November 30, 2011

Taliban Sets PSYOP Trap in Pakistan

U.S. officials stress their regret without admitting guilt. They claim to know what’s best for Pakistan without fully understanding the country’s history or people. They ask for patience when Washington and Islamabad have none for each other. They demand impartiality while attempting to manipulate the crime scene.

"No one at this point has the complete narrative on what happened," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters inquiring into NATO's deadly weekend raid in Pakistan. "I think, it is premature to articulate the facts of this incident... It is important to review all the data available, to talk to the personnel involved and let the investigation unfold."

Never too early
to leak though.

Shadows on Salala Ridge

Starting down relentless hostility for air-raiding Salala ridge, a mushrooming strike that left at least 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, U.S. officials quickly found themselves accused of freezing in the emergency headlights. The Obama administration remains hedged around “sorrow” and "sympathy" as diplomats feverishly work Pakistan’s back-channels, leaving a void in responsibility and outreach. The administration’s public response appears to be centered on shaping the event’s narrative in order to reduce future culpability. Rather than an act of negligence, aggression or chaos, Taliban militants attacked a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol in order to provoke return fire against Pakistan’s checkpoints.

Various reports confirmed, “U.S. officials are working on the assumption the Taliban chose the location for the first attack to create confusion and draw U.S. and Pakistani forces into firing on each other.”

According to preliminary leaks of NATO’s investigation, U.S. and Afghan personnel came under initial fire in Afghanistan’s hotly contested Kunar province shortly after midnight. The patrol claims to have radioed Pakistani officials while tracking the Taliban unit across the mountainous border, and was told that no friendly troops were operating in the area. U.S. and Afghan commanders eventually spotted what they believed to be a militant camp “with heavy weapons mounted on tripods,” and called in air support from Apache helicopters, war planes and an AC-130 gunship.

"It was a situation where insurgent forces butted right up against a Pakistani border post and used that as a firing position,” one U.S. official
told the Wall Street Journal. “When we fired back, we hit Pakistani security forces.”

Media reports go so far as to question “whether Pakistani forces at the border outpost were somehow complicit in initially firing on the Afghan-U.S. patrol.” Another Western official in Kabul openly declared, "They [U.S. troops] were fired on from a Pakistani army base. It was a defensive action."

Islamabad, on the other hand, initially denied being contacted before the attack occurred; many of the 50 troops stationed on Salala were sleeping when U.S. rounds began to drop. Instead, Pakistani officials reported hearing “suspicious activity” shortly after midnight, around the same time that U.S. and Afghan forces reported contact with Taliban fighters. One Pakistani unit fired flares and, after spotting movement near the camp, opened fire with small arms. The post then came under assault from U.S. aircraft, and a Pakistani liaison soon informed U.S. officials at Forward Operating Base Joyce.

The attack lasted for nearly an hour before NATO communicated its error to Pakistani officials, yet the aircraft continued their fire afterward. Soldiers from the second Pakistani post in question then responded in defense, leading U.S. forces to bomb their position as well.

This deadly event would hit the propaganda jackpot if Taliban leadership did orchestrate a cross-boarder incident and the ensuing political meltdown. Such a plot would be meticulously planned, in line with the Taliban’s high-profile propaganda campaign, but the simplicity of provoking friendly fire cannot be lost either. Despite implementing safeguards to prevent the very border chaos now engulfing their relations, Washington and Islamabad have spent years increasing the Durand Line’s tension to the breaking point. Taliban fighters only need to spark two powder-kegs.

Political Cost of a Dozen Insurgents

With the systematic collapse of everything U.S. - from supply lines to political lines - the Taliban’s alleged plot could yield a higher impact than the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai or Tajik figurehead Burhanuddin Rabbani. Amid speculation over the fate of Shamsi air field, General Martin Dempsey suggested that U.S. personnel were, in fact, still posted at the isolated strip in Pakistan's Balochistan province. America’s new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) told Britain’s ITV News, “It's a serious blow in the sense that the Pakistani government felt that they needed to deny us the use of a base that we've been using for many years. And so it's serious in that regard. It's not debilitating militarily."

CIA and Special Forces have spent years building up a drone network inside Afghanistan.

Needing to send a louder message than Shamsi’s irrelevant closure, Islamabad subsequently announced its intention to boycott next week’s conference in Bonn, Germany. Arranged in November 2010 after NATO’s Lisbon summit, Bonn is the latest international goalpost to advance the coalition’s phased withdrawal towards 2014. The conference will discuss Afghanistan’s security transfers and international engagement in general, but Taliban reconciliation was dropped from the agenda after Rabbani’s assassination in September. Pakistan’s absence in this particular topic is relatively insignificant given that Washington demands the Taliban’s unconditional surrender. Disconnecting from Afghanistan's wider scheme will yield real damage, as Dempsey anticipates.

The Washington Post reports, “Administration officials are leaving the door open for Pakistan to reverse course and commit to the Bonn conference, but are more perturbed by the idea of a substantial change in Pakistani policy toward Afghanistan. They don’t know if the Bonn decision reflects merely another slap at the United States, or if it reflects a broader move away from the U.S. strategy for withdrawing from Afghanistan.”

The combination of Islamabad’s hard-line reaction and its placement within the historic downtrend in U.S.-Pakistani relations has solidified the expectation that a fundamental shift is near. Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani declared that business won’t return to normal as China flexed its muscle behind him, while Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the country had reached a turning point in its foreign policy. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), “We don’t want any aid or assistance, but we want to live with dignity and honor.”

Islamabad’s rhetoric is often oversimplified as “playing to the masses,” but U.S. officials would respond in similar kind. Pakistani officials must attempt to uphold the country’s sovereignty regardless of their hollow fury, otherwise the risk of instability further increases. Washington has grown too comfortable with Pakistan’s status quo - with the realization that U.S. troops don’t need public support in the mid-term. This arrangement is inherently unstable, prone to upheaval, and thus dangerous to the region.

The Taliban theory still doesn’t explain how two designated outposts were confused for a militant camp, or why the air raid continued for so long. U.S. officials claim that Taliban fighters have attempted to provoke friendly fire on numerous occasions, making Washington’s excuse all the more inexcusable. Mistaken identities, judgement lapses and communication malfunctions only appear to explain so much; if the Taliban did set a trap, U.S. and Afghan forces fell head over heels into a dark pit. A breakdown in military command presents another troubling scenario, and Pakistani officials assert that NATO’s attack sent a deliberate message to show “who’s boss” on the border.

True or false, this mindset is influencing Pakistani policymakers beyond an immediate need to placate the populace. At the least, they cannot tolerate U.S. forces calling in air-strikes without being able to stop them.

“Such raids have also been conducted in the past,” said Major General Athar Abbas, spokesman for Pakistan’s military. “Such attacks are unacceptable.”

Surrendering Hearts and Minds

Nor does mistaken identity explain America’s inadequate public diplomacy. NATO’s raid highlights how clueless U.S. officials remain of Pakistan’s internal dynamics, in terms of responding to a political crisis and directly addressing Pakistan’s people. The Obama administration refuses to apologize during NATO’s investigation while shielding itself with the Taliban, a political maneuver that isn’t fooling Islamabad. Abbas rejected the assertion that Pakistani troops initiated fire towards the border - disregarding the Obama administration’s apology in the process - and Islamabad immediately refuted U.S. claims that Pakistani officials approved the air-raid. They counter-argue that U.S. personnel gave them the wrong coordinates, and denied emerging reports that the mountain posts were temporary camps.

NATO’s investigation won’t be released until December 23rd, too long for Pakistanis to approve of but not long enough for them to forget. Major General Ishfaq Nadeem, Director General Military Operations (DG MO), speaks for many Pakistanis when he expects the investigation to "come to nothing."

U.S. officials also continue to frame their concerns around Afghanistan’s stability and “national security interests,” rather than relate to Pakistan’s human element. President Barack Obama has spoken through a press secretary instead of attempting a direct connection with Pakistan's people. Few officials forget to remind their audience that U.S. policy in Afghanistan remains “on track,” hardening Islamabad’s unease over America’s regional strategy. Pakistanis want Western troops out of the region in the near future and they don’t view America's negotiating style as an exit. Islamabad remains obstructive - the Taliban’s leadership feels no differently - because Washington hopes to approve a military presence after 2014.

