October 31, 2011

Kenyan Air Strikes Stickier Than Mud

Confronted with Somalia’s second rainy season, al-Shabaab’s nebulous defense, the seeds of regional confusion and foreign doubts, Kenyan troops find themselves on the island of war. There is no turning back to their homeland, whatever the conditions inside Somalia, and the only exit lies ahead in Kismayo. Kenya’s southern column has positioned itself in the area of Buur Gaabo, on Somalia’s southern coast, while its northern flank is settled in Bilis Qooqaani, roughly 20 miles southwest of Afmadow.

The two columns plan to meet in the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s largest urban holding, but the major battle anticipated in Afmadow has yet to unfold. Military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir explained, “The day has been calm for our troops in Somalia after two days of heavy rains. One of our commanders is prepared to move the troops forward in the battle for Afmadow.”

al-Shabaab is reportedly gathering between Bilis Qooqaani and Afmadow to slow Kenya’s advance.

Many national and foreign assessments remain pessimistic because of the above reasons, concerns over political authority in southern Somalia, or an outright belief that Kenya’s operation is illegal or unconstitutional. All concerns are valid and impact Somalia’s military battlefield, but a counter-argument can be made for Kenya’s intervention - if it stays within its mission parameters. On a positive note, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed flew to Nairobi on Sunday with the intention of smoothing out political friction with President Sharif Ahmed. Unfortunately the first tangible sign of military drift also emerged, when Kenyan warplanes struck several targets in the town of Jilib.

Nairobi has enough complications to overcome at its current positions. After selling Kenya’s operation as a stabilizing mission, government and military officials now find themselves ensnared in controversy over 100 miles north of their armor. Local witnesses, al-Shabaab and Kenyan officials only concur on the bombing itself. al-Shabaab claims that 10 civilians were killed when air-strikes hit a bus stop, IDP camp and another area outside of Jilib, located 60 miles north of Kismayo. Kenyan officials, on the other hand, claim that no aid centers were targeted, only an al-Shabaab training camp.

"We received intelligence that a top al-Shabaab leader was to visit a camp in Jilib so we conducted an air raid," Chirchir told the BBC... "We bombed an Al-Shabaab camp, killed 10 and wounded 47. We are sure about this assessment, no collateral damage, no women, no children."

The truth is more likely recounted by the third parties: local residents and aid workers with no incentive to hide al-Shabaab’s casualties. A daylight raid (13:30 local time) increased visibility, and resident Hassan Abdiwahab told Reuters that Kenyan warplanes bombed an al-Shabaab base and an IDP camp. Town elder Mohamud Ali Harbi separately warned, "Twelve civilians, including six children, died and 52 others were injured after Kenyan jets bombarded an IDP camp in the town.” Chirchi rejected reports of civilian causalities as "al-Shabab propaganda,” but the evidence is currently stacked against Nairobi.

While al-Shabaab did suffer casualties according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, the aid group immediately released a statement informing the press of civilian collateral. Gautam Chapperjee, chief of MSF-Netherlands' Somalia mission, told the AFP, "Our staff said that around 52 people, all civilians, mostly women and children, had been wounded and that three were dead.”

This event is disturbing for a number of reasons, civilian collateral being the iceberg’s tip. Despite its own propensity to kill Somalis, al-Shabaab will obviously seize on any collateral as evidence of Kenya’s hostility. Many Somalis won’t fall for al-Shabaab’s rhetoric, but they could view Kenya’s mission as dangerous to themselves or a national violation of Somalia’s quasi-sovereignty. One branch of a worst case scenario could see a new anti-Kenya militia arise from national sentiment and opposition to al-Shabaab.

The strike on Jilib also hints at two alarming trends from a strategic viewpoint. Throughout the first two weeks of Operation Linda Nchi, Kenyan commanders generally remained focused on capturing Kismayo and the surrounding Lower Juba region. This area marked the realistic limit of Operation Linda Nchi; digging deeper into Somali territory would exponentially increase the risk of mission drift. On Sunday Somali Colonel Janwaase Mahdi said his troops had advanced near an al-Shabaab base on the outside of Afmadow, and planned to move south into the Kulbiyow and Badhaadhe districts.

“We are pushing al-Shabab back.”

Where Kenyan troops push al-Shabaab back to is the immediate question. Nairobi’s public plan envisions a flanking maneuver to Afmadow, strategically located along the Lagh Dera River, in order to quarantine Lower Juba. al-Shabaab maintains a garrison in Afmadow because its position functions as a strongpoint, freeing up the 60-70 miles to Kismayo. By seizing Afmadow, Kenyan troops (and proxies) can box al-Shabaab into Lower Juba and gradually push the group into the Indian Ocean. Yet Kenyan and Somali commanders have toyed with the idea of blockading Marka and Baraawe, two ports far up the coast, opening the possibility of a northern incursion.

President Ahmed fears this exact scenario. Distrusting Kenya’s proxy militias and the newly-established council of Azania, formed in Nairobi to administer Lower Juba, Ahmed may remain open to the military objectives of Operation Linda Nchi. His line, though, is certainly the Lagh Dera instead of the Jubba River, which runs 50 miles to the north. Whether Kenya truly intends to establish a state-sponsored buffer zone in Jubaland, the perception exists and Sharif needs his own buffer zone between the Lagh Dera and Juba rivers. Cede Middle Juba and the roads open to Gedo, Somalia’s second territory bordering Kenya. Ahmed’s primary fear of Operation Linda Nchi is this buffer zone, and he must be engaged appropriately to maintain coordination.

As for Nairobi, moving its front-line to the Jubba River would balloon its force requirements and time-line; Middle Juba is home to many populated centers (Jibil being the largest). Sharif’s relationship may be permanently compromised. If Kenyan officials haven’t planned a ground operation into the territory, they should reconsider the value of a dozen dead al-Shabaab. Even the highest valued targets may not be worth the civilian collateral during a mission's early stage.

Kenya has launched a counterinsurgency in Somalia and must aim for winning the war, not just a series of battles.

October 30, 2011

Revolutionary Will Vs. Tyrannical Will

Dictators under siege from the Arab revolutionaries have experienced a progression of mental states as they near their end. First, every regime from Egypt to Syria denied that anything out of the ordinary was occurring. Protesters were either isolated or non-existent. As the revolutionaries gained mass momentum and visually demonstrated that they were not alone, dictators switched to a classic government tactic: turn a homegrown revolution into an illegal revolt or coup backed by foreign powers.

Those strongmen that survive this phase transition into a similar mindset as stage one - only deadlier. Having weathered whatever they believed they were facing, endangered regimes begin to consider themselves immune to extinction. Yemen’s Ali Saleh and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are poster boys for this unstable state of mind.

The Washington Post recently outlined al-Assad’s “new” strategy to suppress Syria’s revolution, a chimera of political and PR objectives to mask its ongoing crackdown. The government, according to its own sources, is beginning to feel empowered by its resistance. A massive army presence has shrunk the size of demonstrations and douses any revolutionary embers in Damascus. Yet al-Assad’s regime needs additional camouflage to hide the country’s mounting death toll, so his officials came up with the “brilliant” slogan of “security first” to slow demands for his ouster. While security forces continue to hammer away at peaceful protesters and armed oppositional cells, the government intends to offer a package of limited reforms that would “leave the existing power of the state intact...”

“The Syrian leadership is quite confident and very strong, and we feel sure that despite all the international campaigns against Syria, we will survive,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad. “Syria is secure... and will be stronger after this crisis. It will be a new Syria. Give us time, and it will be reborn.”

More time, of course, will lead to more bloodshed, death and instability. al-Assad has enough supporters to fight for him and to inflate his self-perception of strength, but not enough to prevent a total uprising if Syria’s opposition decided to militarily escalate their activities. The passage of time also creates more denial, one of al-Assad’s (and all dictators) favorite weapons. After the Arab League issued an urgent message “to the Syrian government expressing its severe discontent over the continued killing of Syrian civilians,” SANA state media rejected the AL’s meek attempt to police al-Assad.

Its declaration, apparently, was “based on media lies,” according to an “official source.”

Syria’s “security first” campaign is a blatant attempt to turn revolutionaries into bandits, rebels and finally terrorists. Reinforced disinformation is being pumped out at high speeds, culminating with a Western interview by al-Assad. Protesters no longer exist, according to the strongman, only "terrorists." Fighting is decreasing because “we are only fighting terrorists,” not because Syria’s opposition is regrouping from the government’s offensive. He claims that most of his security forces have been removed from the streets, contrary to oppositional sources and the few foreign journalists inside Syria.

