October 31, 2012

Team Romney/Netanyahu A Worst-Case Scenario

As Hurricane Sandy inflicts its damage along the American Northeast, another sobering set of "perfect storm" conditions is approaching the Middle East and threatening its inhabitants.

This storm is less certain to develop than relatively predictable weather patterns, but Mitt Romney has managed to stay within striking distance of an upset over President Barack Obama and is currently forcing a tie on pollsters. Romney's victory seems implausible despite his rise in the polls; putting aside Obama's own loss of Democratic support, the American public must undertake a leap of faith in order to approve Romney's entry to the Oval Office. However the Republican challenger is now running neck and neck with Obama, setting the stage for a tight finish and chaotic outcomes.

The effects of Romney's potential victory on U.S. foreign policy are difficult to fully ascertain. His emphasis on an "American Century" and defense spending suggests that Romney will pursue a more overt projection of American power than Obama. Or, given his similarities with Obama, U.S. foreign policy may change styles more than substance in crucial areas: Russia, India, China and the Pacific, North Africa and the Middle East. Their responses to Afghanistan's war, the Arab revolutions and Israeli-Palestinian conflict are left virtually identical after stripping away their personal rhetoric. Romney couldn't agree with Obama's assassination "matrix" fast enough during last Monday's foreign policy debate.

Of their many "differences," though, Obama and Romney's contingencies towards Iran ring truest and hold the potential to affect both hemispheres. Here Romney has struck hardest to distance himself from Obama's “dual track" of containment and diplomacy, which the GOP challenger concedes as necessary but also criticizes as a dead end. A win for Romney pushes the odds of war with Iran to their peak. He doesn't tolerate a sliver of daylight between Jerusalem and has consistently defended Israel's "red-line" on uranium enrichment - slandering Obama for throwing Israel "under the bus" in the process. Loaded with players of George Bush's administration, Romney's circle appears even more gung-ho to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities and has awaited this exact window (2012-2016) to open.

Obama's second term would delay, although not necessarily prevent, an open conflict with Iran. Romney is already playing chicken before his first.

War between America, Israel, Iran and all of their proxies represents a worst-case scenario for the Middle East. One party's unilateral actions can trigger this disastrous outcome, whereby Obama's administration is leveraged into Israel's defense, except two keys are more likely to turn the engine. Washington and Jerusalem are certain to close ranks before a preemptive strike; regardless of their private disagreements, a unilateral decision to bomb Iranian targets is theoretically impossible. That said, a war on this scale may be carried out less effectively by divided leadership, and Obama has  experienced his share of trouble with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu throughout their terms.

The only trouble expected by a Romney-Netanyahu ticket is how to sell a massive war to their publics. These "old friends" can "almost speak in shorthand" when discussing Iran and other regional issues.

Unpopular with his own people, Western capitals, human rights groups and individuals of all nationalities, Benjamin Netanyahu continues to defy the political odds in his quest for permanent authority. 2011 saw the brief rise and fall of a protest movement for affordable housing. Earlier this year Israel's Kadima party quit his coalition, citing a range of disagreements from military conscription to West Bank settlements and negotiations with the Palestinians. Some commentators believe that Netanyahu's abuse of Obama has made no difference to Israelis, but Americans have generally tired of Netanyahu and so too have the Israelis sitting outside his orthodox voting base.

Now, after announcing an early election in January, Netanyahu has been pegged as the clear frontrunner against a weak field of contenders. The deal between his Likud Party and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu seals a nightmare ticket for the Palestinians, whom Netanyahu and Lieberman hold responsible for the current breakdown in negotiations. Neither politician will expend any genuine effort to resolve the longstanding crisis - building up Israeli settlements in Jerusalem is a higher priority - for they will be too busy plotting war against Iran and politicking against their own people.

"We are facing great challenges and this is the time to unite forces for the sake of Israel," Netanyahu explained at a news conference. "Therefore Likud and Yisrael Beitenu will run together on the same ticket in the next elections. We are asking for a mandate from the public to lead Israel against security threats, above all preventing Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons and the struggle against terror."

The elusive dream of world peace would face a great challenge if Romney and Netanyahu manage to unite their forces.

October 30, 2012

Bahraini Monarchy Asks For More Rebellion: "All Rallies Banned"

One day after a former admiral of the Fifth Fleet published a laughable defense of Bahrain's monarchy, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his royal circle have flashed their true colors for all to see. Of course the King's American loyalists appear to be irreparably blinded by the island's military use vis-à-vis Iran, but their arrogance may seriously threaten U.S. interests at some future moment.

In the immediate term, one of the fastest ways to explode any trend is to ban it.

On Tuesday Bahrain's Interior Minister, a hawkish instrument of King Hamad's power, announced the monarchy's decision "to stop all rallies and gatherings until ensuring that security is maintained through achieving the targeted security to protect national unity and social fabric to fight extremism." Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa manifests the kingdom's ongoing attempt to delegitimize Bahrain's pro-democracy opposition, so his rhetoric comes as no surprise to protesters and opposition leaders. Turning youthful and revolution-minded individuals into "terrorists" and "extremists" is standard procedure for Bahrain's monarchy, a borrowed tactic used by autocracies for the last half century.

The Interior Minister argued that King Hamad, "has strived in the previous phase to protect freedom of expression by allowing rallies and gatherings, but that privilege has been abused repeatedly by organizers’ violations and the participants’ lack of commitment to the legal regulations."

Denying the violent elements of Bahrain's opposition is a non-starter. Rather, their actions are justified by the government's disproportionate crackdown on a largely peaceful movement for greater representation and human rights. Governments bear a higher level of responsibility than non-government organizations, and starting a protest at a funeral is trumped by gassing that protest. King Hamad committed a fatal error when summoning Saudi Arabia and the GCC's Peninsula Shield (along with Jordanian and Pakistani mercenaries) early into a national crisis. Repeated attempts to stage a hollow "National Dialogue" robbed the process of its credibility, and the King's hyped Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) functions as a diversion away from the fundamental issues of parliamentary and judiciary reform - and growing calls to strip Hamad of his powers.

Many Bahrainis on Twitter also pointed out that the government already maintains a lockdown on certain areas of the capital and recently banned the oppositional Al Wefaq from protesting in Manama. When combined with the unwavering assault on a large segment of Bahrain's population, the opposition has no reason to trust anything the monarchy says or does. Protesters shouldn't be forced to hide or deny a legitimate resistance to autocracy - the degenerate form of monarchy - even though non-violence better serves the opposition as a whole. Bahrain's royal circle continues to treat an uprising as a passing fad, where everyone must stay in orderly lines and protest in designated areas to minimize public disturbances.