Islamabad and Washington essentially feel that Afghanistan is each other's fault. This dynamic remains the same before and after NATO’s deadly raid, and too many long-standing doubts exist to alter the status quo. Pakistan's military is willing to sacrifice numerous proxies and coordinate drone strikes, but not in total subservience to foreign powers.

The Obama administration's use of a militant shield ultimately feeds into the Taliban's own narrative. If true, the plot represents the group’s latest high-profile attack in a psychological campaign that NATO officials have largely dismissed. One Taliban commander in Kunar, Abu Hamza,
rejected accusations of involvement, saying his troops enjoy enough freedom to stay inside Afghanistan. Propaganda doesn’t restore clarity to propaganda, but the Taliban’s mere specter could be responsible for Salala’s mix up.

One thing is certain: the insurgency’s leadership is enjoying an even bigger laugh if they didn’t intend to spark an international crisis.

November 29, 2011

Egypt's Election: Battle Within the War

As Egypt’s recent violence gives way to the flow of Monday’s parliamentary election, jubilant and wary voters alike must remember the day as emblematic of their revolution. Only weeks ago many protesters were asking whether their sacrifices over the last 10 months had generated the appropriate level of change. Whether Egypt is experiencing a revolution at all remains a periodic topic of debate, but a hardened core of protesters refuse to listen and finally defied the army to the point of reaction.

Monday’s record turnout and peaceful atmosphere serve as a beacon for darker days ahead. Revolutions ebb and flow through their cycle, often reversing before progressing again, and an uprising only ends when the people give up.

The relatively smooth processing of Egypt’s first free parliamentary election in 30 years seems to have impressed everyone involved. Voters waited patiently (and impatiently) for hours as lines refused to shrink; turnout is being predicted above 70%, out of an estimated 50 million registered voters. Limited reports of violence and irregularities failed to mar the election’s results and festive mood, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s illegal campaigning won’t boost its figures above normal. Given that Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) refused to step down and can only be removed by violent action, participating and securing the limited power available represents a suitable alternative.

Many Egyptians still see more practicality in voting than protesting in Tahrir, even if the actions in Tahrir work as a check on the SCAF.

Revolutionaries will find the developing outcome useful to their advance if they respond accordingly. Egyptians are enthusiastically casting their ballots in what they consider to be the first free election in three decades, and this overflowing democratic spirit must be bottled. Media accounts, foreign and domestic, ooze with passion. Some Egyptians admit to never voting, the female turnout is reportedly huge, and only a small percentage appear to be voting due to a potential fine. The consistent knock on Tahrir’s protesters, whether from nearby residents or the SCAF, is that one square doesn’t represent Egypt as a whole. True or not, Monday’s election possesses a national reach and drew millions of inactive Egyptians into the political process. This participation should strengthen the country’s new democratic foundation.

“We did not expect the high turnout," explained Abdul Moez Ebrahim, chief of the independent commission tasked with arranging the election.

Fears of an MB sweep also appear exaggerated; the group is likely to bank 30-40% of the vote. Although the Brotherhood and its allies would be left as the leading bloc in a plurality, Egypt’s secular parties hold an electoral mandate to challenge the Brotherhood. Christians also turned out in big numbers to counter the influence of Islamist parties, a positive development in Egypt’s long-term growth. Furthermore, some Egyptians and observers believe that the Brotherhood’s heightened organization represents the most feasible option to evict the SCAF.

The fact remains that Egypt’s protesters distrust the Brotherhood’s intentions, but these forces may subconsciously operate on the same side.

Monday’s immediate obstacle still stands: interaction between parliament and the SCAF. None of the council’s political proposals, which designated significant power to author a new constitution, have been resolved and the SCAF is bent on leveraging secrecy to maintain its authority. The SCAF refused to bow to protesters’ demands, instead poking them in the eye by promoting Kamal Ganzouri, a former prime minister under Mubarak, to his old position. The opposition is expected to clash with Ganzouri over a new constitution and many other legal reforms dealing with ex-Mubarak officials.

Monday’s rousing election has already sowed the seeds of future conflict. While many Egyptians dissociate themselves from Tahrir Square’s perceived radicalism and continue to lean on the SCAF, the council will keep a tight grip on power until forced to relinquish. Parliament has no authority over the SCAF; many political misdeeds may occur between now and mid-2102, when Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi pledged to transfer Egypt’s executive control to civilian authority. Some Egyptians also openly admit to being uninformed about candidates and parties, and participation can become a dangerous act without awareness.

Capitalizing directly on its relatively stable sympathy, the SCAF wasted no time flaunting its true colors. Amid glowing headlines from state, national and foreign media, SCAF members have deployed to soak up credit for Monday’s success. On top of spinning the record turnout as a refutation of Tahrir, the SCAF is busy comparing Monday to the first three days of the Yom Kippur War.

"When we plan, we execute and, at the end, we succeed," Maj. Gen. Ismail Etman, a member of the ruling military council. "The armed forces pulled off this election like they pulled off the crossing in 1973.”

Equally suspicious, Monday’s election was vigorously approved by the Obama administration, which backed the SCAF throughout the protesters’ latest standoff. The White House would surely beg to differ, believing itself to be positioned on the right side of Egypt since January, but measured condemnation of Tantawi says otherwise. Any sincere transfer of power involving a friendly regime is suspect to doubt. Given parliament’s weak authority, the SCAF and Washington have no reason to influence Monday’s election.

The term “free” remains conditional.

Committed revolutionaries await Monday and Tuesday’s results with mixed feelings, welcoming Egypt’s enthusiasm but incurably suspicious of the SCAF. Through increased organization and integration with the wider population, Egypt’s revolutionary movement can stay active and relevant in the ongoing political transition. Whether cleared or packed, Tahrir’s space is vital to maintaining momentum and venting opposition.

Protesters and non-protesters must realize their symbiotic nature. Both need each other to create a new democratic era in Egypt.

November 27, 2011

Fast & Furious Counter-Revolutionary Offensive

Arab protesters witnessed an organized counteroffensive by counter-revolutionary forces over the past week. The following events only describe the last 48 hours of selected uprisings.

Syria: Arab League scam on repeat

Judging from the foreign response to the Arab League’s approved sanctions against Syria, the League continues to deceive a powerful segment of the international audience. Today, after meeting in Cairo, 19 representatives voted in favor of economic sanctions and travel restriction against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, “fulfilling” a threat that stood throughout his November crackdown. The League’s moves have been described as “an unprecedented step against an Arab country” by governments and media alike.

Relatively speaking, the Arab League has taken extraordinary action by publicly reprimanding a fellow member - except the League’s concern disappears beneath the surface.

For starters, economic analysts question the influence of sanctions beyond their psychological effect; no sanctions, AL or UN, can isolate the regime from its allies so long as he retains their political approval. “Iran and Russia are also expected to provide aid to Syria to make up for lost revenues,” reports the New York Times. Roughly 50% of Syrian trade comes within the Arab world, leaving room to find new global customers, and neighbors Iraq and Lebanon won’t enforce the League’s sanctions. Both have extensive business ties with Syria due to their population overflows.

"Iraq has reservations about this decision,” Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi said. “For us, this decision... will harm the interests of our country and our people as we have a large community in Syria.”

Amid the Arab League lenient sanctions and the prospect of new UN action, al-Assad continues his delegitimization process against Syrian pro-democracy movement. Manipulating the Free Syrian Army to slander all protesters as “terrorists,” “criminals,” or “rebels,” al-Assad believes he’s succeeding in leveraging the budding insurgency against Western intervention. However a revolution will often grow an armed wing in the face of relentless brutality, and possessing arms will aid the revolution’s long-term struggle. Neither al-Assad, his national supporters or foreign allies would have caved to a peaceful uprising.

The Arab League could still function as a useful conduit between Syria’s regime and Western powers, and guard against military intervention in the process. For now, though, the body has demonstrated limited willingness to aid Syria’s protesters, and has shrunk into the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) little brother. Its actions are the result of a body forced to act under pressure; approving sanctions simultaneously adds and relieves the burden of responsibility. Syria’s resulting drama works in the regime’s favor, shielding al-Assad from resignation and turning the entire world into a bogeyman.