"We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaeda," he said. “Now, we are only fighting terrorists.

al-Assad’s statements lurk in the middle of truth and fiction; local and international activists report active oppositional elements in Homs, the center of recent fighting. Clashes between government forces and defected soldiers left at least a dozen dead, according to one oppositional source, while the government is labeling every casualty as “terrorist” or KIA by “terrorist.” Protesters are also involved in Homs’ resistance, and the simple fact that anti-regime units joined their cause doesn’t justify Syria’s disproportionate force. SANA state media’s hopes to delegitimize protesters to the lowest possible level, using the word “terrorist” six times in an opening paragraph:
“In the framework of pursuing the armed terrorist groups, the competent authorities on Saturday clashed with members of these groups, killed six terrorists and arrested twenty other while a number of the terrorists turned themselves and their weapons over. An official source told SANA that the clashes with the terrorists resulted in the martyrdom of four security members. The source said the arrested and surrendered terrorists were wanted for various crimes.”
al-Assad also continues to wield terror abroad, threatening Western nations to stay out of Syria or face “tens of Afghanistan's.” At the same time, Syria’s revolution is billed as “a struggle between Islamism and pan-Arabism,” with al-Assad being the secularist. Drawing on Western fears in Tunisia and Egypt, he pits himself as the vanguard against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic militant groups such as Hamas and al-Qaeda, all while providing material and ideological support to Hezbollah. Some of al-Assad’s propaganda touches a nerve in reality, the intention of any sophisticated propaganda. We do not advocate military intervention in Syria - its opposition has yet to reach the relative cohesion of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) - only a persistent application of non-military means by global powers.

However al-Assad cannot hide his puffed up chest, the stance of a cornered man.

“Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake... Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region.”

Despite the beating inflicted upon Syrian protesters and al-Assad’s relative strength in general, these are the words of a desperate man forced into self-destructive acts. He will certainly fight to the end, being the region’s youngest dictator, and Damascus must be infiltrated in order for Syria’s revolution to progress to its end game. al-Assad feeds on the historical advantages enjoyed by his counterparts. Copying Mubarak, Saleh and Gaddafi’s security oligarchy, he draws from a standard regional legacy of suppressing revolts (even though Syria has experienced several revolutions). The combination of al-Assad’s father seizing power through a military takeover and his subsequent conflicts against oppositional elements would leave Bashar on guard throughout the 2000’s.

Fairness and revolution don’t always mix. One can understand why each dictator might have initially confused the revolutions for limited unrest - they have crushed many peoples at different times - but missing a mass uprising is the consequence of ignorance and injustice. Syrians’ hunger for freedom exceeds al-Assad’s hunger for power, and their will can break through in the end if the opposition organizes and remains persistent. Not every revolution will finish in a flash, and al-Assad seems to have one final chance to hold a genuine dialogue - after resigning from power. He presumably won’t take it.

Kadri Jamil, of the oppositional group Kassioun, predicted, “They have to act to begin real dialogue because the security solution has failed. We have one to two months before we pass the point of no return."

Although al-Assad “the reformer” positioned himself above the Middle East’s cruel dictators, he’s found plenty of uses for their tactics and strategy. Ultimately the false confidence that failed other delusional strongmen will also abandon Syria’s.

October 29, 2011

Kenya Battles al-Shabaab, Foreign Perceptions

Despite Somalia’s natural fog of war and the initial ambiguity of Operation Linda Nchi, Kenya’s intervention into its neighbor unfolded on a set of predetermined conditions. The grand scheme remains unchanged nearly three weeks into the mission: march to Kismayo and hold the Lower Juba region until the African Union (AU) can deploy reinforcements. Yet the many gears in between remain obscured, and Nairobi is starting to feel the turbulence that often follows the smooth opening of a counterinsurgency.

al-Shabaab goes in motion

Earlier this week we predicted that Kenyan troops would be lucky to reach Kismayo in 14 days. Operation Linda Nchi would begin to take shape around Afmadow, where Kenyan commanders were predicting a battle within days. This battle has yet to pass and further delays will impact the mission, setting Nairobi on a longer time-line that it presumably envisioned. War can stall indefinitely or leap ahead at any moment, but Kenyan troops won’t reach Kismayo until sometime in November. Bringing the port city under control - if it can be controlled - requires a time-line into 2012. The mandate of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is set to expire in August.

Putting these obstacles aside, Operation Linda Nchi is steadily progressing and will eventually find itself face to face with al-Shabaab units. Kenyan troops advancing along the Indian Ocean have captured Buur Gaabo and approached Anole, some 70 miles south of Kismayo. The two sides exchanged hostilities, with Kenyan warplanes bombing a training camp and al-Shabaab (strength estimated at 45) ambushing Kenyan troops. al-Shabaab reportedly failed to inflict any casualties, but harassing attacks are becoming more frequent. al-Shabaab fighters ambushed Kenyan forces outside Dhobley, the border town used as Nairobi’s launch pad, and near Tabda, a small village on the road to Bilis Qooqaani.

As al-Shabaab reportedly melted away from towns such as Bilis Qooqaani, Kaambooni and Buur Gaabo, the group is clearly prepared to face Kenyan troops and whatever nation is providing air support. Kenyan casualty figures of 200+ sound inflated, but al-Shabaab could be losing dozens of fighters in the air assault. Its developing counter-offensive follows an AP report documenting Burundi’s losses during the recent battle in Mogadishu (along with new attacks in the capital). Last week al-Shabaab displayed between 50 and 60 bodies dressed in military fatigues, claiming they were Burundi soldiers killed in the northern Deynille district. AU commanders and spokesmen denied their identities while admitting to light casualties, arguing that al-Shabaab had dressed up its own KIA.

The defense sounded plausible given al-Shabaab’s propaganda machine, but its information isn’t to be disbelieved entirely.

Local journalists said that foreigners were mixed in with Somalis, with one counting at least 19 bodies that “were clearly foreign and were wearing AU uniforms and body armor.” The AU says 10 soldiers were killed in the battle for Deynille and two remain missing, but one relative tells a different story. A disturbed Leonard Nininahazwe says his brother turned up on a Burundi casualty list that included 50 names; other relatives are equally unhappy with the government’s silent policy.

One Somali official told the AP that 30-50 Burundi soldiers were killed in a single day.

Another ill omen for Nairobi: al-Shabaab’s more moderate leader, Sheikh Mukhtar “Abu Mansoor” Robow, has issued an extreme attack on Kenya’s internal cities. Any lingering hope of splitting its southern leadership away from the northern and transnational elements dries up with Robow, al-Shabaab’s head in the south. The commander derided Kenya’s internal grenade attacks as weak and called for intensified attacks by Somalis inside the country. As for southern Somalia, “Kenya’s planes are bombing us, and their tanks are inside Somalia. Let’s fight collectively and defeat them as we defeated the Christian countries who invaded us before.”

Rumors from within Nairobi have inflated its military force to 6,000 troops - more disinformation with a kernel of truth. The estimated 1,600 troops currently involved in Operation Linda Nchi have likely been reinforced against al-Shabaab’s asymmetric defense.

Confusion spreads amongst regional actors

The first real shock to Nairobi’s operation occurred not on the military battlefield, but on the political field that comes to dominate asymmetric warfare. A basic measuring unit of COIN is the depth of cooperation between regional actors; since most insurgencies are transnational, counterinsurgents reduce the odds of success by working in isolation. One initial positive of Kenya’s operation was its apparent coordination with the TFG. 10 days into Operation Linda Nchi, Somali President Ahmed Sharif sent a tremor to Nairobi by rejecting its ground incursion.

“The government will not break its decision on this issue,” he told reporters in Mogadishu. “We have asked Kenya to assist the Somalia government in training and supporting the Somali army but not to intervene in Somalia.”

His statements unnerved Kenyan officials who were counting on the TFG’s public legitimization to avoid widespread resistance. Equally distracting, Somalis are beginning to polarize on the basis of their location, with southern residents more open to Kenya’s operation. The risks of losing local confidence are extreme; Somalis might choose Nairobi over the TFG, destabilizing the region’s political authority, or abstain from helping Kenyans on the grounds that they could withdraw. The proxy Ras Kamboni Movement and Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna, two key pieces to the southern campaign, have issued complaints as well.

Internal Security minister George Saitoti recently wrote to the Somali government demanding an explanation on his Sharif’s remarks: “In the light of this the Kenya Government is seeking clarification of the Somali government’s position as it is essential to have a unified approach in dealing with the destabilization of Somalia by Al Shabaab and its threats to peace and security to Kenya and the region.”

Realizing these dangers, both Nairobi and Mogadishu have attempted to minimize Sharif’s statements in the days since. After issuing similar comments - “We do not have an agreement with Kenya” - Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali reversed direction by promising, “My government supports any self defense action Kenya takes against al Shabaab.” Unfortunately some of the damage cannot be repaired. Beyond the south’s complex social environment, Sharif himself remains suspicious of Kenya’s long-term policy to create a buffer zone inside Somalia.

He’s also locked in a personal rivalry.

