Moment of Opportunity.” While Saleh started as Washington’s only option in Yemen - or “the Devil we know,” as Riyadh calls him - his behavior over the previous years and months demonstrates that he is no friend of America. Only an opportunistic and desperate dictator.
Time to pop Saleh's bubble
A besieged embassy appeared to wake the Obama administration from its daze. Although Obama himself remained silent, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was forced to express her “outrage” after urging Saleh to sign the GCC’s proposal. However the shock quickly wore off. While The Washington Post reported that the White House is finally considering UN sanctions against Saleh, the State Department has refused to provide details on “all the options” under review.
Given the potential for America to end up on the wrong end of these sanctions, the threat appears to be no more than that. This move isn’t sincere so much as begrudged - Washington still won’t let go of Saleh willingly. The administration is only threatening to withhold U.S. aid, which continues to flow despite Saleh’s violent behavior, until he signs the GCC’s proposal. The State Department's Mark Toner insisted on Monday and again on Tuesday that Saleh sign "immediately." On Wednesday he simply declared, "We believe that the GCC proposal is a good one and that Saleh should sign it."
Except the GCC poses as a crux of conflict; inking Saleh’s signature is a red herring. In a counter-statement released by the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC), one of Yemen’s leading coalitions “reaffirms our rejection of the initiative,” and denounced the initiative for giving “Ali Saleh cover to continue in the exercise of his inhuman crimes against his own people.” While President Obama sips tea with the Queen of England, his administration is now using Saleh’s mini “civil war” to force the GCC upon the protesters against their will.
“We applauded the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council in seeking an orderly and peaceful resolution to the crisis,” Obama later declared alongside UK Prime Minister David Cameron, “and we call on President Saleh to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power.”
Considering how flippantly U.S. officials throw the phrase around, it bears constant repeating that the GCC’s proposal will not “put Yemen on a positive path.” This “power transfer” will suppress the revolution’s aspirations and prolong Yemen’s crisis, generating the same tribal conflict that broke out after Sunday. If Saleh signed “immediately,” he still gets another 30 days minimum to plot and scheme. How many times must the Obama administration burn itself on Saleh’s duplicity?
Spokesman Ahmed al-Soufi responded by reaffirming Saleh’s intentions: "I will not leave power and I will not leave Yemen. I don't take orders from outside."
Instead of criticizing his behavior before recommitting to the same failed policy, the Obama administration must go beyond cutting Saleh’s support - it must bury the GCC’s proposal. The revolution's demands are non-negotiable and hardened in the face of Saleh’s defiance. A completely new document forged by popular coalitions, with assistance from the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and tribal authorities, must fill the political void. Protesters want Saleh to resign immediately and face trial like Hosni Mubarak. Yet on the same day that Egyptian protesters faced down the U.S.-backed military council and brought Mubarak to court, the State Department urged Saleh to accept immunity through the GCC.
Yemen’s justice is not for Washington or anyone else to decide, and protesters fear that Saleh would maintain his rule through the GPC. Dissolving his party, or else neutralizing it during the transition, is vital to fulfilling the revolution’s objective of a free and equal Yemen.
Cutting U.S. support does present several problems completely unrelated to AQAP, Riyadh's own resistance being one of them. For years Saleh has also courted China and Russia, Yemen’s second and third trading partners after the U.S, who in turn laid low as Washington held the dominant position. The revolution's vacuum opened an opportunity to slip in, with Russia particularly defending Yemen’s "political crisis" against “foreign interference.” Even if Washington halts its funds and levies sanctions on Saleh, Moscow and Beijing could block the UN's vote and provide economic and military aid. The price for abandoning Yemen’s political and information spheres is running extraordinarily high.
However these possible reactions cannot stop the Obama administration from ultimately choosing right in Yemen. A sustainable strategy against AQAP - and a fundamentally moral policy - will unconditionally support the pro-democracy movement in their quest to modernize Yemen. It will break away of Saudi Arabia's counter-revolution, and it won't succumb to counterproductive unilateral strikes on AQAP. So many Yemenis have waited too long for this moment, yet Washington is suicidally trying to hold them back. The widening cracks in U.S. policy have already refuted it, and Saleh will eventually fall with or without foreign support.
Who wants to follow him off of the cliff?
Saleh now tells Reuters, "What happened was a provocative act to drag us into civil war, but it is limited to the Ahmar sons. They bear responsibility for shedding the blood of innocent civilians. Until this second, they are attacking the interior ministry. But we don't want to widen the confrontation.”