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, accused the League itself of “interfering in Syria’s internal affairs,” when its general intention is to rescue al-Assad. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby reminded him that the League would reconsider its vote if he accepted a political resolution negotiated in October. The proposal calls on al-Assad to withdraw his troops from cities but ends with a “dialogue” that the opposition must participate in.

Even though Syrian’s strongman cannot be negotiated with in good faith, Elaraby called on him "to quickly approve the Arab initiative.”

Bahrain: the King strikes back

The political battle over Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), released this past Wednesday, is due to intensify beyond the country’s last major battle (July’s failed “National Dialogue”). Oppositional figures within Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s leading Shia party, kept their cards close and measured their stance during the BICI’s run-up, foreseeing a trap from the government. These developments unfolded over the weekend as King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa formed a “National Commission” to examine the BICI’s “recommendations” and “submit its own proposals.”

Despite naming several Shia figures from the political and economic spheres, only four of the 22 members represent oppositional forces, with two going to Al Wefaq. The discrepancy is similar to the King’s “National Dialogue,” during which oppositional figures received 30 out of 300 spots.

Al Wefaq, Waad and several smaller blocs immediately organized a press conference to reject the commission’s formation and mission. Jawad Fairooz said that Al Wefaq was “not consulted over who represent us,” and warned that the commission is “dominated by pro-government figures.” Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa, himself appointed to the BICI's commission, slammed Al Wefaq for refusing to participate - even though the BICI implicated him in criminal cases. Instead of relating the corruption between the Kingdom’s “dialogue” and “commission,” Al-Khalifa held Al Wefaq responsible for scuttling both initiatives.

“The [dialogue] was killed by the opposition, not by us. Now the only thing on the table is the BICI recommendations, and the independent committee that will result from it.”

How appealing to the Shia protesters who chant “Down with King Hamad.”

“The Commission will end its work by the end of February in a framework of transparency," declared a royal decree from King Hamad. Unfortunately for the king, his artificial deadline to wind-down Bahrain’s 9-month uprising will likely pass beneath renewed hostilities. Repeated political maneuvers are eating away at Al Wefaq’s remaining confidence in the monarchy, and the last two weeks witnessed several oppositional funerals broken up with tear gas. In response, Al Wefaq’s political slogans are gradually aligning with the street’s demand for regime change.

“We will not work or co-operate with the present government, and we demand for its resignation,” Khalil Marzooq, a senior member of Al Wefaq, pledged to his supporters. “This government must resign, because it’s proved now that it has killed and tortured our citizens.”

Al Wefaq’s escalating rhetoric has visibly caught the attention of King Hamad and Washington. Bahrain’s foreign minister promptly informed the opposition that the “legitimate government appointed by the king” will continue its functions. Sheikh Khalid ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa also declined an offer for U.S. mediation, telling Al Arabiya on Sunday, “I have rejected the idea that a US diplomat mediate between the government of Bahrain and Al Wefaq Movement because communication channels are open to all parties.”

This news follows the leak of an alleged U.S. proposal to end Bahrain’s uprising in March. Citing oppositional sources, the Gulf Daily News claims that Al Wefaq and its oppositional alliance accepted the proposal to form an interim government. The price for entering into an unstable alliance with the King: withdraw protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in Manama. Having jumped onto the youth’s bandwagon in February, Al Wefaq still retains limited control of street protesters and is incapable of turning the faucet off.

Only genuine political reforms to the government’s structure can relieve Bahrain’s long-standing tensions, but the BICI remains focused on police and judicial reform.

Al Wefaq’s desperation to reach out is understandable. At the same time, US mediation can become a kiss of death to a national cause. Bahrain’s opposition should ask Palestinians and Yemenis how it feels to be on the wrong side of Washington’s negotiating table. The Obama administration isn’t offering to mediate on their behalf, but to preempt a concrete demands of regime change.

Yemen: democracy, American style

As if Yemen’s vast democratic movement would actually flinch, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s weekend return fulfilled the low expectations of many protesters and activists. Some protesters inside and outside of Yemen cautiously viewed the deal as a step forward towards removing Saleh’s regime and ending the country’s intense violence. Recent developments will serve to unify the youth/civil movement and hopefully spur new organization.

Saleh wasted no time acting as Yemen’s president upon his return to Sana’a. With many media sources still referring to Saleh as president and Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as vice president, Yemen’s devious strongman granted limited amnesty for those who committed “errors” during the “crisis.” His offer presumably doesn’t extend to the al-Ahmar brothers, Islah’s leading financiers and Saleh's main political opponents. Feeling the streets’ pressure but refusing to step aside for the revolutionaries, Yemen’s oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) rejected Saleh’s “offer” as illegitimate.

He's currently busy cursing the JMP in a new speech.

Many protesters view the JMP itself as an unauthorized representative of their cause, and the bloc will continue making new enemies if it lays down to Saleh’s regime. Although many reports speculated that Hadi would serve as transitional president for a two-year period, the full extent of the GCC’s manipulation is revealing a one-man “election.” What were still considered rumors two days ago are now acknowledged fact. Mohammed Basindwa, Yemen’s new prime minister from the JMP, conceded that protesters won’t be happy with the arrangement, but insisted that the GCC’s way is “the only way.”

"We have to respect the right of the youth to protest peacefully, we have to listen to them closely, and we appreciate their disagreement with us," he said. "What is happening now is a partial change, but we hope that it will lead to a total change, God willing."

The GCC’s initiative hasn’t led to any changes yet, and even minor improvements are unlikely to blossom from a foreign-bankrolled plot. Saleh's regime and military remain intact, and unconfirmed
local reports now position his son as Yemen's new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. Ahmed currently commands Saleh's Republican Guard, a U.S.-trained "counter-terrorism" unit tasked with violently suppressing Yemen's demonstrations and bombing oppositional tribesmen. Protesters demand his trial, not a political promotion.

Only a national initiative that serves the majority of Yemenis - not the minority interests of Saleh’s regime and foreign powers - will yield true democratic progress. Hadi just
urged Yemenis to vote in the upcoming February election, provoking mockery across Yemeni forums. For now the revolutionaries, northern Houthi sect and Southern Movement all reject the GCC’s initiative as hostile to their causes.

Yemen’s message of regime alteration is approved by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan.

November 26, 2011

Saleh Returns to Yemen Amid U.S. Praise

Yemen's epic international scam entered a new act on Saturday as Ali Abdullah Saleh returned home overnight. Having signed the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) proposal under intense pressure from Riyadh and Washington, Saleh now resides as "honorary president" until a presidential election can be held on February 21st. His vice president of 17 years, Abdo Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, is set to assume executive authority in the meantime, and has been reportedly selected as the "consensus" candidate for a two-year term. The prime ministry would go to the opposition.

If this decision stands, Yemenis will play a spectator role in a single candidate election organized under UNSC authority. At least they don't need to worry about ballot stuffing - the election would be fixed outright. Naturally the White House applauded Hadi's announcement through one of its leading diplomats: counter-terrorism chief John Brennan.

"The two agreed on the need to quickly implement the terms of the November 23 political settlement so that the legitimate and richly deserved aspirations of the Yemeni people can be realized."

Saleh's presence in Yemen guarantees a corrupt election (he could easily manipulate it from Riyadh) and his foreign allies remain at his side. Many protesters and observers expect him to rule as he did last week, yet the process of regime continuation "supports Yemen's people" according to the Obama administration.
Not only is the U.S.-Saudi scheme politically and morally outrageous - Egypt redux as Egypt itself convulses - U.S. military policy continues to destabilize under the very response chosen to douse Yemen's fire.

Full analysis of Yemen's international crime spree to be posted shortly.

Awaiting the Fire Behind Shamsi’s Smoke

In the latest dramatic response to a series of escalating crises, Islamabad has issued a 15-day eviction notice on Shamsi air field following NATO’s cross-boarder raid into Pakistan. Located in the mountainous regions of Balochistan province, Shamsi served as a forward positioning base for U.S. troops during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The facility later witnessed Washington’s initial drone runs between 2002 and 2006.

Due to a variety of factors, the political aftermath surrounding Baizai is simultaneously obscured and clear. The emerging details of NATO’s raid shape Islamabad’s reaction; some of the 40-50 Pakistani soldiers based at the outpost were killed in their sleep. Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas also ruled out an accident, saying that NATO has received maps of Pakistan’s outposts along the border. Islamabad responded with an emergency meeting of all armed forces, chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani and attended by the Interior, Defense, Foreign, Information and Finance Ministers.