For several years Kenya has been involved training Somali army recruits and local militias operating along the border. Many of these programs are loosely sanctioned by the TFG, including the training of 2,500 young recruits (many pulled from the Kismayo area). Sharif eventually grew suspicious of these programs, and requested that their oversight be transferred from former Defense Minister Mohamed Abdi Mohamed (Gandhi) to Abdullah Boss. The request wasn’t merely based on the secession of power, but on Sharif’s personal distrust of Mohamed, who he feared was setting up Kenya’s buffer zone in Jubaland (southern Somalia).

Suspecting Mohamed, the president of Jubaland’s new autonomous region, of creating an autonomous state between Kenya and the Juba River, Sharif worried that Kenya’s proxy militias would help Mohamed solidify control of Azania. Breaking away Jubaland would leave Somalia in four pieces: Somalia proper, Somaliland, Puntland and Azania (or Jubaland).

“There are people who are unhappy of the training that you have provided for our forces and the regional administration and wish to deny this region and Somalia any peace and stability,” the president wrote in a memo to Nairobi. “We wish to correct this situation administratively by bringing the military force under the department of Defense and the regional administration under the ministry of interior.”

That Kenya’s training programs are a source of tension impacts Somalia’s tactical and strategic levels, given that the TFG and U.S. highlight these programs as evidence of progress. Prime Minister Abdiweli told reporters that the government “supports Kenya’s operation inside Somalia because they support, train and provide other military support to our troops.” Meanwhile distrust between Sharif and Mohamed could obstruct a healthier relationship from developing with Nairobi. Operation Linda Nchi’s climb will steepen if Sharif believes that Kenya’s proxies are after more than Somalia’s stability.

As a final concern several U.S. drone strikes have been reported near Kismayo and Afmadow. Although the Obama administration admitted to flying surveillance drones from Ethiopia’s air field, officials staunchly deny involvement in Kenya’s air support. Kenyan officials speak of nameless foreign powers and Western media is reporting America’s drones to be armed. Press TV consistently reports unconfirmed strikes, with a success rate somewhere between 0 and 100%.

AU/IGAD strategy behind fog of war

The main source of optimism in Somalia continues to be a regional approach; unilateral action would be dead before it began. Kenya joins a wider campaign already planned and put into motion by AU and TFG commanders (under IGAD’s political oversight), and an African collective increases the odds of mission success. We outlined the AU’s grand strategy during Somalia's last briefing: AMISOM intends to expand Mogadishu’s security bubble as Ethiopia blocks from the west and Kenya moves into the south. Instead of any single power occupying the country, regional powers engage their local sphere of influence to reduce logistics and other military demands. Nairobi’s long-term objective aims to clear Kismayo for an AU battalion and TFG troops to land.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua, "Kenya has no plans or intentions to stay in Somalia an hour beyond necessary. Once our objective is met as per the framework of AU and IGAD, Kenyan troops will withdraw and leave the security operations to AU troops and TFG troops."

This hour, though, will drag into 2012. Somalia’s national campaign and its relation to the August 2012 deadline is central to Operation Linda Nchi, and anyone expecting a shorter mission based on tourism factors should reconsider. Kenyan and proxy forces might secure Lower Juba before then, but the hold phase of COIN will exceed the clear phase. Kenyan officials should speak frankly in regards to the mission’s parameters, as domestic and foreign populaces don’t like to be undersold on a military campaign. The potential for an extended operation also necessitates a smooth channel between the Kenyan and Somali governments; political divisions will boost al-Shabaab’s current force beyond its inherent threat.

Julius Karangi, Kenya’s Chief of Defense Forces General, directly addressed the issue of Jubaland on Saturday, saying his troops had no intention of staying longer than necessary. President Mwai Kibaki added that Kenyan troops intend to clear space for a local TFG administration, contrary to reports of Azania’s council assuming control. Whether his officials can placate Sharif, who fears Kenya’s proxies rather than its military, remains to be seen.

Kenya is now facing the full matrix of counterinsurgency. Engaging Somalia’s network across the military and non-military spectrum offers the only stable exit.

October 28, 2011

U.S. Propaganda 101 in Yemen

Much like the international community itself, Western media has functioned as a double-edged sword throughout the Arab revolutions. Depending on whether a regime complies or disobeys with foreign orders, U.S. and European media generally follow the direction of their governments’ eyes. Each revolution has made widespread use of international media, which in turn breaks stories to accelerate the revolutions, but less fortunate protesters are subject to suffocating disinformation campaigns.

A main weakness of network-centric warfare (not to be confused with netwar) is false information; entering incorrect data can spread throughout a network if unchecked at the source.

Yemen constitutes a large mass of the counter-revolutionary blackout generated by Western, Gulf and Asian states. Propaganda output is highest in the two states with significant influence in Yemen - America and Saudi Arabia. While public awareness and pressure has negligible effect in the Kingdom, America’s public apathy and ignorance of Yemen’s complex environment contributes to its deterioration. Low awareness has enabled the Obama administration to act with impunity before and after the revolution began in January. Journalists have bigger things to write about and generally don’t ask when Yemen isn’t mentioned or particularly bloody.

Few big name pundits address the revolution on the national level that Egypt, Libya and Syria received; Yemen usually goes unmentioned if it’s not locked within the box of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Compounding the problem, U.S. academics that theoretically serve as the last line of education are swimming with Washington’s current. Rather than develop innovative solutions to revive a stagnant national policy, a lethal case of group think has infected the capital under the radar. Most “established” analysts in Yemen favor gradual regime change and only indirectly condemn Saleh’s actions. They depend too much on access to expose the truth of Washington’s meltdown. The result is a highly manipulated, monopolized think-tank circuit.

Christopher Boucek is a leading proliferator of state policy, whether Bush or Obama in origin. Boucek acknowledges Yemen’s problem in America - “there is so much we don’t know or understand about what goes on across Yemen” - while reinforcing the official U.S. line. His latest piece to Carnegie Institute reads like it was drafted by Western and Gulf diplomats, never mentioning but at all times advocating the GCC’s unpopular initiative.

Boucek’s general conclusion is that Yemen’s economy, not Saleh’s misrule as a whole, is the source of division. U.S. counter-terrorism is working but Washington needs a bridge through Yemen’s “political crisis.” Saleh’s family apparatus, loyalists and the JMP’s tribal network form a large part of Yemen’s puzzle, but they are not the only pieces. Thus Boucek’s policy counters the revolutionaries at every point. Snap elections offer the only “exit, an outcome that favors Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) - and would retrench old political lines. The revolutionaries instead call for a transitional period of 6-9 months (in line with regional election schedules), needing time to organize and remove Saleh’s regime before an election is held.

Boucek repeatedly defends U.S. policy as “realistic,” but a clearer vision of Yemen’s reality can be inferred from the opposite of his propaganda. Unfortunately it will be swallowed by many Americans as is.

Some of the most outrageous “gems:”
  • “Yemen is eager to be seen as a good partner to the United States. Many U.S. senior officials feel that the Yemeni government is now more cooperative than it ever was in the past.”
  • “Success breeds success. The killing of Awlaki helps Washington encourage Yemen to go after the other wanted terrorists. The American administration’s thinking on Yemen is much more mature than many people give it credit for, with Washington looking to find ways to make this situation work to America’s advantage.”
  • “There are diverging interests between Washington’s reliance on the Yemeni government for counterterrorism support and an international push for Saleh to leave amid calls for greater democracy across the region. But the fear of terrorism is not going away. The United States doesn’t know who is going to come to power next in Yemen and is trying to encourage the government currently in control to do as much as it can today.”
  • "Washington is working with the reality that exists now. This doesn’t mean that Washington is not pushing for Saleh’s exit, but the United States wants it to be as peaceful of a process as possible. Washington would like to see a managed process, with as little fallout as possible. If things go bad, they’re going to go really bad. The United States can’t push through a final deal, the Yemenis need to make compromises and find a process that keeps tensions calm."
  • “The Yemeni government argues that a transition process needs to be lawful and legitimate—otherwise they say it would be a coup. No matter what you think about the Yemeni government, President Saleh is the legitimately elected leader. Simply throwing him out right now without any sort of plan for what would come next could make matters worse.”
  • “U.S. policy has been inconsistent throughout the Arab Spring. When it comes to issues of terrorism, security, and AQAP in Yemen, Washington has tempered the immediate desire to see change and reform. Balancing these two objectives is not easy and because the stakes are so high in Yemen, it seems U.S. policymakers are not pushing for too much change too soon.”
Unsurprisingly, Boucek tries to flip his hand by concluding, “The United States needs to shift from having a relationship with the government of Yemen to having a relationship with all Yemenis.”

Except his “solution" - to deny that Yemen is experiencing a revolution - will further distance Washington from its people.