The objective of an uprising is to disrupt daily life and the greater status quo, and basic asymmetric warfare aims for a state's economic pressure points.

The Interior Minister eventually lowers his guard by condemning all "for the overthrowing of leading national figures and sovereignty of the state," acts he describes as "devoid of respect" and intended for "humiliation." Due to the monarchy's own actions, no one is more responsible for the street's anti-Hamad chants than the King himself. Protests against his ban have already mobilized.

Of equally urgent importance, Bahrain's Interior Minister reveals the next phase in King Hamad's suppressive crackdown against Bahrain's pro-democracy opposition. Having incarcerated many of Bahrain's political figures and handcuffed them in legal warfare, the government is now threatening to prosecute the same organizers that it clams to have coordinated with to "tackle violations." They failed to control their demonstrations "despite their promises," al-Khalifa added, as though King Hamad has kept his own, and now "anyone that would have a connection with such irregularities would be held accountable."

Bahrain's Interior Minister is essentially declaring the monarchy's attempt to eliminate the opposition's command structure, from its local to intentional levels. The U.S. government has yet to respond to this latest development.

October 29, 2012

Iraq War Marches To U.S. Campaign Drums

Last week President Barack Obama delivered his usual campaign speech to excited audiences in Cleveland, Ohio and Nashua, New Hampshire.
Among the many promises that Obama claims to have fulfilled or vows to complete, "I told you I’d end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said we’d transition out of Afghanistan -- and we are. I said we’d refocus on the terrorists who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks -- and al Qaeda is decimated and Osama bin Laden is dead. We kept those promises. A new tower is rising above the New York skyline. Our heroes are starting to come home. I’ve kept those promises."
As usual, another wave of bombings immediately struck Iraq's cities following Obama's latest week of politicking, a week that included a no-details foreign policy squabble with Mitt Romney. Large numbers of casualties seem to follow his optimistic assessments with disturbing regularity, either due to coincidence or the sheer number of times that Obama has "ended" Iraq's war on the campaign trail. Last Friday was no different; after "ending" the war in New Hampshire, a small flurry of bombs marked the beginning of an ominous Eid al-Adha. Saturday and Sunday awakened to cross-capital explosions and gunfire, the latest string of attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). al-Qaeda's front group quickly promised, “What will come after will be much worse so be prepared."
Iraqi officials estimated this weekend's death-toll at 79, in addition to hundreds of wounded, raising October's fatalities above 240. Over 325 casualties of war were recorded in July, another 164 in August and 250 deaths in September, with many thousands more wounded. According to Iraq Body Count, at least seven Iraqis have been killed daily since the last U.S. combat troops left the country in December 2011. The latest assessment from Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, concluded that the last three months of violence "rose to levels not seen for more than two years."

His count estimated 1,048 fatalities and casualties in September alone.
Luckily for Obama, few watchdogs stand ready to factcheck his foreign promises in the U.S. media. Accepting all three is easier than explaining how two American-initiated wars refuse to end on U.S. terms, and how al-Qaeda has spun off resilient branches outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus he can escape relatively unscathed when comparing Romney with himself: ”You can choose a foreign policy that's reckless and wrong, or you can choose the kinds of leadership that I’ve provided that's steady and strong.” However the reality of many areas shaped by U.S. politico-military influence reflects Obama's criticism upon himself. This is especially true in Iraq, where U.S. policy remains both strategically reckless and morally bankrupt.
The ills of U.S. policy begin with al-Qaeda's entrenched presence and roll downhill from there. Logically speaking, a war involving America and al-Qaeda's offspring cannot end until the two actors mutually agree to its end. Pulling American combat troops out of Iraq didn't end the war or snuff out its diverse insurgency, but instead transitioned the conflict into a new period of long-term asymmetry. Some groups' military activities, namely Muqtada al-Sadr's Promised Day Brigades, were subdued with political power, but fringe groups had nothing to gain from joining organized politics. al-Qaeda made no secret of its plan to go underground, rearm and emerge following Iraq's 2010 election; those Iraqis who have fallen to the ISI's attacks and other militant actions in 2011 and 2012 are casualties of the 2003 invasion.
Complicating matters further is the movement of ISI personnel between Iraq and Syria. While Obama continues to pat himself on the back for "ending" Iraq's war, his administration separately fears al-Qaeda's presence within Syria's opposition and the cache of weapons smuggled into the country. This dilemma alone highlights the political expediency of Obama's lie, and the road from Damascus to Baghdad flows both ways. al-Qaeda personalities in Iraq have publicly denied a direct role in Syria's cross-boarder activity, except the ISI's network is credited for delivering weapons and expertise into Syria's battlefields. Thus one branch of a supposedly dying base functions as the ideal conduit to smuggle foreign fighters into a new front for international jihad.
Conversely, the backflow from Syria's war is likely to extend the ISI's lifespan beyond its current position. Bowen's assessment estimated that "as many as 2,500 members of al-Qaeda in Iraq" are now living in five training camps in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar and Saladin provinces. In June 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “there are a thousand al-Qaeda that are still in Iraq.”
Above al-Qaeda, the White House and Pentagon have pressured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to investigate Iranian flights that are suspected of ferrying pilgrims and arms to Syria. al-Maliki is believed to be covering the sky-trail between Tehran and Bashar al-Assad, with the former wielding more influence over al-Maliki than Washington. In blunt terms, the Obama administration's support for al-Maliki is an unmitigated diplomatic fiasco. The modest political influence that Washington immediately salvaged by backing his re-election in 2010 has been ceded to Tehran, wasting the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi citizens in the process. Both al-Maliki and the Obama administration failed to implement the Irbil Agreement, a power-sharing agreement negotiated with Iraqiya chief Ayad Allawi, and a power-sharing dispute naturally followed. Obama himself would instigate a running feud between al-Maliki and Vice Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Iraq's central government remains paralyzed from 2010's shock, divided and corrupted under al-Maliki's self-interested rule, and unable to efficiently rebuild itself from the American-led invasion. Meanwhile al-Qaeda needs limited popular support to operate and is feeding off chronic Sunni marginalization to re-energize, stockpiling enough resources to thrive in a fourth-generation war (4GW).
For these reasons - not any accomplishments - Obama has tiptoed around Iraq without explaining the dangerous reality of its current situation. Although he accuses Romney of failing to define his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama possesses one mere line for the former and not a word more. Nor will Afghanistan's war end on his convenient political schedule.