Pakistani officials needed something big to send a message to both Washington and their public, and Shamsi must come next on the list of threats after closing Khyber Pass.

Conversely, the isolated threat over Shamsi may be hollowed out by Islamabad’s hedged position in the region. A 15-day order suggests that Pakistani officials can be modified with the appropriate U.S. response, either politically or economically. Islamabad needs something to show its public and is presumably open to negotiations. Even in the event that Washington offers no amends, Khyber Pass will eventually reopen and U.S. drones will continue flying in Pakistani airspace.

The Obama administration's drone network over the Horn of Africa also demonstrates the minor loss that Shamsi would entail. As many media reports note, U.S. personnel reportedly vacated the base somewhere between 2009 and 2011. The Pentagon and CIA moved the majority of their operations into Afghanistan due to Shamsi’s very concern: “the United States decided to open the Afghanistan operation in part because of the possibility that the Pakistani government, facing growing anti-American sentiment at home, might force the C.I.A. to close the one in Pakistan.”

Access was also reportedly ended at PAF Base Shahbaz near Jacobabad, located deep inside Pakistan.

The CIA now conducts “most of its Predator missile and bomb strikes on targets in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region from the Jalalabad base,” with secondary launchpads operating in Bagram airfield and Kandahar airfield. The base’s inherent confusion still lingers over its status. One U.S. official told CNN earlier this year, “There are no US forces at Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan.” Months later, in June, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told reporters, "We have told them (the U.S. officials) to leave the airbase.” A U.S. official would respond that Muktar’s comments were “news to us.”

Pakistani officials could still be playing a long double game with America's drones. In either case, the loss of Shamsi is irrelevant now that the CIA and Special Ops beefed up their forces in Afghanistan. Early flights out of Pakistan can be attributed to secrecy rather than convenience, and drones now fly out of Afghanistan without fear of being compromised.

However logistical solutions fail to resolve Baizai’s overriding dilemma: political fallout. A "full investigation" is unlikely to convince many Pakistanis of America's accountability, and smoothing over one pothole leaves a treacherous road for Washington to navigate. The military dimension itself has been compromised - how do U.S. warplanes and their high technology mistake militant cells for a Pakistani outpost? The incident is deadly, insulting and embarrassing - a cross-spectrum loss for Washington. Accordingly, Islamabad has ordered “a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/Nato/Isaf, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”

"The attack on Pakistan Army border posts is totally unacceptable and warrants an effective national response," read a statement from Pakistan's Defense Committee.

Any pullback from cooperating with NATO forces will serve as the real punishment behind Saturday’s raid; Shamsi appears to be a smokescreen for the fire to come. Relations usually return to “normal” no matter how dramatic the incident, but Washington cannot count on the situation to revert to normal after every error. That Islamabad’s patience with regional militants has grown thinner by the year doesn’t add any meat to U.S.-Pakistani relations - where normal remains inherently unstable.

November 25, 2011

Bahraini King Drops His Propaganda Bomb

That a web of counter-revolutions is spinning with relative consistency should come as no surprise - only the concentration is physically overwhelming. Regimes, loyalist forces and foreign powers rely on a similar political maze to safeguard their interests from a power outage. On the same day that Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) appointed Kamal el-Ganzouri, a former prime minster under Hosni Mubarak, to his old role, the White House attempted to drill America’s “benevolence” into Egyptian minds - along with Arab protesters everywhere.

“Since the start of the Arab Spring, the United States has spoken out for a set of core principles that have guided our response to events, including opposition to the use of violence and repression, defense of universal rights including the freedom of peaceful assembly, and support for political and economic reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.”

The Obama administration’s delayed reaction and positioning behind Egypt’s curve hasn’t changed from 10 months ago. Press Secretary Jay Carney confidently asserted, “We have condemned the excessive use of force against them and called for restraint on all sides. We deeply regret the loss of life, and urge the Egyptian authorities to implement an independent investigation into the circumstances of those deaths.” Such clever (and narcissistic) phrasing refuses to hold the SCAF accountable by name one week after security forces began assaulting protesters, and el-Ganzouri’s absence punched a hole through the White House’s statement.

Meanwhile the administration considers its work done in Yemen, for now, as Ali Abdullah Saleh’s puppet regime takes the stage amid mass resistance.

Not to be overshadowed - he seemed to bask in the spotlight - Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa finally received his long-awaited “Independent Commission of Inquiry” (BICI) from war-crimes investigator Cherif Bassiouni. After “surprising” parts of Bahrain’s opposition and many government officials for its “severity,” the report was trumpeted as a sign of the King’s accountability and willingness to reform. He just didn’t know that people were being assaulted or tortured in his kingdom, and will surely rectify the situation now that he does.

“It was certainly above my expectations,” says Matar Matar, an ex-parliamentary for Al Wefaq who previously admitted his doubts. “There were many strong and clear statements that overlapped with our own findings of human-rights abuses.”

Less than 10 miles outside Manama’s Royal Occasions Hall, in the Shia enclave of A’ali, protesters came under fire as they buried Abdul Nabi Khadhem. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry released a statement explaining that Khadhem lost control of his car when speeding, and “clarified” that “500 persons participated in an illegal rally after a funeral procession in A'Ali.” Local protesters say his car was struck by a security vehicle, and deny turning violent or blocking roads after the funeral. One activist told BBC, "We were lowering his body into the ground and the security forces opened fired with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.”

A responsibility stalemate follows most incidents in Bahrain, and protesters openly accept the fact that they’re waging a civil disobedience campaign. The immediate goal of low-intensity violence is to provoke a disproportionate response - to trigger tear gas and live rounds with roadblocks and rocks. “Nobody can say that the demonstrators are angels and didn't make any mistakes,” says Matar.

Given the accumulated demand for political change and available videos of Bahrain’s protests, King Hamad’s responsibility still exceeds the protesters’ guilt. His BICI functions as the collective manifestation of each individual protest, assuming nominal blame before excusing the rest on protesters.

The BICI’s findings would have packed a bigger surprise if they didn’t aim for a degree of impartiality. Around 300 detainees were tortured and around 600 abused by security forces, according to the report. Evidence of Iran’s interference was concluded as minimal. Foreign media observed “senior figures of the ruling al-Khalifa family” listen to an “unexpectedly harsh summary of how their agencies had repressed the protest movement,” and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister described his mental state as "shocked." Of course he would be - Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa toured Washington in early November to smooth over the arms fiasco.

He denied that a systematic crackdown was taking place.

The BICI’s findings needed to “expose” a portion of the government's crimes, otherwise the commission would lack any credibility whatsoever. Working as a neutralizing agent amongst Bahrain’s political opposition, the government’s measured level of criticism is a raving success within the international community. State media made sure to reciprocate the King’s extensive “praise,” from Saudi Arabia and China to America and France. All bit on the BICI's bait, commending Hamad and urging him to follow through with the commission's findings. Western statements briefly mused about political reform, an afterthought until further notice.

Glowing reviews from Riyadh, Washington and Beijing outline the BICI’s plot device. Rather than an impartial account of Bahrain’s human rights abuses over the last nine months, the commission has fulfilled its duty to view individual cases and washed its hands of responsibility, passing the obligation of reform to an unresponsive government. Bassiouni found no evidence of systematic torture or orders from the ruling family, but did note the “clear evidence of provocation and aggressive acts against the security forces.” He twisted the number of complaints (over 9,000) to highlight “the keen interest of the Bahraini people in cooperating with the commission.” Bassiouni even denied that the GCC’s “Peninsula Shield,” a force largely composed of Saudi troops, is involved in suppressing demonstrations.

Radhi Musawi, deputy secretary-general of the secular Waad party, added, "What Bassiouni wrote about is only about 50 percent of what happened. There were acts of rape that he didn't detail directly.”

Like many Shia protesters braving the streets, Musawi doesn’t expect much to change after the BICI’s release. Protesters will continue to defy security forces and attract their wrath. The government will deny responsibility and simultaneously promise to reform. Foreign powers will nod their heads in silence. Musawi believes “the government team formed will try to bury the issue.”

“As Bassiouni said, there is a crisis of confidence between the government and opposition."