U.S. policy in Yemen a Bad Joke

One week has elapsed since the UN Security Council decided to further antagonize Yemen’s revolutionaries. U.S. and Western officials are exerting limited pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative, as stipulated by UN resolution 2014, and refuse to clarify the GCC’s immunity clause. Instead Saleh summoned U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to relay his latest “promise,” and the State Department reciprocated with cordial encouragement.

Meanwhile Saleh’s security forces and loyalists continue their green-light assault against pro-democracy protesters.

Those few Western officials willing (or forced) to discuss the GCC’s initiative cling to the false notion that it supports Yemen’s revolutionaries. Two State Department officials, Mark Toner and Victoria Nuland, issued such statements on Friday and again on Tuesday in response to Feierstein’s meeting. Western diplomats also attempted to flip their support of the GCC into supporting the revolutionaries, when Yemen’s pro-democracy movement rejects the initiative as hostile. One source deceptively told local journalist Tom Finn that “we maintain our line" on Saleh despite his assistance with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Another diplomat argued, "It's hard to accept, but we're not going to get closure with a political deal." And another added, "Neither side can win and we have told them this, but we can't force them to do anything, we just have to keep talking and convince them the only way forward is a deal." Clearly the West has no intention of sanctioning or diplomatically isolating Saleh’s regime, only simulating a blockade that favors his interests and foreign hegemony. Western and Gulf officials refuse to treat Yemen’s revolution as such, consistently watering down the conflict into a “political crisis.”

Speaking on Thursday, Jennifer Rasamimanana defended U.S. policy and the GCC initiative with a particularly egregious claim: "We believe that this agreement or initiative has been checked carefully and approved by all parties in Yemen, and so we should be able to move forward. And should be able to sign it.” The State Department's spokesman for the Mideast Affairs also told the Khaleej Times, “The real problem is the President Saleh and the continued refusal to sign the agreement.”

Yemen’s real problem (in terms of the international community) is the GCC’s initiative, not Saleh’s refusal to sign it. Feierstein similarly defended his latest meeting during an interview with the local “Awakening:” "There is no doubt that Ali Abdullah Saleh in the end is alone responsible for resolving the crisis.” This back-room strategy, employed since the GCC was introduced in April, places Yemen’s revolution in Saleh’s murderous hands, where he can stall indefinitely. Feierstein also praised the UN’s illegitimate resolution and its immunity clause, declared a violation of international law by the UN Human Rights Office.

Of wider significance, Washington and other guilty parties such as London and Moscow granted themselves immunity through the UN and GCC. UN resolution 2014, a flagrant abuse of international power, is being hailed by the West as positive action.

That leaves Yemen’s Tawakel Karman to shout even louder. After unsuccessfully protesting the UN’s resolution throughout last week, the Nobel laureate shifted her venue to Washington in hopes of breaching the White House. Wielding her newfound access, Karman met with House Speaker John Boehner and Tamara Wittes, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, among a host of other officials. Karman also wrangled a sit-down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. Yemen’s leading activist considered Clinton to be something of a hero before she abandoned Yemen’s revolutionaries.

Whether Karman can move Clinton, who stands firmly behind the GCC initiative, remains doubtful. She has, however, highlighted the Obama administration's disconnect with Yemen's overall policy. While the administration praised her award and claimed to support Yemen’s revolutionaries, Karman questioned (and eventually condemned) U.S. policy since she began protesting in mid-January. She perceived through the White House’s soft pressure and never trusted the GCC to oversee genuine regime change. As the Obama administration and anonymous Western officials continue to advocate the GCC initiative, Karman is single-handedly spearheading the revolution's counter-offensive.

Yemen’s people don’t support the GCC initiative because it doesn’t support their cause.

“In Yemen it has been nine months that people have been camped in the squares,” she said. “Until now we didn’t see that Obama came to value the sacrifice of the Yemeni people. Instead the American administration is giving guarantees to Saleh.”

Karman has juggled a diplomatic tone with blunt omens to extend the reach of her visit. “There is no accountability for Saleh in the U.N.-backed plan, which was developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” she cautions. As for Western attempts to deflate Yemen’s revolution, Karman specifically warns that “the GCC treats the revolt as a crisis of the regime, not as a revolution.” The Nobel laureate seeks a major divergence from the GCC’s immunity clause: “supporting the strongman’s referral to the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges and freezing his personal assets and those of his family.”

UN resolution 2014 called for neither action. The local Marib press observed that the UN Security Council chose “about the opposite of what options should be adopted.”

Washington has also botched Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s killing by denying confirmation of his death, an incident that has proven more unpopular than his father’s termination. This issue is mushrooming without any damage control from the administration. Not that it has many options, but the White House is standing on the flimsiest of platforms: hail Anwar al-Awlaki’s death as a major foreign policy achievement, deny his son’s death, continue framing Yemen around counter-terrorism, and falsely support the GCC initiative in the name of Yemen’s revolutionaries.

For these reasons, Karman warns, Yemenis believe that Washington stands against their revolution.

As for Saleh’s plot in the south, Yemeni forces and AQAP militants remain locked in combat for territory and urban centers. Saleh and Feierstein declared joint victory in Zinjibar on 9/11’s 10th anniversary, but the local capital of Abyan governorate and its surrounding area have yet to be cleared. Many Yemenis accuse Saleh of intentionally destabilizing the region by withdrawing his U.S.-trained counter-terrorism units, an allegation confirmed by a steadfast general who faced down AQAP’s cadres. U.S. officials deny that Saleh bought himself any time, yet he remains comfortably seated in Sana’a.

Ahmad Mohammed, a 21-year old who fled Zinjibar after his home was destroyed, rhetorically asked, "A five-month war by the Yemeni army, backed by America, against what, some 500 militants? Does that sound right?"

"What's happening is a joke.”

The sum of U.S. foreign policy in Yemen.

October 27, 2011

White House Reshuffles Bahrain’s Deck

Several weeks ago an oppositional bloc led by Al Wefaq and Waad issued the Manama Paper in response to the Bahraini government’s sustained resistance. Buried in its demands, a call “for retaining the royal family in terms of ruling and governing without powers, as a true constitutional monarchy.” Although Bahraini officials immediately denounced the document as a power grab, its limited demands jaded the more proactive protesters seeking total regime change.

Ceding to King Hamad’s monarchy under the slogan of “people want reform of the system,” the Manama Paper calls for direct dialogue between the ruling Al Khalifa family “based on the seven principles outlined by the crown prince on 13 March 2011.” These principles, including extensive judicial and electoral reform, are crowned by abolishing Bahrain’s bicameralism. Al Wefaq flooded the lower house in 2006 (Council of Representatives) to demonstrate the organ’s impotence under its appointed upper house (Consultive Council). Given the grisly or imprisoned fates of other Arab dictators, a lengthy reform process seems like a small price for King Hamad to keep his palaces.

The Manama Paper did have some harsher observations: "The reality in Bahrain is no different from any non-democratic state, a copy of Ben Ali's Tunisia, Mubarak's Egypt and Saleh's Yemen.”

The Manama Paper presumably caught the eyes of Western governments, but one must measure their concern in silence rather than a defined reaction. The Obama administration allowed the document to pass without responding, a slight surprise due to its joint-experience with King Hamad. Usually the White House has been the first international party to jump on a “dialogue” in order to slow regime change, and the Manama Paper offers similar terms as July’s failed “National Dialogue.” Sheikh Hussein Al-Deihi, Al Wefaq’s deputy Secretary-General, recently cautioned, “We say it out loud, there is no going back from our demands at all, and we say it in advice that you should start political reform now because delay is not for your advantage nor for the advantage of the country...”

Neither the White House nor State Department commented though, preferring to keep attention away from Bahrain whenever possible. Multiple U.S. officials instead spent their time defending an incomplete arms deal to the government.

Now the administration has a “new” ploy: Bahrain’s “independent investigation.” With the potential sale of arms causing a minor uproar in Congress and the U.S. media, the Obama administration is keen to rehabilitate Bahrain’s image before passing a “user agreement.” Only the White House, lacking good news to spin, has latched onto Bahrain’s delayed investigation into its own human rights abuses. Journalists grew visibly dissatisfied during Wednesday's State Department briefing with Victoria Nuland, who voiced repeated support for Bahrain’s ongoing “independent commission of inquiry.”

Who committed the majority of these crimes though? Protesters? Vandals? Iranians?

One reporter informs Nuland that her response “doesn’t address the underlying question, which is to say whether the U.S. Government believes that, based on its own information, that there were significant, severe human rights violations.” After voicing America’s “concern,” the spokeswoman applauds Bahrain’s internal investigation as “a very good signal.” Asked again whether “you trust Bahrain to do the right thing?” Nuland responds, “we supported the establishment of this commission. We are looking for a high-quality report.”