October 27, 2012

Beneath Bahrain's Shia-versus-Sunni Narrative, Only Tyrants Benefit

Published by Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, in this weekend's Guardian:
When you pick up the day's newspaper, it is not likely that you will find much coverage of the ongoing popular revolt in Bahrain. But on the off chance that Bahrain is mentioned, it is almost certain that two words will jump at you: Sunni and Shia. It is even more likely you will see some mention of a Shia revolt against a Sunni monarchy.
This is unfortunate; a very complicated situation is expediently packaged into a soundbite-like myth. That narrative is ahistorical and dangerous because, like all myths, there is a grain of truth to it.
Last year, when Bahrain's revolution began, it was not about sects. Sunnis, Shia along with Bahrain's "sushis" (people of mixed background), non-Muslims, atheists; all came together in Bahrain's version of Tahrir – Pearl Square. Their unifying demand was for a constitutional monarchy to be established in Bahrain. The people were demanding that the king honour his lofty reform promises made when he inherited the position from his Emir father.
This was the third act in a struggle predating the so-called Arab spring. It had started in the 1990s when the people of Bahrain had their own uprising largely forgotten in the west. Then, their demand was a return to Bahrain's more democratic 1973 constitution that gave people a real parliament. Instead, thousands of citizens were arrested and imprisoned. Dozens were killed, many under torture.
In 1999 that cycle was interrupted as Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa inherited power from his late father amid soaring hopes of reconciliation and reform. His first act was to announce a referendum promising to establish a constitutional monarchy.
Initially, the people celebrated Hamad's break with his repressive father's legacy as many voted in favour of the referendum. They were encouraged by the release of all political prisoners, and the return of political exiles back to Bahrain, and a halt of state-sanctioned torture.
In 2002, borrowing a page from Napoleon Bonaparte's playbook, "Hamad the Reformer" engineered his own monarchic putsch. He amended the constitution, granting himself absolute unchecked powers. A rubber-stamp parliament was then created – half appointed by him and the other half "elected", but with no legislative or monitoring powers.
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October 25, 2012

Sudanese Militants Watch Israeli Bombing From Mali

The Sudanese government has issued a defiant response to the combustable events of Wednesday morning.

Citing eyewitnesses and gathered evidence, Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman informed reporters that his government holds Israel responsible for a midnight explosion at the Yarmouk industrial complex. The resulting fire in the munitions factory, located south of Khartoum, sent exploding rounds into nearby neighborhoods and triggered panic amongst the locals. This collateral damage has attracted criticism over the factory's proximity to residential housing, adding to the government's urgent need for a scapegoat.

"They think that this factory supplies our army, and by attacking it, they are going to make it easier for the rebels to take over," Bilal told Al Jazeera. "Plus, they have accused us, [saying] that these arms would find their way to Hamas. These are allegations which are not correct."

He later clarified, "We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same state of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty."

For now Khartoum has settled on a political offensive to mute its domestic concerns. Sudanese officials immediately turned to the Arab League for support and is keeping the bloc notified of their state's investigation. The accumulating evidence will then be submitted to the United Nations, where Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman is pushing the Security Council to "condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concepts of peace and security." Western capitals won't entertain the thought, of course, and many observers will point to the purchasers of Sudanese arms as the true roots of conflict. However Khartoum won't be daunted by its unpopular motions, as Israel has done no favor to its own popularity and must now confront a Sudanese response in the UN.

At the same time, this political action could form the basis of Khartoum's national argument for legitimate military action. Stopping any illegal arms shipments is unrealistic; targeting Israel seems unlikely as well, but jingoism is a standard tool for governments looking to cast their populations' eyes elsewhere. Multiple precedents don't hurt Khartoum's national and regional case either.

"We have to reply," Bilal told Al Jazeera. "This is too much. This is the fourth time they have done this. We have our right to attack the interests of Israel wherever - this is a legal target for us from now on... They killed our people. these lives are not cheap - and we know how to retaliate."

"Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred," Vice President Ali Osman Tah later declared at the side of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. "This attack only strengthens our firmness."

Bilal claims that Khartoum isn't planning "direct attacks" on Israeli interests, as Iran is accused of carrying out, but added, "We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose." The government could order a proxy attack through one of Gaza's extremist factions, except this process is below the level of an official response. The only possible deterrent is an air-strike or covert operation of similar proportion, conducted on a target that can be relatively justified to the international community. How exactly Khartoum decides to send its message remains to be seen.

What The Trench can't help noticing is the timing of Wednesday's bombing and last weekend's reports of a Sudanese infusion for northern Mali's Islamist network. Anywhere between dozens and 355 Sudanese recruits supposedly entered the country over the last five days, depending on the source of information, but all of them share a hatred for Israel and its Western allies. Khartoum doesn't need to arm Hamas or export its own jihadists for training - those seeking a holy war against the West and "infidel" African governments will find their own way to Mali. A distinct cause-and-effect influences the interaction between Sudanese-Israeli hostilities and Sudanese jihadism. Those Sudanese now training in Mali are monitoring Wednesday's incident with equal parts anger and determination, and more are likely to follow as Western and African capitals prepare their intervention.

The Obama administration isn't in the business censuring Israel's government, but a private message of "concern" would not be surprising in light of northern Mali's crisis.

October 24, 2012

CIA Veteran John Brennan Transforms US Counterterrorism Policy

A propaganda feast provided by the White House and Pentagon. While this report does contain valuable information, it is also saturated with government disinformation and a false sense of Brennan's importance. The White House's counterterrorism czar is visibly being inflated as the mask of U.S. operations, a process designed to alleviate the culpability of President Barack Obama and less publicized national security officials. No information on Brennan should be trusted as is.

Other parts of The Washington Post's report describe the U.S. and Saudi governments' hegemonic relationship with Yemen's government - considered a "true model" by Washington and despised inside Yemen - along with the imperialist agenda headed for Mali:
In his windowless White House office, presidential counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is compiling the rules for a war the Obama administration believes will far outlast its own time in office, whether that is just a few more months or four more years.

The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria, and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions — we’re talking about direct action, lethal action — so that irrespective of the venue where they’re taking place, we have a high confidence that they’re being done for the right reasons in the right way,” Brennan said in a lengthy interview at the end of August.

A burly 25-year CIA veteran with a stern public demeanor, Brennan is the principal architect of a policy that has transformed counterterrorism from a conventional fight centered in Afghanistan to a high-tech global effort to track down and eliminate perceived enemies one by one.

What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core. 

Four years ago, Brennan felt compelled to withdraw from consideration as President Obama’s first CIA director because of what he regarded as unfair criticism of his role in counterterrorism practices as an intelligence official during the George W. Bush administration. Instead, he stepped into a job in the Obama administration with greater responsibility and influence. 

Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency. Still, during Brennan’s tenure the CIA has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and opened a new base for armed drones in the Arabian Peninsula.