Bassiouni has personally widened the gap by absolving Bahrain’s monarchy of direct responsibility in its crackdown. Apparently they didn’t notice a nine-month crackdown meticulously organized by security forces. Bassiouni claims that the last case of mistreatment heard by the inquiry dated to June 10, even though hundreds of incidents have elapsed in the following months. The BICI did cast doubt on Tehran’s links to the Shia opposition, saying they were “impossible to independently investigate due to security and confidentiality considerations."

However this conclusion didn’t stop King Hamad from responding that Iran’s influence was clear “to all who have eyes and ears."

The BICI may improve over no investigation at all, but its findings reveal nothing previously unknown. Bahrain’s government has abused its citizens’ human rights on a regular basis, before and after February’s uprising, and the King will take few actions to rectify political discrimination. A revolt, according to Hamad, Bassiouni and foreign powers, isn’t “worth it.”

Those who live comfortable lives in autocracies are liable to undervalue the priceless quality of freedom.

November 24, 2011

New Counter-Revolutionary Push In Syria

As the foreign counter-revolution spasms in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, the Arab League has decided that now is a good time to reengage its duplicitous diplomacy with Syria. Foreign media bit hard, as usual, with headlines about an “deadlines,” “ultimatums,” and “last chances.” Instead of organizing a genuine response to isolate al-Assad’s regime, the Arab League continues to apply its breaks to revolutionary forces.

"In the case that Syria does not sign the protocol,” Arab foreign ministers “warned” in a statement, “or that it later violates the commitments that it entails, and does not stop the killing or does not release the detainees ... (Arab League officials) will meet on Saturday to consider sanctions on Syria.”

This situation parallels the foreign manipulation in Yemen, where the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) just lent its name to a puppet regime under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s vice president. Several weeks ago France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppé, met with Yemeni activist and Nobel laureate Tawakol Karman to discuss the possibility of an asset freeze. Juppé said the matter would be “discussed” in a week - if Saleh didn’t sign the GCC’s initiative. The “political resolution” between Saleh’s regime and the unpopular Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) was constructed without input from Yemen’s popular protesters, and is poised to retrench old political lines through a snap presidential election.

The European Union (EU) then postponed its discussion until their next meeting in December, at the earliest. Even the UN Security Council delayed its 30-day review of a resolution that rubber-stamped the GCC’s initiative. Saleh would finally sign in Riyadh and remain in Saudi Arabia to pull his strings, launching Yemenis into a new uncertain phase.

The Arab League’s plot has unfolded in similar fashion, first injecting a bias proposal into Syria and adding “pressure’ to seal an approval. Drafted on November 2nd and ignored throughout the month, the Arab League’s initiative called on al-Assad to withdraw his troops from cities, release political prisoners, allow international monitors and media into the country, and start a dialogue with the opposition. Speaking after the first GCC-Russian strategic dialogue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly admitted that the Arab League’s plan was based on Yemen's GCC’s initiative.

Many Syrians, including the Syrian National Council (SNC), reject a dialogue with the present regime and demand al-Assad’s resignation as a starting point. Although the SNC doesn’t speak for all of Syria’s opposition, protesters were rejecting a dialogue before the council’s formation in August. Nor has al-Assad fulfilled the Arab League’s demands, releasing a limited number of prisoners while continuing a ferocious crackdown in oppositional cities. Some of Syrian’s present distortions stem from the interaction between security forces and defected military personnel, but al-Assad has entered the business of labeling all oppositional elements as “terrorists.”

He hasn’t given protesters any reason to trust him.

Faced with a new “discussion” on al-Assad’s assets and Syria’s fate in the Arab League, his regime has supposedly given final approval to allow a 500-person Arab mission into Syria. However the situation remains unchanged in either case. Contrary to a “humiliating affront for the Syrian government,” the Arab League appears to have no other strategy except to pressure al-Assad into a favorable agreement. Failure to comply could lead to new UN sanctions, which the regime wishes to avoid, but still leaves his regime semi-comfortably in power.

The counter-revolution is being copied throughout each uprising, and tipping dominoes is not its function.

November 23, 2011

Yemeni Revolutionaries Reject GCC Initiative, Imperialism

Amid rumors of a military coup and nascent signs of renewed military conflict, Ali Abdullah Saleh has landed in Riyadh at the “request of the Saudi government leaders and the UN secretary general.”

Foreign media has predictably descended upon his “unannounced” visit and the apparent signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative, misreporting the beginning of a “power transfer” in Yemen. Designed by U.S. and Saudi officials in cooperation with Saleh’s regime and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the GCC’s initiative would leave Saleh in power as “honorary president” until an election can be scheduled in January. Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi, vice president of 17 years, would head a “unity” government and oversee a military council headed by Saleh’s family members.

Immunity was also granted in order to extract them and whitewash U.S. complicity in Yemen’s crackdown. Saleh will reportedly stay in Saudi Arabia whether or not the GCC’s initiative is signed, but Yemenis have seen this movie before. Controlling his regime from Riyadh is also the smarter play from Saleh’s point of view.

With UN officials flying into Riyadh, a packed house of foreign dignitaries is about to participate in a monumental international scam. U.S. officials will pose with the murderous Saleh and, if he actually signs the GCC’s initiative, restore him as a loyal ally in order to legitimize the continuation of his regime. The process is identical to the Obama administration's original scam in Egypt and ongoing support for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) - only this scam is UN-approved.

Meanwhile in Sanaa's Change Square, local activists and journalists report a palpable sense of anger amongst the revolutionaries. They’ve watched Egypt unfold in a parallel world and understand the international plot obscuring their own future. Protesters reject any continuation of the regime and its military leadership, and especially a snap election conducted on Saleh’s watch. A gathering mass of protesters is chanting "no to immunity, no to Saudi, no to Ahmed Ali!" in reference to Saleh’s son and commander of his Republican Guard. A picture of Saleh and King Abdullah was torched.

No one is certain of Saleh's next actions, but Yemenis are positive of continuing their revolution.

November 22, 2011

Bahrain Opens New Political Theater

This week, if only for a few days, the world’s attention will be redirected onto Manama. Bahrain’s government is due to release its anticipated Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on Wednesday, and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has decided to the preempt his critics by highlighting the commission’s results. According to an official within the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), "We are expecting more than 60 journalists attending the launch from international media outlets such as Al Jazeera English, CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP (Associated Press), Al Arabiya, LBC, Le Monde and Russia Al Youm."

Bahrain’s embassy in Washington also invited media personnel and dignitaries to a 7 a.m. live viewing. Would they be so graciously welcomed if the King was preparing to accept responsibility for human rights abuses?

Appointed by King Hamad himself and lodged at a Ritz Carlton, BICI officials have compiled complaints under intensifying skepticism since the commission’s formation in June. Chairman Cherif Bassiouni, a noted UN war crimes expert, triggered a wave of criticism for downplaying evidence of “systematic torture”; he would later concede 300 cases as a “limited” trend. Many Shia protesters harbor no doubts of the government’s intentions in the streets or jail cells. While oppositional leaders must await the results and attempt to leverage them, popular protesters question the legitimacy of a government’s investigation into its own abuses.

“We’re the only game in town,” Bassiouni reminds the King’s opponents, as if this statement would boost their confidence.

"We hope that the report will be an opportunity for real reform and reconciliation between the people and the ruling family," said Mattar Mattar, a former parliamentarian of Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition bloc, Al Wefaq. "Currently the regime is on the wrong track when they think that they can solve problems by denial, ignorance and procrastination.”

Wednesday is likely to unfold in tragically predictable fashion. The King will personally receive Bassiouni’s findings, take limited responsibility for “isolated” cases of abuse, and issue a hard rhetorical line against police abuse and torture. Suddenly the King becomes a hero. Monday and Tuesday’s developments have already fleshed out the minutes of the ceremony: affirm the rule of law, take responsibility for individual cases, make examples out of lower ranking officers and blame protesters for the majority of the incidents.

“Twenty prosecutions against the officers involved have been initiated,” according to a statement issued by the government information office in Manama. “This is in no way the limit of the steps that will be taken... We cannot condone mistreatment and abuses by our officials. There will be no impunity. All those responsible for abuses will be held accountable.”

After tentatively greeting the commission’s initial findings, opposition figure Nabeel Rajab labeled the government's abuse as "widespread and systematic.”