Reporters continued to hunt the issue - “We’re going back, not further” - to no avail. Asked directly whether the U.S. disagrees with Bahrain’s assertion that the protesters are an “external issue,” Nuland remarks that the inquiring journalists are “parsing this thing as finely as sausage here. I think I’ve covered where we are on this issue with Bahrain.” Never does she address the fundamental problem that Bahrain’s government is committing systematic human rights abuses against pro-democracy protesters.

The entire U.S. narrative - which will last until November 23rd at the earliest - is now shaped around the Pentagon’s arms deal and the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). If the government whitewashes its crimes or minimizes the damage, Congress is liable to pass the document with certain “conditions” of use, even though the arms package is unlikely to be deployed on protesters. In the rare event that Bahrain’s government criticizes itself, Washington stands ready to applaud the King’s “transparency” and construct legislation based on new terms of use. This double-charm offensive is already underway in the capital.

"I'm here to see our friends in the administration and Congress to try to explain what's happening in Bahrain," Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Foreign Policy. "We are just before the issuance of the commission of inquiry's report. I'm here to show our commitment to that, how we will accept it and do all that is necessary to implement it."

As for the weapons, "What worries us is that we don't need to delay any requirement for the necessary architecture to protect the region. Bahrain is a cornerstone of that. That's what I'm talking about here and I'm finding very listening ears."

This high-profile hoax diverts from Bahrain’s urgent need for broad-based reforms and the external military units that support its government. Shaikh Khalid would exchange pleasantries with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reaffirm U.S.-Bahraini relations, underscore the need for an “independent investigation” and generally act like an uprising isn’t happening. Khalid “outlined Bahrain’s efforts” of the “multiparty National Consensus Dialogue,” while Clinton stressed the importance of strategic dialogue between Washington and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC has wrecked havoc on Bahrain and Yemen’s pro-democracy protesters.

"They had a full and frank exchange (on) all of the issues that we have in front of us, including the human rights issues," said one U.S. official who preferred to remain anonymous.

The Obama administration believes that it can fool people across the planet, whether they’re awakening or closing their eyes. Those regimes that Washington marks for elimination are called out in public, while those it shelters are “frankly” addressed in private. During an interview with Bahman Kalbasi of BBC Persia, Clinton was asked one of several hundred questions that targeted America’s double-standard. One speaker wonders, “Why was America so active about human rights violations in Libya and is now very vocal about human rights violations in Syria but was acting very differently when it came to Bahrain?”

Clinton only briefly addresses Bahrain’s uprising - “we have pushed the government to do more, and we support the independent investigation” - before calling on Iran to hold its own investigation into human rights abuses. She then says that every nation has its hypocritical moments, but that no country “she knows of” has been “more transparent, more self-corrective, more willing to say maybe we shouldn’t have done this...”

Maybe Clinton isn’t counting Bahrain. The Manama Paper specifically warned, “Whilst welcomed, international condemnation of human rights violation in Bahrain is certainly not sufficient. Sadly, Bahrain remains a police state.”

Wednesday night’s attack on Upper House member Samira Rajab was disconcerting regardless of the perpetrator. Having debated Al Wefaq’s deputy, Khalil Al Marzooq, on Al Jazeera’s Opposite Direction, Rajab’s house became a target through no coincidence. It seems doubtful that Al Wefaq would order a crude Molotov in the middle of a political debate. More plausible, a disenchanted individual or cell of protesters saw the broadcast and disagreed with her “conspiracy theory.” Considering the attack’s timing, relatively harmless choice of weapon, activity in Washington and swift condemnation from the government, another “conspiracy” also begins to take shape.

“Desperate attempts like this will not stop the country from moving forward," Prime Minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalia said in a statement, “noting that the government will continue to work to ensure security and stability in Bahrain.”

With one attack, Bahrain’s government could justify future crackdowns, blame the oppositional parties and toy with international allies. This haul exceeds any objective that anti-government protesters could envision. One thing is certain: Washington and Riyadh play into the traps set by their satellite. The Obama administration is taking the next month for granted, continually shifting Bahrain behind other uprisings until these dominos have also fallen.

The government should have more crimes to investigate between now and November 23rd.

October 26, 2011

“Rise of the Islamists” Overblown

On Sunday roughly four million Tunisians celebrated their first adult step towards representative democracy. At least that many voters had registered prior to the constituent assembly election, according to commission chief Mohamed Kamez Jendoubi, and 90% turned out to support their party. “Many unregistered voters - mostly youth and women” - also registered late Sunday night. Having participated in a vote deemed “well-organized” by Former Mauritius President Cassam Uteem, the co-chairman of a Carter Center’s observer team, Tunisians rejoiced in the prospect of an unwritten future.

"I have observed 59 elections in the last 15 years, many of them in old democracies... and never have I seen a country able to realize such an election in a fair, free and dignified way," said Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian and head of the observer delegation for the Council of Europe. "I was elected in Switzerland on the same day in elections that were not much better than here."

Another observer mission from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) predicted that women could win 30% of the 217 contested seats.

Some Tunisians aren’t so enthusiastic, but they appear to be grossly outnumbered by the external detractors fearing an Islamist takeover. Predicted at 20-30%, Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party (Arabic for renaissance) is expected to walk away from over 40% of the assembly. This Spiegal Online report is typical of the West’s counter-revolution: “Tunisians disappointed Western observers this week by giving Islamists a big majority in the country's historic first election.”

The results of Tunisia’s election admittedly hit the West with greater impact than its individual force. Across the border, Libya’s Transitional Federal Government (NTC) had just declared the country’s liberation after a nine-month revolt against Muammar Gaddafi. Speaking at the Benghazi rally on Sunday, NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil spooked a variety of wary observers by announcing, "As a Muslim country, we have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law. Accordingly, any law that contradicts Islamic principles with the Islamic Sharia is ineffective legally."

Jalil would clarify that Libyans are moderate Muslims, but his comments fanned a Western fire than spreads rapidly.

Nahda’s success at the ballot box also sparked renewed concerns inside and outside of Egypt, where many are expecting big electoral gains from the Muslim Brotherhood. A chaotic campaign season is in full effect after the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) amended the elections law to favor a list-based system, as demanded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the liberal Wafd Party. Secular Egyptians and opponents of the Brotherhood accuse the SCAF of exploiting the group, using it as a wedge against newer parties. Western states generally kept their distance from the Brotherhood during the first phase of Egypt’s uprising (although the U.S. remains in close contact with the SCAF).

Yemenis have been particularly victimized by prejudices of “Islamization.” Mislead to believe that the Obama administration is keeping “Islamists” from seizing power, not enough Americans realize that the White House is negotiating with the only “Islamist” bloc in Yemen. The majority of Yemen’s youth and popular protesters seek a civil state based on Islamist principles. However the White House has opted to negotiate with Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an umbrella that includes the “Islamist” Islah party and Yemen’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. These groups aren’t necessarily urging an Islamist caliphate, but their traditional thinking and social ties have sidetracked Yemen’s democratic uprising.

For all of their faults Islamic groups shoulder an integral part of the Arab revolutions; Bahrain’s moderate Al Wefaq is merely one example. Tunisia’s election added a much-needed positive development to what is perceived as a stalled revolution. While Nahda garnered an estimated 90 seats out of 217, three times the seats as the second place Congress for the Republic (CRP), the group is already moving to establish a governing coalition with secular parties. Nahda, CPR and Ettakatol maintained friendly relations prior to the election and form a bulwark against the remnants of Ben Ali (Populist Petition), offering a complete package to Tunisians.

"Tunisians want centrist politics," says CPR leader Moncef Marzouki, a vocal Tunisian activist during Ben Ali’s regime. "They want an Arab-Muslim identity (Ennahda) and also democracy and human rights represented by the two parties CPR and Ettakatol."

Naturally Nahda has its share of doubters. What appears to be a small minority of Tunisians distrust the group, claiming the world is hearing another message from Nahda’s street message of Sharia law. Conversely, hardline elements accuse Nahda leader Rashid al-Ghannushi of being too liberal. The truth falls somewhere in between, but closer to al-Ghannushi’s secular label. Nahda rose out of the turbulent 1980’s and participated in a number of attacks on Tunisian government targets, before al-Ghannushi’s exile modernized his political thinking. Returning after Ben Ali’s fall, al-Ghannushi wasted no time backing Tunisia’s popular revolutionaries and revitalizing his party, which immediately garnered predictions of an election sweep.

Rashid al-Ghannushi could be talking out of two mouths, but his promise to maintain secular Islam is now locked into voters minds. Changing platforms will come with a price, as the interim government’s life-span could be severed by unhappy voters. This outcome, however, appears unlikely. al-Ghannushi has spoken and acted in sincere cooperation with the revolution: “We have long advocated democracy within the mainstream trend of political Islam, which we feel is the best system that protects against injustice and authoritarianism.”