He adds, "Yemen, I hope, will not be a failed state or another Somalia. The people are still keen for a peaceful transition of power.”
The people, yes - but not Saleh. This nonsense once more proves that he has no intention of ceding power willingly. The Yemen Post records a more accurate version of reality:
The mediation committee between President Saleh and the Ahmar clan is blaming Saleh for the attacks. A member of the committee told Yemen Post "Ahmar family agreed to stop fire and Saleh knew that."Yet U.S. officials continue to urge Saleh to sign the GCC accord in good faith. Delusion must be contagious.
"We were on the phone with Saleh telling him that Sadeq ahmar will stop using force. Saleh did not listen and minutes later a missile hit the house injuring or killing the mediation committee."
"We are assure now that Saleh does not want to stop the chaos and attacks even if Sadeq agrees to that."
"The mediation committee blame Saleh for the attacks and killings inside the Ahmar residence. No one else will be held accountable."
"For this, we step aside from our mediation and stand in the side of Sadeq Ahmar against Ali Abdullah Saleh."
Cutting Saleh's life-line is overdue, but does President Barack Obama have the guts?
May 24, 2011
Before the Arab Spring rearranged the Middle East and Africa’s geopolitical landscape, peacefully splitting Sudan in half was considered vital to regional stability. Although this reality remains unchanged, the Arab Spring has since intensified the pressure to develop a permanent solution to Sudan’s sprawling political conflict.
Now the international community finds itself in a full-blown race against time to July 9th, the day Southern Sudan has set to declare its formal independence. U.S. and E.U. states are expected to back its recognition - until further notice.
Following three days of clashes between the North’s People's Armed Forces and the South’s People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the Sudanese military claimed it had cleared Abyei of southern forces on May 21st. Thousands have fled the fighting in Sudan’s central hotspot after UN units came under attack by both sides. The two forces continue to battle in the territory’s southern confines, however the North remains in decisive control of Abyei.
Demilitarizing the territory remains a potent challenge in itself. Abyei contains oil reserves that the North needs after losing the oil-rich South, and is likely trying to acquire any territory that it can. Much of the Southern leadership hails from Abyei, and they too would like to see the territory remain free of Northern influence. Local tribal disputes based on resources and culture have intertwined themselves in the larger political system.
Abyei’s situation was considered too tense to establish borders before the January referendum, and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) designated a special referendum to be held in 2011. While little could be done to avert the initial delay, this strategy allowed the conflict to fester under the UN’s watch. Amid sporadic clashes, the short-handed organization attempted to supervise a mutual pullout earlier this month. Yet the UN appears to have been played, at least partially, by both sides.
On May 11th a UN unit came under fire near Goli, roughly 15 miles from Abyei town. As the UN condemned the attack and called both sides back to the negotiating table, the North and South accused each other of violating the CPA. Although both sides have repeatedly violated the CPA, each saw the opportunity it had patiently waited for. The fresh crisis in Abyei isn’t a random product of local and national tensions, but rooted in premeditated schemes.
Resolving the crisis will be especially problematic if neither side truly wants to resolve it.
Expecting secession all along, the Northern government has eyed Abyei before it lost Southern Sudan in January. One member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Didiry Mohammad Ahmed, accused the SPLA of seizing the territory "over the last six months... As we all know, since December last year, the SPLA has deployed 2,500 troops to Abyei and those troops were deployed in violation of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement].”
Although he claimed “there’s no intention to start any war,” and that, "we have just had a very limited operation for a very limited military purpose which was accomplished 100 per cent,” Abyei town was later assaulted amid wider operations against the SPLA. Ahmed also foreshadowed remarks from Northern military officials.
"As soon as we are quite sure that there's no vacuum left behind that will enable the SPLA to once again deploy in Abyei, we'll withdraw."
That could be any time - or never.
Over the past 48 hours the North has dug into Abyei without any apparent intention of letting go. The argument goes as follows: the North wants to reach a solution to ensure stability, but must first “establish the conditions” for a new agreement. The North has played the U.S. hypocrisy card on SPLA forces, with Ahmed asking, "why on earth, right now, is the United States denouncing us?" Khartoum’s policy, in theory, seeks to eliminate all Southern military forces operating in Abyei under these pretexts. The North simply allowed the SPLA to operate in Abyei, stoking tensions and biding its time before calling the South out.
Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein told parliament in Khartoum, "The circumstances need, in our opinion, a new agreement to be signed. We are staying in Abyei until we get an order telling us otherwise, and we will not let go of one inch of land.”
He added, "Free citizens, your armed forces will hold all areas which the laws and agreements entrust to it.”
From the South’s point of view, the North has attempted to set it up from the beginning. Fearing the North’s military influence in Abyei, the SPLA believed it had no choice except to operate in the region. The North could not be trusted and the SPLA needed to stick its foot in the door. Realizing that it was walking in the North’s trap, Southern leadership is also prepared to play its own international cards, and has tied Abyei into the north’s wider strategy to provoke a conflict before July 9th. This could partially explain the SPLA’s own activity, which isn’t necessarily saintly.
"What Khartoum is trying to do now is not just occupy Abyei, they want us not to get to 9th of July," said Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). "What they want is for us to react and drag the whole of Sudan to war, but we will not give them that joy of taking us back to war.”
Thus each side has baited each other into the volatile territory since pre-referendum.
UN, AU, and Western officials have scrambled to contain last week’s damage, condemning both sides (but mostly the North) for escalating their activity. The North’s potential removal from the U.S. terror list is sinking, while hardline ambassador Susan Rice claimed that the White House “will take the appropriate steps as the situation unfolds." However punitive measures on the North will only reinforce its resolve to control Abyei, and it remains to be seen what measures would create an immediate impact on the ground.
Not much time exists between now and July 9th. The White House also had enough trouble in Sudan without the Arab Spring consuming the bulk of its foreign attention. Sincerely addressing and resolving the roots of conflict in Abyei may not be possible within this time.
Worst of all, escalation between the North and South could jeopardize the CPA’s completion and throw Sudan into a new round of national strife. Leaving conventional forces in Abyei poses risks for either side, as the international community has an easier time regulating government forces. Though notorious, proxies are generally more difficult to observe and control. While both the North and South need troop density to maintain influence in the territory, and may leave their forces for the time being, unconventional forces could become the eventual troop of choice in Abyei.
This strategy would only thicken the fog of war.
“I don’t think that means that they’ll go to general warfare between the two, but any kind of warfare,” warned Princeton Lyman, America’s special envoy to Sudan, “and especially over in area – an issue as emotional and difficult as Abyei, is a very dangerous prospect.”
May 23, 2011
“We’re taking one day at a time, but we’re not at this point relying on a change of heart on the part of Saleh,” the administration official said. “We need to now reevaluate with our partners the next step we can take that will try to resolve this.”
These leaks contradict recent statements from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her department, which expressed disappointment over Saleh’s actions but remained open to him signing the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) power transfer. The White House wants to have it both ways in Yemen, trusting Saleh to the very end while claiming it isn’t deceived by him.
More importantly, the time for reevaluation started before the revolution began. At least earlier than now, regardless of how time is measured. And most importantly, getting Saleh to sign isn't the primary problem. Washington is essentially threatening to withhold its own funds until he signs a favorable GCC agreement. This "power transfer" is the real problem. The Obama administration must cut U.S. support and walk away from the GCC’s proposal, which will extend Yemen's crisis and is consequently rejected by the popular opposition.
The Washington Post notes several other inconsistencies that heap additional suspicion on the White House’s claims. One senior official remarks, “I don’t believe that AQAP has been anywhere near the forefront of this political movement... But if the military and the security services fracture, AQAP is going to be the one that benefits.”
AQAP isn’t anywhere near the forefront of the political movement - no belief necessary. This statement appears to back Saleh’s exit, lest his security system “fractures” - until it sounds AQAP’s alarm. The revolution doesn’t need back-handed “support” like this. The administration also claims to be tracking military units involved in the political fighting on both sides “to ensure that U.S.-trained counterterrorism units and U.S.-provided equipment have not been involved in the domestic battles.”
“So far, there’s not been a bleed-over,” said one official, contrary to accounts from Yemen.
This new claim targets the widespread perception that America is complicit in Saleh’s crackdown; levying sanctions will be impractical on Washington’s end if it implicates itself. In any event the U.S. government doesn’t have the credibility to issue this promise, especially in such a casual manner. Its trust gap is nearly as wide as Saleh’s after supporting him this deep into the revolution.