"It's not isolated cases, it's an order for something happening systematically,” explained the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. It was from ministers and above ministers. We don't want them to try to simplify the crime, it's bigger than they have been trying to present."

As a second line of defense, many documented cases of abuse may be excused as accidental or the protesters’ fault. 16-year old Ali Yousif Al Satrawi wasn’t run over on Saturday - “miscreants attacked a police vehicle.” Police claim that the driver swerved around a group of protesters, forcing him to eject and lose control of the vehicle. Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Tariq Al Hassan explained, "The police patrol was surrounded from all sides by groups who pelted stones, iron rods and poured oil across the road. The driver had to escape from these attacks and moved his car that skidded because of oil on the road.”

The government’s version shouldn’t be automatically disqualified. Protesters have organized a road-blocking campaign at their own risk, and bad things are known to happen when many people agitate a small space. However the government also has an excuse for each death and injury reported by the opposition, a narrative should dominate the release of Bahrain’s “Independent Commission of Inquiry.” Taking cues from Hussein Tantawi, Ali Saleh and Bashar al-Assad, King Hamad will personally oversee the development of these themes on Wednesday.

The de facto leaders of Yemen and Syria are deep into a delegitimization campaign against the revolutionaries, labeling them bandits or terrorists, and Hamad isn’t far behind. Under the banner of “Unite against vandalism,” Bahrain authorities are flanking out to disengage the youth and paint the uprising as an illegal movement. Last week Bahrain’s Interior Minister, Lieutenant General Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, affirmed the government’s “tight control of the internal security situation,” doubling up the protesters and Iran’s alleged plot.

Brigadier Al Hassan similarly told a press conference that,"the ministry will not hesitate to protect national security, stability and safety of citizens and residents as well as public and private property... And to achieve this, we are following an integrated security plan being implemented in co-ordination with all the authorities concerned. We have adequate security and are not exhausted.”

As Bahraini officials urge parents to keep their children away from protests, security forces sprayed Al Satrawi’s funeral with tear gas on Tuesday.

Protesters are certainly “guilty” of low-intensity violence, but this reaction is justified by the government’s long-standing political oppression. Protesters bet on the government’s use of disproportionate force to raise international awareness for their cause, and low-intensity violence (especially rocks) forms the crux of fourth-generation warfare (4GW). Civil disobedience is designed to provoke the authority’s aggression and sympathy among the populace, along with the ensuing media coverage. Although Bahrainis have little to show for 10 months of protests, their strategy has partially succeeded in forcing the government on the defensive.

Bahraini officials are obsessed with discrediting a legitimate pro-democracy movement.

Manipulating the BICI, another shield for U.S.-Saudi influence (like the failed “National Dialogue”), is the opposition’s next looming hurdle. Beyond faking an aura of accountability, King Hamad and his royal circle hope to relieve international pressure for genuine reform. U.S. officials have deflected incidents of abuse for months, pointing to the BICI as an “encouraging sign” while refusing to comment on the specifics of a proposed arms deal. Individual cases are rarely addressed - we must wait for the BICI’s future results before commenting on present violence. While Bahraini officials have promised new anti-torture laws, limited attention is being devoted to the oppositions’ original political demands.

“I don’t want to be told what happened,” says Hadi Hasan al-Mosawi, Al Wefaq’s human rights officer. “I was here. I saw it.”

Any meaningful process of reconciliation will begin with major reforms inside Bahrain’s government. Sticking to isolated acts of abuse and “moving forward” will confirm the BICI’s primarily function: protect the monarchy, stall reform, safeguard Saudi and U.S. interests. Justice comes last on the list.

Yemenis Await Saleh’s Next Scheme

Whatever course Ali Abdullah Saleh decides to take today, Yemen’s revolutionaries plan to intensify their movement against his regime and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s biased proposal. The oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) may become an official target of protest too.

"Saleh could sign the deal within the next hours or tomorrow. But we cannot say for sure that we would sign because he has changed his mind many times in the minutes," an oppositional source told Gulf News on Tuesday morning. "The opposition was reluctant to accept him to stay in power even without power, because it was against the wishes of the camping protesters.”

Saleh also spent Saturday delegitimizing the JMP with his Republican Guard.

“You have foiled the plots of the revolution's enemies, deserters, mercenaries, and defeated elements. You have beaten the arms dealers with your bravery and persistence even if they turned into elements of sabotage. All their plots and propaganda were crushed. They had nothing left but explosive devices that they sneak inside camps and bases through some agents and hireling individuals so as to strike our valiant officers and soldiers. They deceived you by pretending to be your comrades, but they are not your comrades anymore, for they have breached the law and regime. They have become militias in military uniform; they shave their beards and adorn themselves with the armed forces uniform. They are blocking the roads and assassinate citizens; they are also preventing students from attending their schools or universities.”

Sounds like a man who shouldn’t be allowed to remain “honorary president,” keep his military leadership in power, oversee a snap election and receive immunity for thousands of murders. Expecting to manipulate a power transfer is one thing, but foreign diplomats are harboring illusions if they expect Yemenis to stop demonstrating against Saleh’s regime and the GCC initiative.


November 21, 2011

Egypt’s Revolution Grinds Forward

A great volume of debate has filled the Internet, public streets and policy circles around the world. Some people question whether Egypt’s revolution lost its way or failed to complete its objectives, while others doubt that Egypt is experiencing a revolution. Each time a large-scale protest breaks out in Tahrir and triggers the familiar violence of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the debate reverses direction as it attempts to “take the revolution back.” These mood swings are understandable as an outlet to express frustration and re-empower the revolution’s narrative, but they are less accurate from a historical perspective.

“Egyptians Clash, Marking Quick Turn Against Military,” declares a headline from the Wall Street Journal, describing a “turn” that was months in the making.

Despite its ability to maintain a rapid pace, revolution is a long-term process by nature and cycles through a series of phases. Removing Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal fulfilled the revolution’s first objective, to be followed by resistance against Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and his Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). These are two phases in the same revolution. Understanding the ups and downs of revolution is central to outlasting a regime, loyalists and self-interested oppositional forces, and current events should be viewed as part of a single organic process.

The main takeaway for those believing Egypt’s revolution was “lost” and may be “won” again is the importance of action. Constant organization and initiative is necessary to drive the cycle of revolution towards completion, and radical action propels the movement between phases.

“This is the breaking point we were all waiting for,” Tarek Salama, a surgeon, predicted from Cairo’s field hospital. “Getting rid of Mubarak was just the warm-up. This is the real showdown.”

The tragic price of protracted struggle is the blood of new martyrs. Monday unfolded as Tahrir Square’s most heavy-handed crackdown in weeks; black-clad and bulky green forces from the Interior Ministry sprayed crowds with a variety of ammunition as they torched protesters’ tents. Tear gas and rubber bullets - deadly in their own right - gave way to live ammunition when organized Egyptians refused to back down. Multiple sources on the ground allege that security forces were ordered to aim for the head, and assaults against seemingly unconscious protesters quickly surfaced on YouTube.

Casualty estimates (over three days) from Egypt’s Health Ministry and independent sources range between 23 and 30, with at least 1,800 injured. Doctors at Tahrir’s field clinic reported at least ten patients killed by live ammunition, with a high of 20.

“It’s like someone who is drowning and flailing their arms to stay above water,” said Hazem Sadek, 21, from Tahrir. “That’s what SCAF are doing. They are panicking.”

The SCAF naturally denied responsibility for Monday’s bloodshed. General Saeed Abbas, assistant chief of the Central Military Region, told a press conference at Tahrir that, "the military council did not come to the square on Sunday to disperse protestors, but it came at a request of the Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy.” Telling reporters that security forces hadn’t entered the square, Abbas claimed that “thugs” had been killed instead of peaceful demonstrators - before introducing a mysterious actor as the culprit.

“There is an invisible hand in the square causing a rift between the army and the people.”

The SCAF will hold an emergency meeting in the near future and, “invited all the political and national forces for an emergency dialogue to look into the reasons behind the aggravation of the current crisis and ways to resolve it as quickly as possible.” However no protester sees a political role for the SCAF, which has rejected the cabinet’s resignation until Prime Minister Essam Sharaf can be replaced. Egypt’s established political powers wouldn’t have flinched to the people’s demands without the provocation of mass action. The cabinet wouldn’t have submitted its resignation, adding another sources of pressure to the SCAF’s isolation, and some Egyptians now chanting "The people want the downfall of the field marshal" would be sitting in their homes.