His daughter, Soumaya, similarly promises, "I'm a Tunisian woman. I'd be the first concerned if there was a change. I'm a working woman, I'm active in civil society. I personally don't see any contradiction between Islam and... women's rights."

Ultimately Nadha’s coalition is the strongest network available to lead Tunisia’s transition, a positive influence capable of solidifying the fledgling government and plugging into the masses. Politically active Tunisians vow to stay vigilant through social networks, while Nadha campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said consultations will include all "political parties in the assembly and outside it, and civil society groups and unions.” al-Ghannushi himself provides leadership and strength in dealing with the international community, and rejected the job of interim prime minister by appointing his popular secretary-general, Hamadi Jebali. al-Ghannushi mentioned that he would like to see a younger candidate, but Jebali offers a steady hand through constitutional revision.

The 63-year old co-founder of the Islamic Tendency Movement, Nahda’s predecessor, impressed U.S. officials after he was sent to Washington to ease concerns of an Islamist takeover. Jebali told France’s Le Monde ahead of Sunday’s election, “if we win the elections, Tunisia will not become an Islamic country, it will be a democratic country.”

Future polls across the region may not unfold with the same euphoria as Tunisia’s. As hundreds of media reports warn, states such as Egypt, Yemen and Libya could break a different way from Tunisia’s “secular” society. Some Islamist parties may dominate the less organized competition, and stricter rules may be enforced in certain areas. Over time these newer parties may reverse the trend, given that organization can be developed and secular appeal is rising. Whether “Islamist” or secular parties assume an electoral majority, Islam is needed to guide a region of revolutionaries. It cannot be picked apart or shut out of the Middle East’s democratic upheaval - to deny Islam is to deny identity.

“Political Islam is a necessary gateway for democratic change in the Arab world,” Khattar Abou Diab, a professor of international relations at L’Universite Paris-Sud, told the AFP. “This is the most powerful political force in the Arab world today.”

Penning up this pressure would yield destabilizing results; although they come with downside, their suppression would generate far more damage than their participation. Islamist parties tend to know what they’re doing politically, injecting much-needed experience into the brand-new experience of open revolution. Few uprisings can be stopped when Islamic parties synchronize with the youth and civil movements.

At the least, Western fears shouldn’t exceed threatened dictators warning of an Islamist takeover.

October 25, 2011

Ali Saleh Calls In U.S. Guns

As the bullets, RPGs, artillery and tank shells rain down on Yemen’s steadfast revolutionaries, they can still hear the silent world around them - or watch on their phones. Foreign media has since caught up to the brutality in Taiz and ongoing violence in Sana’a, but these headlines were quickly displaced by Ali Saleh’s usual fraud.

The duplicitous strongman would receive U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to deliver two messages: he plans to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative as soon as possible, and a ceasefire has been brokered in the urban centers of revolt.

Earlier on Tuesday, a party meeting chaired by Information Minister Hasan al-Lawzi “reaffirmed the Security Council's support for the Presidential decree designed to find a political agreement acceptable to all parties,” once again exposing UN resolution 2014 as a biased proposal. While the cabinet busied itself “reiterating its commitment to carry out the recommendations of the Human Rights Council (HRC),” security forces unleashed their weapons on protesters in Sana’a and Taiz. Islah’s website reported eight civilians deaths in Taiz, including two women and a child, and upwards of 50 wounded. Yasser Nusari, a medic in Taiz's Freedom Square, said five of the dead were youth protesters.

“Streets are now chaotic and forces are everywhere attacking anyone who is against the regime," said Nusari. "At least 38 people were shot by government forces. It's unbelievable how the government is killing its own people."

Security forces first opened fire on Taiz’s center and its neighboring districts around 2 PM. Government units (including the U.S.-trained Republican Guard) armed with RPGs and artillery formed the rear guard for pro-government tribesmen, who have joined the fight in order to preserve their own influence. Sheikh Sagheer bin Aziz, a Bakil leader whose tribe has clashed with the northern Houthi sect, pledged to “fight them [the Hashid and Houthi opposition] until they return to the right path.” Abdu Ganadi, Saleh’s deputy minister of information, similarly blamed Yemen’s political opposition for “supporting militants who are attacking government property in both Taiz and Sanaa.”

"These are militants and are all armed,” he added. “The youth are just a cover-up for the violence the opposition is creating.

Such are the daily accusations and tricks of Saleh’s regime: accept the GCC intiative while slandering its other participant, Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). Residents of Sana’a and Taiz report that no ceasefire has taken effect, only a lull in the fighting. Yemenis have witnessed this nauseating pattern since April, when the GCC was first introduced by Riyadh and Washington. According to the Yemen Post, this “strategy was a tactic by the government to fool the international community and act as if it calls for peace.”

To Yemen’s mass of revolutionaries, the only sound worse than international silence or false condemnation is praise. Rather than make any attempt, however insincere, at condemning Saleh’s brutality, the Obama administration has decided to applaud his recent actions. Asked about Feierstein’s meeting with Saleh, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded, “we do consider it a good step both that President Saleh is reaffirming his commitment to the G.C.C. agreement and that he understands and is supportive of the fact that the violence has got to end so that we can set the conditions for discussions about Yemen's diplomatic future.”

This “tough” statement is indicative of the Obama administration's “united and unambiguous” message to Saleh’s regime.

Saleh’s latest lie is no different than any other; his meeting with the unpopular Feierstein is equivalent to a friendly meeting with Gaddafi or al-Assad. Out of this meeting comes another duplicitous promise from Saleh, spun by the Obama administration in order to stall Yemen’s regime change. This development is the latest evidence of ongoing cooperation, contrary to Western misconceptions that the Obama administration is forcing Saleh’s regime out of power. Nuland was actually confronted with the hypocrisy between Libya and Yemen, and the spokeswoman apparently believes that she denied any favoritism.

“I don’t think we’ve been equivocal at all, either from this podium or when the Secretary’s been asked about it. She’s been quite emphatic that the GCC agreement offers the best path forward. We’ve also been supportive of the discussions that have been ongoing even in the absence of the agreement being signed. We’ve been supportive of the GCC’s own efforts to mediate. We spoke about this in New York. So I have to say I reject the premise.”

Nuland was repeatedly pressed - and couldn’t answer - why Saleh chose this moment to renew his intent to sign the GCC initiative. The ignorant spokeswoman is woefully misinformed and out of her league in Yemen’s revolution, as these questions are basic to most Yemenis and earnest observers. Saleh summoned Feierstein to cover up new human rights abuses and lean into the UN’s resolution for protection, a tactic that has flourished (the Obama administration's response is fresh proof). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also been MIA throughout Yemen’s revolution, preferring Libya’s spoils.

Fundamentally, supporting the GCC initiative supports Saleh’s regime. UN resolution 2014 also defines
equivocal; the GCC's immunity clause was left open to interpretation in order to conceal the UNSC's violation.

Instead U.S. officials acknowledge Saleh's resistance without opening wondering why he's so “enthusiastic” to sign. In fact his regime is the only party publicly willing to accept the GCC’s initiative, an overt warning sign. The majority of Yemen’s revolutionaries reject the proposal outright, viewing it as hostile foreign intervention. Meanwhile JMP continues to hold firm on its own version, rejecting Saleh’s latest attempt to modify the document. Having been shut down last week, his officials allegedly made another push at delaying Saleh’s resignation until after an election is held.

Oppositional spokesman Mohammed Qahtan told the Awakening Forum on Tuesday, "any talk of an early presidential elections with the survival of the President in his presidency, but is incompatible with the Constitution and undermine the basis of the initiative of the Gulf."

It remains unclear whether the JMP-led transitional council opposes Saleh’s immunity clause in private, or if the group will hold to this demand. The National Council of Revolutionary Forces has rejected the GCC’s immunity clause, leaving the opposition positioned for either scenario. Although public support for the GCC weakens the JMP’s credibility and the cohesion of Yemen’s revolution, bailing on the initiative will fulfill Saleh’s plot to scapegoat the opposition. That’s why introducing an alternative to the GCC would represent real action from the international community.

For now Yemen’s revolutionaries must battle Saleh’s regime and the world’s super powers.

Update on Yemen’s Revolution

A full briefing of Yemen’s latest and future developments will be posted shortly. The following events must be recorded without further delay:

Foreign media spinning in Saleh’s mud

World headlines cannot decide whether Ali Abdullah Saleh has accepted or rejected UN resolution 2014. After claiming to accept, the AFP writes that, “in a new apparent maneuver, Saleh's government said on Saturday that it is ready to "positively deal with the UN resolution" and “reiterated its offer for dialogue with the opposition as Yemen's exit from its crisis."

This scam was perpetrated throughout the process of resolution 2014.

AFP also reports that Saleh is “seemingly oblivious to domestic and international pressure,” when this pressure is fundamentally weak and its sources have cooperated with his regime.