Once diplomats had been rescued from the UAE embassy, “Saleh stood chatting amiably with U.S. Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein as his party leaders signed the agreement,” He then refused to sign himself. Clinton would express her “outrage” on Sunday night, and the State Department would put the GCC’s proposal back in his hands on Monday. Naturally, U.S. officials insisted on Monday night that they don’t expect a reversal.
This information isn’t twisted without reason. At least we can count on their reversals, along with Saleh’s.
Rather than unconditionally side with the revolution, the Obama administration remains ignorant of fourth-generation warfare. Continuing to rely on the safety of “private diplomacy” to escape the glare of public diplomacy, U.S. officials would rather leak the possibility of sanctions rather than address them upfront. They aren’t talking because America is an accomplice to Saleh’s crimes.
Saleh’s resistance is futile and so is Washington's denial.
Ugandan police have warned people planning to hoot car horns in protest at the rising cost of living they will face arrest for noise pollution.
The opposition call to honk horns or whistle five times at 1700 local time (1400 GMT) was to complement the "walk-to-work" protest begun in April.
A reporter says some honking could be heard at the appointed time, but it was rather low key in some areas.
Rights groups have criticized the violent crackdown on recent protests.
They say at least nine people have died, while the government accuses the opposition of trying to organize an Egypt-style uprising after losing an election in February.
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye says the vote was rigged.
Dr Besigye has been arrested four times and placed under preventative arrest once since the protests against the rising cost of food and fuel began.
Henry Bellingham, the UK's minister for Africa, called on President Yoweri Museveni to rise above "petty party politics".
He said the "very tough tactics" used against Dr Besigye were a concern for the UK government, one of Uganda's largest aid donors.
"President Museveni won with a big majority, he should now be magnanimous, he should be statesman-like, he should rise above trying to make any moves against the opposition," Mr Bellingham said.
"[He should] carry on the excellent work which he's doing in many ways in terms of the prosperity agenda in Uganda [and] counter-terrorism.
“On all these fronts Museveni has been doing a good job, but I think it demeans him and his government to use excessive force and these tactics against the opposition."
Mr Museveni was sworn in for a fourth term as president earlier this month.
He says he wants a new law to deny bail for six months to those arrested for rioting or causing economic sabotage.
Saleh has probably picked up the scent of blood by now, having assaulted the home of his tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar. One western diplomat in Sana’a told The Financial Times, “Something is changing and moving now. Since the deadlock of mediation, it’s becoming more personal.”
Although dodging Yemen was no longer possible after Sunday’s assault on the UAE embassy, which temporarily trapped U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein, Saleh must have enjoyed what he heard from Clinton’s department. U.S. policy, which isn’t ahead of Yemen’s curve as it is, appears to have slide even further backwards in the process. Asked “how are you planning to deal with President Abdallah Saleh?” State spokesman Mark Toner deferred by repeating Clinton’s rhetoric.
“Certainly, the Secretary issued a very strong statement yesterday expressing our deep disappointment by President Saleh’s – or at President Saleh’s continued refusal to sign the GCC, the Gulf – rather, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The GCC’s efforts to bring a resolution to the situation in Yemen have been tireless, and we’ve seen all sides agree on multiple occasions to sign their initiative. And now it appears that President Saleh is the only party that refuses to match his actions to these words.”
Except Toner adds, “we believe that President Saleh still has the ability and the opportunity to sign this initiative and break this deadlock.”
Apparently Saleh’s orchestrated siege at the UAE Embassy still isn’t enough to break Washington’s trust completely. After acknowledging his duplicity so as not to sound completely ignorant of Saleh’s personality, Yemen’s embattled president will receive further opportunities to prove himself. Toner is then asked pointblank, “Are you going to sanction him if he refuses?”
The question is highly relevant considering the range of sanctions levied on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with his relatives that hold equivalent positions in Saleh’s personal security forces. Although the White House released no statement on Monday, it did release four briefings on Iranian sanctions. This double-standard is finally beginning to stand out in Libya and Syria’s spotlight.
However the answer as to how Saleh has dodged sanctions with ease is simple: America has equipped and trained Saleh’s counter-terrorism forces, which deployed against the Yemeni people instead of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His son and nephews have served as the Pentagon’s military liaisons during this time, and Saleh has also lined up Russia and China’s veto in the UN.
Toner ducks the question entirely: “Well, again, I think we’re looking at a number of different options, but we believe that the GCC has really led the effort to bring a resolution to this crisis, certainly with the active participation and support of our Embassy there and our ambassador. But it’s clearly now in President Saleh’s hands. He has – again, he has done this several times now, and we urge him to take action and to resolve the situation.”