Tahrir’s overnight count was estimated above 10,000 and, according to social media sources, remained packed as of 2 AM. The cabinet’s potential resignation merely catalyzed the revolutionaries’ demand for the immediate transition to civilian authorities, and a “million man march” is scheduled for Tuesday.

A final benefit of Tahrir’s new upheaval is the potential to delay next Monday’s scheduled parliamentary election, and the Obama administration's response to this weekend’s violence illustrates the merits of such a move. Instead of denouncing the SCAF’s overall misrule and the Interior Ministry’s brutality, U.S. officials attempted to ignore Monday’s violence as they maintain tunnel vision towards Monday’s election. White House spokesman Jay Carney and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland both spent the majority of Egypt's allocated time on “a free, fair and transparent election.” Only when pressed on Tahrir’s violence did they respond, "We're deeply concerned about the violence. We call on restraint of all sides."

Not only do these statements reveal the U.S. bias in favor of Egypt’s SCAF - as if protesters were shooting live rounds and beating people unconscious - they set the tone to Washington's general policy. By “calling on all sides to urge restraint,” U.S. officials are announcing that they don’t want protesters to test heavy-handed security forces. They don’t want protesters to provoke a government crackdown and threaten Egypt’s military rule - they want Egyptians to patiently await an election under the SCAF’s terms. Although the council has yet to formalize a proposal that seized parliament’s power to rewrite Egypt’s constitution, Monday’s election holds the potential to create additional roadblocks for the revolutionaries.

Many Egyptians already doubted the SCAF’s ability to hold a fair election, and this pivotal event should ideally unfold without Tawani’s input.

The completion of Egypt’s revolution, from the first free election to the formal end of a transitional period, could take five years, a decade or longer. History has watched many revolutions and uprisings persist for decades or even hundreds of years. What’s important is to never stop moving forward and, when forward progress does stop, to regain focus and push onward. Revolution isn’t over until the revolutionaries give up.

November 20, 2011

Yemenis Persevere Under International Siege

Mimicking the troops they’ve trained and equipped, foreign powers are leading an unflinching assault against Yemen’s 11-month revolution. Silence is their first line of defense. When Ali Abdullah Saleh’s brutality triggered a wave of defections and forced his international allies to devise an exit strategy, the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) introduced a biased proposal at the direction of Washington. The GCC’s initiative is constructed to keep Saleh personally in power, or else salvage his regime by creating a “unity” government led by his vice president, Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi.

Veto-wielding members then summoned the UN Security Council to unanimously stamp the GCC’s initiative in October - nearly eight months after the proposal was introduced.

The month since resolution 2014 was forced onto Yemen’s revolutionaries unfolded no differently than the previous 10. Saleh sporadically vows to sign the GCC’s initiative while his security forces relentlessly attack peaceful protesters. Armed oppositional elements are quickly blamed for Yemen’s unrest and delaying the GCC’s implementation. Western officials ignore rising casualties and warnings by Yemen’s pro-democracy movement. Now, after several days of rumors, special UN envoy Jamal Benomar confirmed that Monday’s UNSC meeting has been postponed at Saleh’s request.

"We have met with representatives of Saleh's ruling party, including Hadi upon the request of visiting UN envoy who is running the talks,” oppositional spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told reporters, “but no progress or no compromise was achieved as Saleh still sticks to his conditions and refuses to transfer power peacefully.”

The international community has devoted its energy towards isolating Yemen’s revolutionaries, not Saleh’s regime, throughout 11 months of protests. Falling deep into Saleh’s plot, Benomar has little choice except to pursue the orders of major powers such as the US, UK, China and Russia. However the envoy still deserves personal responsibility for defending the UN’s actions and engaging in disinformation with Yemen’s protesters. Benomar told several youth groups that no immunity would be given to Saleh’s regime, but no attempts have been made to clarify the GCC intiative’s status within UN resolution 2014.

Western and Gulf officials simply insist that he agree to both documents.

Delaying resolution 2014’s mandated 30-day review demonstrates how much power Saleh retains with his international allies. Contrary to applying pressure, foreign powers have built a political shield around his regime and continue to follow his meandering lead. The European Union similarly postponed its “discussion” over Saleh’s assets until December at the earliest, fully exposing this maneuver as a scam to approve the GCC’s initiative. Attempting to preempt these artificial deadlines and skip the threat of punishment entirely, Western and Gulf diplomats are sprinting to orchestrate a favorable power transfer - again hinting at a signing by next week.

One Western diplomat in Sana’a told the AFP that U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein “presented a new proposal to move forward with the implementation mechanism.” Feierstein has cooperated with Saleh’s regime throughout the revolution, earning widespread distrust, and whatever his “new proposal” entails won’t benefit Yemen’s revolutionaries. The Western-Gulf vision in Yemen sees no room for revolutionaries: “Western mediators want to clinch a deal between Yemen's key players - Saleh and his son Ahmed, who commands the elite Republican Guard, and General Ahmar and Hamid al-Ahmar.”

Although Saleh’s regime and the opposition must be removed from the revolutionary equation, foreign powers are primarily interested in working with these forces to manipulate Yemen’s transition.

It bears constant repeating that Yemen isn’t an official member of the GCC, a formality that necessitates the UN’s approval. As foreign governments and media obsess over the GCC’s illegitimate proposal, revolutionaries have initiated a new Twitter campaign called #No2GCCdeal with the hope of building on #ShameonRueters. Meanwhile Western and Gulf powers intend to sign the GCC’s unpopular deal in Riyadh to avoid domestic disruptions, a precaution that targets Yemen’s protesters rather than the duplicitous Saleh.

Various dignitaries can keep their suits and robes clean in an air-conditioned skyscraper, and plug their ears to millions of Yemenis in the process.

Nairobi Losing Its Grip on Somalia’s 4GW

Despite a raucous chorus of international skepticism, Kenya’s Operation Linda Nchi (Swahili for “Protect the Nation”) maintains the potential to reach a degree of mission success - if guided by achievable strategic objectives. In its most practical state, Kenya’s mission would define Lower Juba as its area of operations and single out the control of Kismayo as the final territorial objective. Current reinforcements from the African Union (AU) would land in Mogadishu, while a future deployment teams with Kenyan forces to restore order in Kismayo and Lower Juba.

This contained mission would form only a piece of the long-term strategy for uprooting al-Shabaab; Lower Juba represents roughly 1/5th of the group’s territory. However an insurgency cannot be removed in haste, and eliminating al-Shabaab’s presence and ideology remains a multi-year challenge. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its neighbors would be wise to conduct their counterinsurgency with patience. Securing Lower Juba by August 2012, when the TFG’s mandate is set to expire amid elections, evolves within a national strategy and deprives al-Shabaab of a revenue/military source.

By achieving reasonable goals, the TFG and AU can impress the international community and secure new funds to pursue their campaign.

Unfortunately Kenya’s mission is heading further off road as its mission expands beyond Lower Juba. The initial concept of replacing al-Shabaab’s authority in Kismayo with a Kenyan proxy, the Azania council (and its Ras Kamboni and youth militias), unnerved Somali President Sharif Ahmed and triggered public divisions with Nairobi. This plan has been scrapped until further notice, adding to the unease over Kenya’s exit strategy.

After an air-strike sparked civilian collateral in Jilib (located some 50 miles north of Kismayo), military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir issued an air-raid warning to the residents of seven other towns. His Twitter alert expanded Kenya’s area of operations across Jubbaland, which is slightly larger than Belgium, and into Somalia’s midsection.

Now Operation Linda Nchi is starting to drag beyond the normal friction of war, mud and al-Shabaab’s asymmetric defense. Kenyan troops continue their month-long preparation for a large-scale battle at Afmadow, a strategic town situated near the Lagh Dera river, but have yet to move in force. The port city of Kismayo remains a distant objective. More Kenyans are reinforcing their brothers in the field - another 400 soldiers (plus helicopters) recently passed through the Kenyan bordertown of Liboi - to push their numbers well above the commonly reported 2,000. Relying on air power to clear the way ahead of ground troops is textbook military science, but the persistent threat of bombardment is unnerving Somalis hundreds of miles from Lower Juba.