Security forces raid Taiz

Violence usually accompanies Saleh’s rhetorical duplicity and this weekend was no different in Sana’a or Taiz. An unconfirmed number of protesters were killed and many wounded in clashes with security forces, while anti-government tribesmen were targeted in a vain attempt to create civil strife. Of imminent importance, Taiz came under heavy assault throughout Tuesday; women are included in the preliminary casualty figures.

Yemeni protesters are acutely aware of the world’s silence and demand immediate media attention to cover their brave marches.

Washington grants self-immunity

Failure to condemn Taiz’s assault will reinforce the international community’s dwindling credibility. Confidence is already low and UN resolution 2014 has been rejected up and down, from Nobel laureate Tawakel Karman to the protesters camped in Change Square. Yemen's Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) summarized the local reaction:
It is with deep regrets and disappointment that the Yemeni people received the news of the insulting United Nations Security Resolution 2014, regarding the current political dilemma now unfolding in Yemen. The people of Yemen in 20 Governorates and the Capital Secretariat of Sana'a City could not help but read, listen and view with astonishment the obvious contempt for the sacrifices made by the Yemeni people in their honorable and legitimate quest to achieve liberty and freedom from the oppressive regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Surely, the United Nations is not in the business of legitimizing oppression, persecution and legitimized state terror, but on October 21, 2011, it was evident to the Yemeni people that the international community went even further by actually rewarding the culprits of a political crime that has been ensuing in Yemen for over a third of a century now.
UN resolution 2014 is an international scandal and should be reported as such. Its flawed basis in the GCC initiative - crowned by built-in immunity - encourages Saleh’s family to spill Yemeni blood, and covers up Western, Russian and Gulf support for his illegitimate regime.

October 24, 2011

Kenya Flips a COIN in Somalia

Over one week has passed since Kenyan warplanes began bombing al-Shabaab camps inside southern Somalia. The incursions signaled the beginning of Operation Linda Nchi, Swahili for "Protect the Nation,” along with Kenya’s determination to stabilize its porous eastern border. Despite an extensive use of disinformation to confuse al-Shabaab, the militant group’s port of Kismayo quickly emerged as Nairobi and Mogadishu’s primary target.

Prior coordination left no doubt that Kenyan officials envisioned a sustained campaign.

Linda Nchi’s objectives are coming into sharper focus as it progresses, except its time-line and territorial scope remain obscured. For now all roads in southern Somalia lead to Kismayo, a city of 150,000 located roughly 120 miles from Kenya’s border. Nairobi’s assault launched from Dhobley, a border town under control of the Kenyan-backed faction of the Ras Ramboni Movement (with the other faction operating under al-Shabaab’s umbrella). A second armored column seized key towns near the coast, notably Kolbio and Kaambooni, before advancing near Buur Gaado, some 90 miles south of Kismayo. Meanwhile Kenya’s navy is moving to blockade Kismayo and provide sea support.

"This provides a vantage point for us to clear al-Shabab and pirates from the Somali coast in Kismayo," Major Emmanuel Chirchir, a spokesman for Kenya’s military, told The Associated Press. "Al-Shabaab is in disarray."

Like the beginning of many military operations, Kenya’s assault is unfolding smoothly in the absence of al-Shabaab’s resistance. The only setback is natural - Somalia’s second rainy season, Dayr - and Kenyan troops are miles from initiating a battle for Afmadow, al-Shabaab’s regional garrison. The group has mounted a nebulous defense, with some fighters digging into the town while others camp in the surrounding brush. Nairobi already claims to have killed 70 militants in preemptive air-strikes, but local residents warn that al-Shabaab is preparing to defend the town rather than melt away. An unconfirmed ambush near the area killed two Kenyan troops, and commanders are anticipating their first battle in the near future.

“We want to assemble all our equipment together before the offensive resumes,” Chirchir told The Nation.

Kenya’s campaign will begin to define itself after the battle for Afmadow. A quick battle (1-2 weeks) will preserve the operation's momentum and keep its pace, while a prolonged assault will signal immediate warnings to Nairobi. Advancing to Kismayo, let alone occupying it, is an uphill grind; a week was needed to transport columns into Afmadow and reaching Somalia’s southern port could exceed another week. On one level Kismayo’s siege has already begun after unidentified warplanes (either U.S. or French) bombed an al-Shabaab base near the port, while a French naval gunship fired on a pirate haven to the south. However stabilizing Kismayo requires a ground presence of military and non-military personnel.

Occupying the city until al-Shabaab can no longer “fire a single round,” as Chirchir described the mission, will require an unspecified period of months. Nairobi’s justification for war is valid beyond kidnapped aid workers - for too long the government has lived with Somalia’s uncertainty. Another neighbor also improves the cohesion of Somalia’s regional response, whether in the African Union or Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The central problem, as Nairobi visibly understands but currently risks, is mission drift. Instead of depleting al-Shabaab’s ranks and infrastructure, Kenya appears to be pursuing full-fledged counterinsurgency in southern Somalia.

"We are determined to cleanse al Shabaab from Kismayo and then from all of Somalia," General Yusuf Hussein Dumaal, head of government troops in southern Somalia, told Reuters several days ago. "We hope it will not take us a week to capture Lower Juba region, particularly Kismayo.”

A week, of course, has already passed. In a best-case scenario, Kenyan troops and tanks moving along the coast reach Kismayo within 10 days, sparking an urban battle with al-Shabaab. Several weeks may be needed to clear the city for Somali troops and the Ras Kamboni militia, followed by a period of joint-security operations. A group of Somali exiles financed by Nairobi (Azania's newly-established council) would assume administrative duties to keep Kismayo’s lucrative port open. One encouraging sign is the local population’s willingness to cooperate, but prolonged resistance from al-Shabaab must be expected. Thus a best-case scenario falls between two and three months in Kismayo - and war in Somalia rarely follows a government’s script.

Problematically, controlling Kismayo and Afmadow without the surrounding region will lead to an inefficient campaign; these towns were seized from militant hands in 2006-07. Kenyan and Somali officials have talked about pushing al-Shabaab out of the entire Jubaland, which stretches over 30,000 square miles, while the secondary ports of Marka and Baraawe have been tagged for blockade, opening the possibility of a ground operation hundreds of miles north of Kismayo. Kenya’s force is estimated at two battalions of 800 men, with additional police officers, and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has contributed an undisclosed number of troops.

These forces, combined with the Ras Kamboni and well-trained Ahlu Sunna, face an estimated 1,000-2,000 al-Shabaab guerrillas and al-Qaeda cells.

Despite al-Shabaab’s weaknesses, the current ratios of troops and territory favor a guerrilla’s protracted struggle. Securing Lower Juba will likely require additional reinforcements and time, and a regional sweep would miss al-Shabaab’s southern garrison in Gedo. The dual possibilities of over-committing into Somali territory and underestimating the present challenge have triggered anxiety in Western and African analysts, some more reasonable than others. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently expressed these fears while summarizing protracted insurgency.

"I suspect the message they're (Kenya) trying to send out is 'we will not stand by, we will defend our territory, stop the incursions, stop coming in to kidnap people, stop coming in to commit crime'," Annan told Reuters last week. "But one has to be careful that this engagement doesn't lead to a long, drawn-out entanglement and I hope the government, and I suspect the government, is aware of that... I think if they are defending their borders, it's one thing. If they decide to go into Kismayu, it's another thing altogether.”

The red line between realistic mission and quagmire extends around Lower Juba; securing this region should be the maximum range of Nairobi’s mission. A common, often fatal error in COIN is promising more than can be delivered, and Kenyan officials must manage internal and external expectations with extreme care. Over-promising and under-delivering weakens domestic support, emboldens the enemy and undermines the local population’s trust. Nairobi’s primary threat won’t come from internal attacks, which only rally Kenya’s people, but a high cost of invasion. al-Shabaab’s opponents are operating under the belief that the group is crippled, setting up the possibility of underestimating a cornered foe.

“We prepared special troops to fight against the Kenyan invaders who illegally crossed Somalia’s border,” al-Shabaab’s military spokesman, Sheikh Abdi Aziz Abu Musab, said in a recorded statement on Radio al-Furqaan. “We will teach them unforgettable lessons.”

Whether al-Shabaab’s bite still matches its bark will be revealed shortly. The group will surely mount a stiff resistance in retreat or through a semi-conventional defensive, but Kenya counters with a number of advantages. The TFG spent 2011 building up the credibility to approve such a mission, although President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed recently denied cooperating with the ground assault. Kenya’s intervention isn’t comparable to Ethiopia’s futile campaign, at least not yet. Historic animosity is minimal and local accounts indicate that Somalis are working with Kenyan forces.

How they respond during battle remains to be seen, but many are likely to cooperate if they retain confidence in Nairobi’s mission.
Claims that Kenyan soldiers aren’t “battle-hardened” can be flipped - they could make good counterinsurgents.