Although he insists that all agencies have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions, making differing perspectives available to the Oval Office, Brennan wields enormous power in shaping decisions on “kill” lists and the allocation of armed drones, the war’s signature weapon.

When operations are proposed in Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off.

As the war against al-Qaeda and related groups moves to new locations and new threats, Brennan and other senior officials describe the playbook as an effort to constrain the deployment of drones by future administrations as much as it provides a framework for their expanded use in what has become the United States’ permanent war.

“This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”

A critical player
There is widespread agreement that Obama and Brennan, one of his most trusted aides, are like-minded on counterterrorism policy. 

“Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort,” Brennan said. “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement.”

But the concentration of power in one person, who is unelected and unconfirmed by Congress, does not sit well with critics.
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October 23, 2012

Islamists Mobilizing Behind Mali's Fog of War

As representatives from the United Nations, NATO, European Union, African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) continue their pursuit of a multilateral response to northern Mali, the Islamist militants in control this territory are busy fashioning their own international coalition.

Reports of their latest troop movements surfaced over the weekend after multiple news sources inquired into their whereabouts and origins. In Timbuktu, the insurgent group Ansar Dine allegedly received and armed an estimated 200 recruits over the last five days. Local witnesses estimate that some fighters traveled from the nearby Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, whose Polisario Front has experienced trouble fending off al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) infiltration of refugee camps. The majority, however, are identified as Sudanese by locals and government officials alike.

"In the Timbuktu region and around Gao, hundreds of jihadists, mostly Sudanese and Sahrawis, have arrived as reinforcements to face an offensive by Malian forces and their allies," a Malian security official said.

A source from a local aid group added that they were accompanied by fighters from several other countries.

The same pattern was reported eastward in Gao, where Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have established a de facto capital for their autonomous zone. Residents claim that reinforcements arrived from Friday through the weekend, counting dozens of armed trucks as they checked into MUJAO's main office. Local journalist Oumarou Moumouni told the German news agency DPA that he saw over 120 trucks full of militants. Another witness, religious leader Bilal Toure, claims that "more than 90 pickups full of fighters" had arrived to secure the area around Gao. Whether all of these forces are one and the same is difficult to conclude, but MUJAO announced that it had welcomed "more than 355 new fighters... all from Sudan."

"They want war, we'll give them war," Habib Ould Issouf, a MUJAO official in Gao, told AFP. "This is why our brothers are joining us from all over. They are coming from the camps of Tindouf in Algeria, from Senegal, from Ivory Coast, from everywhere."

MUJAO's operations add a complex dimension to northern Mali's situation. Whereas Ansar Dine's Iyad Ag Ghaly pairs local Tuareg sources with AQIM's connection to the international jihadist scene - bringing Arab and South Asian Muslims into Mali - MUJAO has styled itself as an African coalition. If its background story is to be believed, MUJAO broke away from AQIM's focus on the Sahel (and the Algerian government's influence) in the process of opening a wider African movement. Equally likely is the possibility that cooperative elements within AQIM and MUJAO put their heads together to expand out of the Sahel. Thus many of its recruits allegedly travel from regional African sources. A MUJAO spokesperson told DPA earlier this month that the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram maintains a presence in Gao.

Yet MUJAO seems no less willing to accept members of any Muslim nationality, including the lucrative quartet of Algeria, Egypt, Yemen and Pakistan. All four countries remain entangled in unpopular connections with the U.S., making them ideal recruitment centers for al-Qaeda's latest enterprises. Ansar Dine and MUJAO may share control of these particular forces by employing them in various locations, or MUJAO could now be operating as the dominate faction within Mali. Either way, the combination of local, regional and international forces adds to the balance and capabilities of the Islamic front awaiting African and Western capitals in Gao, so long as they retain a unified agenda for northern Mali.

Reports of Islamist recruitment efforts are inevitably obscured by their propaganda value; discerning accurate numbers, nationalities and the level of their training from outside Mali is impossible. Those inside are experiencing enough trouble of their own. This weekend's information was accompanied by two denials, one each from the Malian government and Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). On Monday a Malian security source confirmed to AFP, "the arrival of new terrorists in the north of Mali," but rejected the estimation of "several hundred" fighters.

"The arrival of convoys of jihadists from Sudan and the Western Sahara are totally false," said Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, an MNLA spokesman currently living in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. "We categorically deny it. We recognize that for a long time there have been a few Sudanese in the forces of MUJAO, of whom one is at the police post in Gao to oversee the application of shar'iah.'"

All three factions, including the Islamists, are motivated to exaggerate or downplay various narratives in northern Mali, but the government and MNLA appear most guilty in this case. Too many witnesses have reported sizable troop movements and Sudanese cadres to doubt their presence. Asseleh claims that the Islamists' "propaganda" is designed to "intimidate the international armies who want to intervene in northern Mali," a true statement in itself. Ansar Dine and MUJAO are committed to trading politico-military blows with African and Western forces as they race to establish their respective fronts. The MNLA naturally wants to blunt the public momentum of its Islamic competitors, and the Malian government similarly hopes to minimize the arrival of international fighters.

Problematically, several thousand entrenched militants may await a proposed ECOWAS-Malian coalition of 6,000. This ratio is less than favorable for retaking Mali's vast northern expanse, and only made manageable by Western air support.

October 22, 2012

Mainstream Media Hypes Foreign Policy Circus

A rudimentary display of U.S. foreign policy will take place tonight in Boca Raton, Florida between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.

Interestingly, America's mainstream media has taken to hyping Monday's presidential debate with a common narrative: "How the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate could determine the election. With turmoil increasing in world hot spots, foreign policy and national security have become major presidential campaign issues. From China to Israel, Iran to Syria, stateless terrorists to struggling alliances, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will have plenty to debate Monday night."

"If, at the start of the general election campaign, you told a seasoned political strategist in either party that the fate of the presidential race could well hinge on the foreign-policy-focused third debate, the reaction would have ranged from an eye roll to laughter," writes The Washington Post. "And yet, here we are. President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney head to Boca Raton, Fla., for their final debate Monday night with national polls suggesting that the race is tied and with the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, dominating the headlines."

Where to start with this manufactured slant? Does one dead ambassador equal the difference between relevant and unimportant foreign policy in America?

There's no denying factual sections of the media's deceptive hyperbole. In terms of foreign policy, American voters are looking for a "tough" but "responsible" president to confront terrorist threats and international powers. They want someone that won't start a reckless war with Iran but will respond to terrorist pinpricks and plots that never fully develop. Essentially, Americans want their country to maintain global supremacy at an efficient cost. Most now seek limited military engagement abroad on the road to fiscal responsibility at home, a perfect combination for the rise of drone warfare and unconventional Special operations. However these matters address America's national security before its raw foreign policy.