At Kenya’s political level, parliamentarians and activists accuse the government of violating the constitution by bypassing approval of the operation. Although Operation Linda Nchi enjoys widespread support amongst Kenyans, many doubts exist over their government’s ability to finance it.

Worse still, the AU is experiencing a shortage of funds and won’t be able to deploy fresh troops until the beginning of 2012, at the earliest. While rushing a counterinsurgency should be discouraged, speed and mobility are vital to success on the battlefield and in political meeting rooms. Mogadishu residents and Kenyan troops are in equal need of AU reinforcements - they don’t have months to wait - and Nairobi’s urgency is visibly evident in its international appeals. The bleed-over between AQAP and al-Shabaab appears credible (if unverified), but Kenya is using Yemen to scare up Western assistance in Somalia.

The Los Angeles Times reports, “Despite the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. drones and other surveillance aircraft are in short supply. Moreover, the officials cautioned, the intelligence reports alone may not enable Kenya's military to achieve even its limited objectives.”

Given the ongoing confusion between Nairobi and Western donors, the international community appears leery of funding a national offensive and corresponding naval blockade from Kismayo to Mogadishu. They sense Operation Linda Nchi’s ballooning objectives and presumably flashback to Operation Gothic Serpent, a “three-week” mission that ended six weeks later with two downed Blackhawks. Although Western states, particularly the U.S. and France, appear to be playing a greater military role than acknowledged, extensive divisions exist within a potential multi-lateral force. A newly released WikiLeaks cable casts additional uncertainty over U.S.-Kenyan cooperation.

“According to a cable dated Feb. 2, 2010, Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, provided Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula with a variety of reasons that the U.S. believed a proposed Kenyan incursion could backfire during a Jan. 30, 2010, meeting in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.”

One U.S. official claimed, “We have not declared war on Al Shabaab.”

The combination of expanding mission objectives and a delay in international support has driven Kenyan officials to potentially counterproductive allies. On Monday Prime Minister Raila Oginda erroneously publicized military relations with Israel, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision of a “Christian-Jewish” coalition. al-Shabaab responded with an immediate call for global jihadists, only for another of the coalition’s pillars to enter Somalia’s rumor cycle. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one TFG official said that Ethiopian troops have already begun to move into Somalia.

While these forces protect and breach the border on a regular basis, a whole new front involving “thousands of troops” is now being proposed. President Ahmed reportedly opposes the idea in principle, but believes “he has no choice” with the rest of his modest forces committed to Mogadishu and the south.

“The idea is to relieve pressure on Amisom,” the official said of the AU’s mission. “We’re looking at how neighboring countries can assist, and we are quite aware of the sensitive aspects.”

The mere rumor of another Ethiopian intervention - stacked onto Israel’s red flag - suggests the opposite. While the AU requires more troops to increase Mogadishu’s stability, a perquisite to organizing a national offensive, sending Ethiopians is only practical if their government is willing to spend its own money. No shortage of AU reinforcements exists - the pressing dilemma is a shortage of Western funds. However Ethiopia doesn’t intend to send its troops to Mogadishu, but into al-Shabaab’s Bay stronghold of Baidoa (over 100 miles from the Ethiopian border).

“Ethiopia is supposed to build (military) capacity in Somalia,” says Chirchir. “That could apply to cross-border operations.”

This arrangement has the potential to add a stabilizing effect to Somalia - or go horribly wrong. An Ethiopian flank was posited in our initial reaction to Operation Linda Nchi, but as a blocking maneuver more than full-blow offensive. Beginning without the stigma of past aggressors, Kenya is now openly aligned with the unpopular trifecta of America, Israel and Ethiopia. The political and psychological drawbacks of this alliance could negate and possibly outweigh its military advantages, replaying Ethiopia’s failed invasion from 2006-2009.

Nairobi must learn from America and Ethiopia’s past errors - not duplicate them - in order to withdraw with its forces and credibility intact.

November 19, 2011

Saleh Safeguards Power Through Military Council

Ali Abdullah Saleh picked the wrong day to announce a military transfer, if any day can be worse than another. Saturdays in Yemen usually bring a propaganda run to counter the weekend’s revolutionary demonstrations, and today is no exception. Speaking during an inspection of his Republican Guards, a private security outfit trained by U.S. Special Forces and commanded by his son Ahmed, Saleh alluded to a military handover in the event of his resignation.

"Yes, we support change against all corrupted political forces and we at the presidential office are ready to make sacrifices for the country,” he declared, “but you (Republican Guards) will stay on even if we step down, because your are the power, you are the safety valve of the homeland.”

Hours earlier Egyptian police poured into Tahrir Square to evict protesters from their camps, killing a 23-year old and wounding at least 676 people. The clashes culminated Friday’s protest against Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), an elitist group of men primarily concerned with their own interests. Despised Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi reigns as Egypt’s de facto pharaoh, and the council is busy expanding ties with Washington and the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Abusing the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s tyrannical power, the SCAF has perpetuated the country’s emergency law and recently grabbed at the power to rewrite Egypt's constitution. Human rights groups estimate that the SCAF has detained over 12,000 individuals since Mubarak's fall.

Most are subjected to military tribunals despite committing no crime.

Alaa Abdel-Fattah is one of the suffering. Arrested on October 30th for “inciting” violence against Christians, Abdel-Fattah’s 15-day detention was recently renewed for another 15 days, an indefinite process organized by the SCAF. Awareness campaigns have failed to secure his release and few Western capitals have joined his cause. Although President Barack Obama urged the SCAF to end Egypt’s emergency law and military trials for civilians, his administration continues to defend the SCAF’s “good intentions” and has kept quiet on Abdel-Fattah’s imprisonment.

In a recent letter smuggled to the outside world, the well-known blogger grieved for missing the birth of his son and described Egypt’s horrid prison conditions.

“I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame,” reads a blog entry dated November 5th. “I have just been moved from Ist’naf (appeal) prison, at my request and insistence, because I simply couldn’t withstand the difficult conditions there: because of the darkness, the filth , the roaming cockroaches, crawling over my body night and day; because there was no courtyard, no sunshine and, again, the darkness.”

Abdel-Fattah accuses the SCAF of selecting Egypt’s best and brightest as punitive examples, the opposite vision of the revolutionary movement. Back in Tahrir, prominent activist Malek Mostafa lost his right eye from a torrent of rubber bullets fired by riot police. According to Ghada Shahbender, a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, "They were shooting rubber bullets directly at the heads… I heard an officer ordering his soldiers to aim for the head."

Above the din of battle, protesters could be heard chanting "The people want to topple the regime” and “Down with the Marshal.”

Needless to say, few revolutionaries across the region would put any faith in a military council. Such a maneuver is overtly hostile to pro-democracy movements seeking total regime change, and Egyptians’ ongoing struggle serves as a precautionary tale. Unfortunately Saleh’s propaganda is deathly real - he always planned to cede power to his son, just like Mubarak and Gaddafi’s schemes. As the head of Saleh’s crackdown against peaceful protesters, Ahmed is also extremely dangerous and possibly more stubborn than his father. Leaving him in power would sink Yemen deeper into the abyss.

Saleh added a warning to oppositional forces: "We tell them that's enough ... Our response will be harsh and decisive.”

These statements are generally attributed as threats of civil war. While armed oppositional elements have aggravated Yemen’s revolution, Saleh’s forces regularly attempt to provoke them in order to scapegoat the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

The secondary concern over a military council is just as lethal. Rather than condemn this destructive maneuver, the international community has sanctioned Egypt’s aborted contingency in Yemen by passing power to Saleh’s vice president, Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi. According to the GCC’s initiative, a false power transfer orchestrated by Washington and Riyadh, Saleh’s family would receive immunity for their crimes and remain in charge of the military (with the pliable Hadi serving as a figurehead). The entire setup was then legalized by the UN Security Council’s unanimously passing of resolution 2014.

If Western or Gulf officials refute Saleh’s language, they do so disingenuously.

U.S.-Saudi policy has unified in Egypt and Yemen, two central targets of the counter-revolutionary network, by approving regime alteration through military “councils.” Neither capital is willing to allow local populations to decide their own future, and dictators such as Saleh and Tantawi will continue abusing the West’s double-standard until it collapses.