Now Kenya must keep its distance from Ethiopia; any friction with Mogadishu (if Ahmed isn’t employing disinformation) must be smoothed over immediately. While Kenyan troops aren't needed to police Mogadishu or central Somalia, moving across the south will eat up resources and time. Western air strikes should only be called in when absolutely necessary to avoid civilian collateral; Scott Gration, America’s ambassador to Kenya, is currently negotiating the level of U.S. assistance. And if Nairobi intends to stay long, stay long.

The overarching positive is that Operation Linda Nchi doesn’t appear to be unfolding in isolation, but as part of a wider strategy on land and sea. A year-long operation would gel with the TFG’s scheduled election in August 2012. As Kenyan and Ethiopian troops squeeze al-Shabaab from the south and west, AU and TFG troops plan to gradually expand the security bubble outside of Mogadishu. 3,000 AU reinforcements await the funds to deploy and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised more. Kenya’s current mission in Kismayo is ultimately designed to clear space for an AU contingent, which can begin to push into Lower Juba with TFG and proxy support. Premature withdrawal, then, could undermine a national campaign.

Any military intervention in Somalia generates unavoidable obstacles. Fears of past failures are running high, and history suggests that Nairobi will be lucky to achieve part of its goals with minimal blowback. Another challenge, though, is psychological - questioning whether Somalia’s future will divert from its past. Can African nations finally stabilize the world’s most unstable state after decades of civil war?

Kenyan officials are hoping that fortune favors the bold.

October 23, 2011

“Containing” Pakistan A Fool’s Errand

Gleeful U.S. officials must be popping another bottle of Chardonnay. Often criticized as too soft on Islamabad despite a constant application of pressure, the Obama administration is steadily encroaching upon Pakistan’s “red line.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to soften her arrival to Islamabad during a speech to the Center of American Progress (CAP), chiding its leadership while clinging to the hope of a peace agreement between Kabul, Islamabad and the Taliban. Yet any positive rhetoric muffles Washington’s louder calls for military action across the Durand Line.

“Nuke Pakistan” is a common expression on U.S. media boards.

Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel recently outlined the need for a new policy of containment - a process already underway - in an op-ed to The New York Times. Calling for increased trade coupled with sanctions against targeted military officials, the Washington insider believes that “military assistance to Pakistan should be cut deeply.” U.S. policy hasn’t reached the level of “hostility” that Riedel suggests: “Regular contacts between our officers and theirs can continue, but under no delusion that we are allies.”

Tensions aren’t much cooler though. U.S.-Pakistani relations survive in limbo, on a stalled breaking point that always seems just around the corner.

Riedel speaks for a web of people beyond himself. Two weeks ago Obama convened his National Security Council to debate the extent of military action against the Haqqani network, which Islamabad maintains a long-standing truce with. The urban core of Miran Shah, the local capital of North Waziristan, was approved as a new target to demonstrate Washington’s intolerance of safe havens. Janbaz Zadran, a long-time Haqqani ally involved in communications, was selected “to demonstrate how seriously we take Miran Shah.” An inter-agency memo also circulated through the White House, Pentagon, CIA and State Department, ordering the administration “to stop sending mixed messages to Pakistan and others about the administration’s war policies.”

Clarity is usually beneficial in counterinsurgency, but the quality has lost its edge in Pakistan after decades of mistrust and propaganda. Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, gave Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani three options “during a secret meeting in Saudi Arabia: kill the Haqqani leadership, help us kill them, or persuade them to join a peaceful, democratic Afghan government.” The third option is lip service, as the administration maintains an insincere faith in a political resolution. Washington believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) attempted to box Washington in by assassinating Burhanuddin Rabbani (conclusive proof has yet to surface), and now the Pentagon is drawing a box around Miran Shah - and Islamabad by extension.

Kayani reportedly left the meeting satisfied - after rejecting an operation into North Waziristan. He later responded that Washington’s problems lie “in Afghanistan, not Pakistan.”

While the administration’s measures are conceived to stop U.S.-Pakistani relations from irreparably breaking, U.S. policy continues to trend towards high-reward, high-risk unilateralism. Osama bin Laden’s raid removed any lingering expectations that Islamabad will assist in eliminating the Haqqani network, leaving Washington free to pursue the task through its mechanical fleet. Problematically, neither the Haqqanis nor Islamabad will be frightened into submission. The result is that Washington must pound the Haqqani network (estimated between 5,000-10,000 fighters) in isolation, without enough time to incapacitate the network. That open-ended scenario leaves the final possibility of a last-resort ground operation in 2013-14, which was “set aside for now.”

“Although the administration has left the raid option on the table,” the Washington Post reports, “the potential negatives of such an operation — including the possible collapse of Pakistan’s military leadership and civilian government — are seen as far outweighing its benefits.”

In Kayani’s words, "The U.S. should think 10 times over before attacking Pakistani soil.”

Bravado aside, the Obama administration is growing increasingly desperate to weaken the Taliban’s regional network. Saturating Afghanistan’s south came at the expense of the Haqqanis’ eastern territory; the group has also diversified beyond North Waziristan, obscuring the potential success of a Pakistani ground operation. Unflinching propaganda can only convince so many people that America is “winning” in Afghanistan, and propaganda cannot negate systemic errors in counterinsurgency. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is particularly bold in leading the administration’s charge, unleashing a rhetoric sequence that warrants its own future analysis.

“Afghanistan remains a tough fight,” he told the Association of the United States Army, “but there we are setting the conditions for a responsible transition to Afghan security and Afghan governance. We’ve hit the Taliban hard, and we’re going after the Haqqani network and the groups that are launching recent high profile attacks against are forces. As the Taliban have weakened, the Afghan National Security Forces have become increasingly strong and capable. They’re going out on operations, thanks to the remarkable training they’ve received. Overall, I believe our effort in Afghanistan is headed in the right direction, there’s a lot more to be done, this is not going to be easy, but we are setting the conditions to transition lead security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.”

Clinton similarly argued on multiple occasions, “The decision President Obama made on taking office and then the second decision he made to first stop, and then reverse, the momentum of the Taliban, has actually succeeded.”

The Washington Post recounts, “as the media chronicled the debate, the White House feared it was losing control of Pakistan policy.” All current actions are expedient measures to reshape 2012’s narrative, but they will eventually lead to the same problems as before. While U.S. officials insist they remain open to negotiations with the Taliban, this rhetoric is designed to guilt Islamabad and justify sustained military operations. Afghanistan’s “progress” continues to be measured in night-raids, drone strikes, statistics of Taliban attacks and Afghan army training - all military factors that leave the region’s political spheres in disarray. U.S-Afghan relations are still impaired, Kabul’s authority still weak, and the Post adds that “Obama had gradually lost faith in Pakistan and its weak civilian leadership.”

“Nobody takes their eye off the ball,” he told his National Security team, referring to the Haqqanis. Such a warning literally expects the network - a locally entrenched network - to be killed off by brute force. Somalis initially welcomed U.S. soldiers to Mogadishu in 1992, but gradually began to mock them for attempting to eliminate centuries of clan politics.

Riedel himself makes for a broken vehicle to recalibrate U.S. policy. High profile and despised by the Pakistani media, the ex-CIA official identified himself as an architect of a strategy that many Pakistanis immediately distrusted. Obama’s “second decision” to deploy 33,000 troops resulted from Riedel and company’s underestimation (and Obama’s underselling of the war’s needs). Riedel was also a leading proponent of “AfPak,” a term that offended both Afghans and Pakistanis. He isn’t the messenger to split hairs in Islamabad: “Now we need to contain that army’s aggressive instincts, while helping those who want a progressive Pakistan and keeping up the fight against terrorism.”

This rhetoric will be taken as a threat by the Pakistani public despite their own disapproval of the government and military. Clinton isn’t very popular herself, and mafia-like visit to Islamabad (led by the unpopular David Petraeus) has once again demanded action against the Haqqanis. An ultimatum, it appears. Clinton would tell reporters, "Our message is very clear. We're going to be fighting, we are going to be talking and we are going to be building... and they can either be helping or hindering, but we are not going to stop."

In that order. A balanced COIN equation should go in reverse.

Contrary to the intended objective of neutralizing the Haqqanis, isolating Islamabad will trend towards regional instability in the long-term. Not only will the government and military increase their leverage with Beijing, the public support that Riedel seemingly wishes to protect is poisoned as well. As NATO allies prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan and neighboring states remain uninvolved in a political settlement, a nuclear scenario with U.S.-Pakistani relations will further isolate America’s ability to stabilize the region. President Hamid Karzai, for example, issued an interesting pledge on Saturday: Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in the event of open U.S. aggression.

After doing most of the talking, hopefully Clinton and her entourage find time on the return flight to reflect on the damage they just inflicted to Pakistan’s non-military spheres.