Obama himself told reporters over the weekend, "Spoiler alert: we got Bin Laden." This talking point will make for an extra long debate.

National security understandably becomes more relevant when some visceral incident has just occurred. However foreign policy remains a low set of priorities - the mainstream agenda clearly believes that it needs to exaggerate Monday night's significance. Foreign policy areas themselves will be debated at the shallowest levels. Not even Libya's revolution, from the beginning to NATO's invasion to the country's future, will receive a thorough examination. Neither will seriously engage U.S. policy in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain or other coverups that support U.S. interests over popular movements. Syria is more likely to descend into a brawl over semantics than hard policy.

Worst still, Romney has encouraged his base's anti-Americanism by blaming the Middle East's turmoil on Obama's "abdication of leadership." Obama has failed to uphold his own promise to engage the Arab world, instead consenting to a vast counterrevolution in the region, but Romney dangerously preaches the return to an "American Century."

Larger issues like China may not be movable by one or the other; Russia should cause equal trouble for both.

Each candidate brings a different set of problems to the same table, potentially resulting in similar outcomes. While Obama and Romney diverge widest on the possibility of war against Tehran, both of their regional agendas operate on a steep Iranian tilt. Both will try their hardest to convince the audience that they support Israel more than the other, and ultimately leave the Palestinians in the dust on their way to promising a hollow two-state solution. Their policies are nearly identical in Afghanistan - both want the majority of U.S. troops out by 2014 so long as they can deploy a residual force afterward. Obama publicly claims that Afghanistan's war will end in 2014, and he may prepare a surprise for Monday night, but Iraq's ending says otherwise.

The moderator is unlikely to fact check Obama's wayward policy in Iraq, which the President says he's looking forward to debating. Dozens of bombings and shootings continue to plague the country each month, often as Obama declares the war over from 9,000 miles away. Many large-scale attacks have been claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that didn't exist before U.S. troops arrived in 2003 and could have 5-10 years of life in it. The response to these security incidents and Iraq's general reconstruction has also been obstructed by the poor leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Obama administration's passivity towards Baghdad's political crisis has resulted in a gradual loss of influence with the divisive al-Maliki, who retained his position in 2010 with U.S. assistance. Obama's policy in Iraq qualifies as one of his worst, but he will spin it into one of his highlights.

The brightest light, of course, will shine upon Osama bin Laden's dead body. Here Obama will hit Romney hardest to score as many points as possible, bludgeoning him on a topic that Romney has no real control over. He will mention his drone achievements and few to none of his failures. Obama could speak of his kills in Yemen but will certainly not mention how unpopular he has become in Yemen. He will rout al-Qaeda on more than one occasion, "from Pakistan to Somalia" before "staying alert" in new hotspots. He may go near Mali if he's feeling bold, to highlight the international coalition being put together by U.S. allies, but avoiding al-Qaeda's other hideouts makes for smarter politics. Obama won't mention that al-Qaeda cells in Iraq crossed into Syria.

Romney will take these punches and throw back as many as he can design. Both will do whatever they can to distract voters from actual issues, instead emphasizing terrorism and the type of American "leadership" that translates into hegemony. U.S. media has already responded in a similar fashion by placing terrorism at the top of their scorecard. "Voters finally get to know Obama and Romney's foreign policies" - when Monday is far too late to make informed decisions. Unfortunately those seeking a deeper conversation on foreign policy will leave empty handed, and those comforted by the shallows will move onto the next channel when the debate is over.

Only a major screw up, not any real wisdom, moves the political needle on election day.

October 19, 2012

Pin The CIA Base On the Map

Yesterday The Washington Post excited or disturbed a wide population of various individuals by announcing the CIA's request for additional unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Pentagon-approved plans are in the final stages of being submitted to the White House, where the proposal will be evaluated by counterterrorism chief John Brennan and a group of national security officials. If approved by President Barack Obama, the CIA's drone fleet is expected to rise from 35 to 45 and increase the range of its entire assassination/surveillance operations. The CIA currently supplements its forces by employing weapons systems from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). A boost in its capabilities is aimed at retaining the CIA's autonomy; the CIA relies on military pilots to operate from the U.S. and reportedly chafes at using JSOC airstrips.

This latest move that has unnerved some Pentagon departments, if their own staff is to be believed, except none of them could be as stressed as those inhabiting a drone's flight path.

The Washington Post only breaks small pieces of "new" information, and even then no aspect is surprising. Drones are scheduled to increase the ranks of all branches that fly them, especially covert divisions, and CIA officials speak as though their shipment is late. The Department of Defense naturally wants to clarify their terms, but has no overriding reason to stop a process that cannot be stopped. Brennan then acts a buffer for all parties in the White House. Most surprising would be a veto from the drone-slinging President.

What's unnerving to foreign populations are the requirements of UASs and their collateral damage. A drone's range is grimly impressive for its machinery - up go 1,000 miles - but it needs a network to support its operations. Drones fly out of multiple points in Afghanistan, having been evicted from Pakistan, while a grid of drone bases has been constructed over the Horn of Africa to target al-Qaeda and its affiliated militants. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles all host their own bases, controlled by either the CIA or JSOC, and Yemen just received its own during a popular revolution. Many of these cases illustrate the hegemonic threat that drones bring to their area of operations. In Yemen, the CIA had already began construction under Ali Abdullah Saleh's secret approval when the revolution struck, and the White House accelerated its building schedule from two years to eight months in response.

This decision was attributed to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) growth in southern and eastern Yemen, a predictable that did come true. However the corrupt Saleh himself was largely responsible for watering AQAP and his duplicitous approval of U.S. air strikes fertilized the soil. More virus than cure, U.S. policy would have gone in a vicious circle with Yemen's tribes had Saleh survived the revolution's first phase. Washington happily accepted his vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and turned over the base's secrecy to him - one of many reasons why Washington and Riyadh orchestrated Hadi's ascendency.

Yemenis themselves were never told anything or allowed any input, despite the fact that they suffer most when a drone misses. Even then civilian casualties are denied - forget compensation - and the mere presence unnerves adults and children alike. The entire project is thoroughly totalitarian.

As The Washington Post reports, "Any move to expand the reach of the CIA’s fleet of armed drones probably would require the agency to establish additional secret bases." This "need" entails more secret handshakes with autocratic, unrepresentative and unreliable governments. The new wave of bases will hit northern Africa hardest, possibly starting with Algeria as a launch point into Libya and Mali. Algiers runs a notoriously anti-interference policy to tamp down its cooperation with foreign powers (Washington), and may eventually consent in a similar fashion as Ethiopia's government. The two governments have already assembled a chain of bases in the Sahel and a new agreement would ensure no problems in the event that pro-democracy demonstrations flair up, as they periodically do.