Thus when the White House should be wrestling a power transfer away from Saleh’s influence, it continues to allow him to dictate Yemen’s future. Next time, apparently, he will behave. Reaching this conclusion is possible only by blocking out reality. Toner makes no mention of today’s clashes in Sana’a or how, after tribal forces loyal to al-Ahmar counterattacked Saleh’s forces, government officials are already pinning the blame on al-Ahmar.
The overriding fact also remains that Yemen’s revolutionaries reject the GCC’s proposal as illegitimate. Their trust in Saleh evaporated long ago. Yet after the last four months of chaos and Sunday’s mayhem, the Obama administration put the ball right back in Saleh’s hands - the most dangerous place in Yemen.
May 22, 2011
As it stands, Clinton’s remarks (they cannot be termed condemnation) are composed of three paragraphs, each containing falsities. The entirety of the administration's reaction to Sunday bodes ill for the future.
The United States is deeply disappointed by President Saleh’s continued refusal to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative. He is turning his back on his commitments and disregarding the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people.Saleh’s “commitment” is hollow to the core. He isn’t turning his back on his “commitments,” only his rhetoric. It’s true that Washington wants Saleh to sign the GCC’s proposal as quickly as possible, replace the regime with Saleh’s ruling party, and move on with counter-terrorism operations. What no U.S. official will admit is that Yemen’s popular protesters, who compose the bulk of the revolution, reject the GCC’s proposal.
Clinton speaks as though she's oblivious to the streets' demands. A statement by the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) vowed to continue their movement and “will not stop at any initiative unless it includes the demands of the rebels.” Other coalitions are proceeding in similar fashion. Saleh will disregard the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people if he does sign, as would the Obama administration.
The concerted efforts of the international community, led by the GCC, have been tireless and all sides have agreed -- on multiple occasions -- to sign the GCC initiative. President Saleh is now the only party that refuses to match actions to words. We urge him to immediately follow through on his repeated commitments to peacefully and orderly transfer power and ensure the legitimate will of the Yemeni people is addressed. The time for action is now.The GCC and Washington’s “tireless” efforts mean little to the tireless protesters filling Yemen’s streets by the millions. Nor is Saleh the only party that refuses to match actions with words - the Obama administration also suffers from this vice. By promoting the GCC’s initiative against the spirit of the revolution, U.S. policy in Yemen has contradicted everything Obama laid out in his “Moment of Opportunity.”
Signing the GCC’s document will miss that opportunity, not that he spent much time on Yemen anyway. Beyond failing to address the people’s aspirations and grievances, the GCC’s power transfer is liable to fail any time within the prescribed 90 days. The administration will be responsible for all subsequent fallout from the proposal, whether it acknowledges so or not.
And the more time Saleh stalls, the longer AQAP can expand its area of operations. Thus U.S. policy unintentionally contradicts its own interests.
We are also outraged to learn that earlier today factions loyal to President Saleh encircled the UAE embassy in Sana’a. They refused to allow U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, ambassadors from the United Kingdom the European Union and GCC states, the GCC Secretary General and other foreign diplomats to leave the embassy. We condemn this action and call on President Saleh to meet his international obligations to ensure the safety and security of all foreign diplomats and their staffs working in Yemen.We stand by our conspiracy theory despite Clinton’s belated response. This “outrage” doesn’t seem to have provoked that much of a reaction from the White House, even though Clinton was supposedly livid when informed of the embassy’s mini-crisis. Again, U.S. diplomats may have expected Saleh to sign if they actually believed in his “commitments,” yet his every action indicated a setup. Security reportedly disappeared from Sana’a as his loyalists took to the streets.
The White House is either blind or in on the scam. Neither option is appealing, and WikiLeaks have documented Washington's knowledge of Saleh’s well-known polarity. Pleading ignorance doesn’t comply with reality.
Although a full reaction may lie in the chamber for tomorrow, further statements remain uncertain. The White House and State Department have stood deathly silent for the last two weeks (and months), ignoring Saleh’s perpetual deception and repeated assaults on protesters. Whatever U.S. officials say tomorrow may not have much consequence anyway.
Like Saleh, the time for talk is over. Instead of doubling down on a fatal policy, the White House must support a completely new power transfer based on the will of the Yemeni people. Obama himself needs to start acting now - and on the revolution’s side.