Friendlier lands could be found in Nigeria, one of world's the most pro-American states, and neighboring Niger. Mauritania or even Mali itself could play host to a base as part of NATO and ECOWAS's intervention, which includes a robust training mission and the need for Western support bases.

The populations of these nations will be lucky to receive an advanced warning of their new guests.

October 18, 2012

Pakistan Quarrels Over North Waziristan Operation

The near-fatal shooting that galvanized Pakistan's public into cooperative action against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also rekindled the explosive debate over a military intervention in North Waziristan. Following the assault on 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, a youth activist of women's rights and literacy, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani reportedly informed President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of an emergency meeting between the chiefs of Pakistan's three branches at Joint staff headquarters.

At this point Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister, announced to reporters, "The government and military leadership will decide if there is a need for an operation in North Waziristan."

Fast forward a week. Instead of capitalizing on popular sentiment to finally enter North Waziristan, the possibility of a large-scale military operation continues to spin its tracks in the mud. Various sources of information (and common sense) speculate that the decision hinges on the unanimous agreement of Pakistan's cabinet defense committee and its military, which controls the final green light. Thus Islamabad's civilian and military components seek to exercise as much authority as possible while also splitting the responsibility of failure. To this end a resolution has been crafted for Parliament's approval as a means of unifying the government's decision, for better or worse.

Except the motion has now run into resistance with the oppositional Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), effectively sending the decision back into Islamabad's civilian-military showdown. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) currently has no plan to submit the resolution even though the group holds the necessary votes. If the PPP does proceed, it will do so after receiving the go-ahead from above.

“We wanted to have consensus over the issue, but we will not press you (the opposition)… however, it will not disseminate a positive message,” said PPP leader Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah explained, adding that the resolution contained no mention of North Waziristan. “We do not want to divide the nation, therefore, will not table the resolution."

“For the time being there is no plan for military operation in North Waziristan," Rehman said on Wednesday. "But if needed, the decision would be taken by political and military leadership of the country in harmony."

However much the majority of Americans disagree - and possibly Pakistanis as well - Islamabad's decision-making process isn't wholly irrational. For starters, the TTP's origins lie in Afghanistan's invasion just as the Taliban emerged from Washington and Moscow's power games; the lack of contingencies in regards to Pakistani militants mushroomed the problem throughout Iraq's war. Deep resentment towards the lack of U.S. responsibility still hasn't been addressed to this day, and perceptions take on real politico-military significance. The Obama administration has made little personal effort to reverse this situation and the past four years speak for themselves. Operation Tight Screw, the latest joint-proposal for North Waziristan, is no less applicable to Pakistan's government.

Washington and Islamabad share the exact toxic feelings about each other: "do more."

This relationship is only capable of producing intermittent achievements. To achieve lasting results in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan must employ a combination of political and economic resources with public approval (both locally and nationally) and foreign support. Missing ingredients will generate new instability in the tribal provinces and potentially reignite the TTP's urban campaign inside Pakistan. Unfortunately Islamabad doesn't possess all of the factors necessary to launch an operation on North Waziristan's scale. Hardest of all is the socio-economic fight after the military battle; Pakistan has never been able to clear, hold and build on a consistent basis. An asymmetric military operation can only buy time and space for non-military action, and starts to become a liability when it can't afford anything else.

Equally problematic for Islamabad is distinguishing true allies from foes. The Pakistani military does seem to recognize the need to uproot al-Qaeda's influence, the extremist Punjabi Taliban and other groups with regional agendas. Hakilmullah Mehsud, the TTP's de facto chieftain, has allied himself with these unpredictable elements. Yet the TTP's other commanders, several of which have challenged for the TTP's scepter, do not pose the same type of threat to the Pakistani state. In particular, North Waziristan's own Hafiz Gul Bahadur has upheld his end of a truce with Islamabad and concentrates on Afghanistan's front. The Haqqanis have instigated a large number of problems for local Pakistanis as they solidify their presence in the FATA, but they too are militarily concerned with Afghanistan's war.

For this reason Washington wants them disposed of, and naturally Islamabad has balked at enthusiastically throwing itself against them. It would prefer to bring these figures into a regional agreement with the Afghan Taliban and foreign capitals. Their forces represent the least threat to Pakistan and still fulfill their proxy uses, generating the accurate impression that Washington wants Pakistan to do its dirty work for cheap. Counterarguing that Islamabad should fix its own state will make no difference on the ground. The real cost of an operation into North Waziristan exceeds the billions in U.S. aid, and Washington lacks the forces to synchronize a long-term border campaign. The Trench has also reported on the Haqqanis' diversification beyond North Waziristan, expanding the battlefield accordingly.

With the bulk of NATO forces scheduled to withdraw by 2014, Islamabad isn't going to destabilize its Western flank any more than it already is. Not without delivered incentives, at least.

October 17, 2012

Al Jazeera Speaks With PKK Rebel Leader

Interesting interview with Murat Karayilan, acting chief of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The asymmetric conflict between Turkey and the PKK bears no evidence of a resolution in the foreseeable future.

October 16, 2012

Nabeel Rajab's Appeal Hearing Delayed, West Shuts Eyes

A Bahraini appeals court postponed Nabeel Rajab's hearing on Tuesday, perpetuating the criminalization of a leading human rights defender in the Middle East.

The ruling is hardly surprising in light of recent events. During his last appeal hearing on September 27th, the government's prosecution team introduced doctored video "evidence" of Rajab "instigating violent protests" that hadn't been shown at the trial. His inhumane treatment leading up to his trial was similarly unjust and the sham trial itself was clearly the product of a government takedown. Bahrain's appeals process then functions as a black hole for prisoners of conscience. One of Bahrain's foremost "public enemies," the monarchy is treating Rajab as such in the vain hope that he will eventually crack and stand down. King Hamad and royal circle are mistaken in this strategy though. The most they can do is keep him off the streets for as long as possible - three years at the moment. They can't even stop his Twitter feed.

Rajab’s next hearing is scheduled for November 8th.

While Bahrain's appeals process experiences natural delays like any other country, Tuesday's decision is typical of the monarchy's systematic campaign against Bahrain's human rights activists and revolutionary personalities. The appeals circuit has already struck down a high-profile group of political prisoners, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and is bound to do the same to Rajab. Al-Khawaja's daughter, Zainab, is also imprisoned on 13 different charges; most deride King Hamad but all messages were sent through non-violent protests. All of these individuals have endured the monarchy's physical and mental abuse, so each new injustice cannot be separated from the whole.

Mohammed Al-Maskati, President of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), was also arrested on Tuesday after being ordered to report "on the charges of rioting and participating in an illegal gathering." He will be taken to the Public Prosecution Office tomorrow and accused of the same charges as Rajab. This is how the monarchy's scheme works: detain the opposition's leaders on the grounds that they are instigating Bahrain's violence. However their voices express the island's non-violent movement more clearly than any others. Those protesters who have chosen violence did so out of personal resolve, or else in reaction to the hostile and unjust treatment of Bahrain's pro-democracy movement. They have nowhere else to turn when the monarchy assaults them, refuses an honest dialogue with the opposition, then holds the latter responsible for not participating (all designed to stall for as long as possible).

No protester has been explicitly or implicitly ordered to commit, in the monarchy's words, "sabotage" and "terrorism." The most Rajab and the Khawajas have admitted to is a sympathetic understanding of Bahrain's pent-up anger. Al-Maskati's case is almost certainly tied to his presence at the UNHRC's 21st session, which Bahrain's monarchy dominated through sheer numbers and power. So complete is King Hamad's repression.

These developments follow another of his delusional speeches. Too obsessed with Iranian missile strikes and coups to concern himself, the King goes about his monarchial business as though Bahrain's 20-month uprising doesn't exist. Meanwhile government officials continue to "improve relations" with their U.S. counterparts. As Rajab was being taken back to his cell, Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa met with Lt-General Robert B. Nelle, CENTCOM's senior Marine commander, at the BDF Headquarters in Manama. This high-level meeting of delegations was attended by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Krajeski, who also met with Minister of Human Rights Affairs Dr. Salah bin Ali Abdulrahman on Tuesday.

Bahrain's Minister would "unveil a prospective visit to the USA where he will hold meetings with US officials, congressmen, human rights organizations and Media centers in order to give them an update on the latest developments in Bahrain, inform them about the kingdom's human rights achievements and discuss with them exchange of expertise and experiences."

The U.S. government issued no response to Rajab's latest judicial harassment and has remained publicly silent since his July 12th arrest.

October 15, 2012

Truthful Elements Behind Rumors of Saleh's U.S. Trip

On Sunday the Yemen Post reported that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is scheduled for new medical procedures in the United States.

Rumors of medical leave and exile crop up from various sources on a regular basis in Yemen, often to placate Western and Arab governments who demand that he stop "meddling" in Yemen's political transition. This one is no different, coming straight from Saleh's camp weeks before President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi opens his internationally-sponsored "National Dialogue" in early November. Sultan al-Barakani, the Secretary-General of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC), claims that the displaced tyrant will undergo two surgeries in the unspecified future. His absence would clear a path for Hadi, Saleh's former vice president of 19 years, to assert his independence amid the political battles that are due to be fought by Yemen's numerous parties and revolutionary groups.

This "trip" may be nothing more than disinformation against Saleh's internal opponents and Hadi's foreign guarantors, Washington and Riyadh. The loyal and deceptive al-Barakani is willing to say anything for his boss - as a result, disinformation is also falsely attributed to him. Following the death-by-drone of Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, a bit player in the USS Cole bombing, al-Barakani told The Washington Post, "The drone strikes have not helped either the United States or Yemen. Yemen is paying a heavy price, losing its sons. But the Americans are not paying the same price." This argument simply mimics the grievances of Saleh's countless enemies in a futile attempt to blend in with them.

“There is more hostility against America because the attacks have not stopped al-Qaeda, but rather they have expanded, and the tribes feel this is a violation of the country’s sovereignty,” said Anssaf Ali Mayo, who heads the oppositional al-Islah party in Aden. “There is a psychological acceptance of al-Qaeda because of the U.S. strikes.”

Saleh is largely responsible for enabling al-Qaeda in the Peninsula's (AQAP) growth in order to salvage his own corrupt regime. Less than maximum effort was directed towards the influx of "rehabilitated" Saudi and Yemeni militants, a development that many Yemenis link to Saudi hegemony, and he would later approve of U.S. air strikes (selectively) in exchange for political and military support. This aid was then redirected against the north's Houthi sect and secessionist Southern Movement, with U.S. knowledge. Saleh's plan to maintain power would have succeeded if not for Yemen's revolution. However Western, Arab and Eastern powers conspired to replace him with his malleable lieutenant, and Washington continues to expand its military-intelligence network behind Hadi. 

Anything that al-Barakani says about Saleh and AQAP is susceptible to the autocrat's designs, but Washington is motivated to get him out the country before November. The diplomatically-immune Saleh has persistently undermined the same agreement that grants him immunity, and some observers suspect that he's awaiting 2014's presidential election to move through his son, General Ahmed (presently in charge of his Republican Guard units). No foreign supporter of the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing agreement wants him to star as the National Dialogue's focus or interrupt their pro-democracy narrative. If no one else takes him - Germany, the UAE or Ethiopia, three U.S. allies, for instance - the Obama administration may assume the negligible domestic risk and bring him in. This situation would replay his February visit to New York City, which coincided with Yemen's UN-sponsored referendum of Hadi and ended with a triumphant return to Sana'a. His GPC also "confirmed" and "denied" this information before he finally landed in New York.

Whether the newest rumor is true or false, its odds remain higher than Saleh's national or international prosecution.

October 13, 2012

ECOWAS, NATO Inching Closer To Northern Mali

After months of navigating the world's international blocs, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) recently approved the submission of a politco-military proposal for northern Mali within 45 days. Whether NATO, the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) can launch their intervention before April 2013's election remains uncertain; multiple delays have obstructed an effective response to Mali's coup and burgeoning asymmetric war. Both Western and African powers talk tougher than they seem prepared to act - not that caution or multilateralism is unwise - and initial estimates of 3,000 troops underestimate the task at hand. Mali's interim government has even sent mixed signals about the presence of any foreign troops.

Five days from now, representatives from the UN, ECOWAS, AU, EU and other "neighboring countries" (presumably Algeria and Mauritania) are scheduled to debate a hard mission plan in Mali's capital.

The Islamic network that swept over northern Mali earlier this year takes these threats completely seriously, for an intervention is certain to arrive at some point in the future. Having pledged to defeat any intruder and entrenched themselves within the population, militant spokesmen also promise to send their forces into Mali's south. Nor did they waste any time responding to Friday's at the UNSC and French President Francois Hollande in particular.

"If he continues to throw oil on the fire, we will send him the pictures of dead French hostages in the coming days," Oumar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for MUJAO, told Reuters on Saturday. "He will not be able to count the bodies of French expatriates across West Africa and elsewhere."

However observers and locals alike have trouble determining who exactly is controlling northern Mali. Two theories may help explain the general situation between Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a hydra-like network of African, Arab and Asian militants. Each supposedly has their own agenda. Ansar Dine is commanded by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Tuareg who fought in earlier rebellions but has broken off under the banner of strict Sharia law. His forces, along with MUJAO, would expel the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) from northern Mali's urban areas after the Tuaregs' own campaign. Ag Ghaly now allies himself with AQIM, whose Arab fighters are periodically reported by locals in northern Mali's towns.

MUJAO, on the other hand, is suspected of growing out of AQIM. Looking to expand beyond the Maghreb and into lucrative West Africa, the group touts itself as pan-African and allegedly recruits from local sources. Northern Mali's vast deserts and mountain ranges provide an ideal base to increase the size and training of a guerrilla force.

A second theory places AQIM as the head of these two other groups, rather than as a partner. By absorbing Mali into their area of operations, the group could now control an enormous amount of territory to train in and plot from. What difference this makes on the ground is unclear though; they could experience a leadership dispute similar to al-Shabaab nationalists and al-Qaeda's branch in Somalia. Or they could fight more effectively as a diversified network. With AQIM's random bankroll, MUJAO's regional following and Ansar Dine's local intelligence, the three groups make for a deadly combination on paper. Defeating them on the battlefield won't dismantle all three groups or stop their activities. Thus local resistance, cooperation with the MNLA, political sensitivity and organization within Mali's government form the keys of victory. Resolution 2012 conditions a military response on progress in these areas, but they are no more stable than northern Mali.

Detailed analysis of NATO and ECOWAS's plans will be posted shortly.

London's Political Battleground: Maryam al-Khawaja VS. Bahrain's Prince

She could never stop the onslaught, but Maryam al-Khawaja fired off as many shots as she could before yielding the spotlight. al-Khawaja recently met with William Hague, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to impress upon him the stagnation of Bahrain's political reforms and a theoretical dialogue with the island's opposition network. One of Bahrain's leading activists couldn't have minced words with the Secretary.

While no transcript is available, "diplomatic protocol" may have sounded something like this: "People today are saying the United States and the UK are to Bahrain what Russia is to Syria. They are countries willing to aid repression, people who are willing to overlook human rights violations because it's in their own interests. The only difference is that Russia doesn't try to present itself as a beacon of human rights and democracy."

Al-Khawaja's accusation carries a risk at the government level; Bahrain's monarchy is hypersensitive to being compared with Syria and the Arab revolutions in general. The U.S. and U.K. governments also reject comparisons between the two countries's situations, which have demarcated the ends of the region's violence spectrum. Yet the exiled Al-Khawaja cannot withhold the truth either and she's unpopular enough in Western capitals. Her jailed father and sister can't afford to wait, nor can Bahrain's democratic opposition, and reality must be expressed in order for her to retain credibility with them. Someone has to stand up when Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, pays a visit to London.

Acting as though he hadn't paid attention during Al-Khawaja's meeting, Hague welcomed Al-Khalifa with open arms on Thursday and proceeded to soften Bahrain's hardline environment. The young prince serves as his father's international face as well as the West's "moderate" savior in Bahrain, and Washington and London's doors always remain open as a result. Employing a script that has become set in concrete, Al-Khalifa would "affirm the unprecedented steps taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain had reflected His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's commitment towards the comprehensive reform process that His Majesty had launched." He also claimed that the monarchy realizes "the need to push forward in facing challenges in the path of reform," and "within a pure Bahraini framework implemented in through a unified Bahraini spirit."

Hague, in turn, reciprocated a similar point of view through a combination of flattery and deception. Like his U.S. counterparts, the Secretary praised Bahrain's commitment to reforming its judiciary and police system. He welcomed "recent commitments made by Government of Bahrain last month at the Human Rights Council, in particular to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture." Hague also supports a peaceful dialogue between the monarchy and democratic opposition, in line with U.S. policy. Most interestingly, his "open and honest exchange about political reform in Bahrain... confirmed to me the Crown Prince’s personal commitment to an inclusive political dialogue."

"His Royal Highness the Crown Prince expressed his satisfaction with the progress of ongoing cooperation and coordination between Bahrain and Britain and on working towards reinforcing stability in the region," Bahrain's state media reported of the meeting. "For his part Hague expressed his happiness for meeting His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, welcoming his visit and presented him with a letter from UK President David Cameron."

Of course they did.

Stronger in appearance than logic, the entirety of Hague and Al-Khalifa's meeting can be broken down to its rusted base. Hague's emphasis on the Prince's "personal commitment" is telling - does his father share the feeling? His hawkish great uncle, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, surely doesn't. One of the opposition's fiercest enemies, the 41-year Prime Minister currently stands as the more influential voices in King Hamad's royal circle. Salman told Hague that "the insistence on practicing violence would lead to results harming all that in turn would cripple advancement," when his family is busy outlawing and gassing protests in Manama.

The idea of "considering" the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture is equally absurd. Many of Bahrain's leading activists have been physically assaulted over the past 19 months of demonstrations, including Maryam's sister Zainab. The latter resides in a cell for the seventh time in less than two years, awaiting 13 charges with their father Abdulhadi. King Hamad has made the Al-Khawaja's punishment a national priority, and Abdiulhadi sent her out of the country "to make sure people on the outside made sure what was happening on the inside." This harassment fits into a wider campaign to destroy Bahrain's activist network and the Bahrain's Center for Human Rights, which counts all three Al-Khawajas as senior members. Rajab Nabeel, the BCHR's director, also sits in jail after being given three years for instigating protests. He too reports cruel and unusual punishment of Bahrain's prisoners of conscience, including himself.

Accordingly, the Bahraini regime enjoys far greater access with the necessary Western governments. Al-Khalifa and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa attended other meetings in London, including an "honorary luncheon" with Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Alistair Burt.

Al-Khawaja argues that this double-standard has emboldened Bahrain's government to maintain its crackdown against the opposition. The West is too inclined to accept Manama's hollow promises and superficial attempts to reform, a process that comes nowhere near the opposition's demand for a parliamentary overhaul. Al-Khawaja told The Independent that statements from Washington and London "made a difference" last year, but, "Now they don't make any difference because the Bahraini government now knows that even if there are statements it won't result in any consequences." Western pressure has, from time to time, helped a Bahraini out of prison; Washington supposedly opposed Riyadh's March 2011 intervention, to no avail. Yet public and private comments achieved results only to the extent that Bahrain's monarchy initially believed them. With Rajab and the Al-Khawajas locked within cell walls and Western silence, Manama is visibly prepared to continue its repressive counterrevolution as opposed to a genuine dialogue with Bahrain's opposition.

"I had a meeting at the White House and I told them, 'Everything you fear and is making you not do the right thing because you fear it, you are actually making it a reality.' At the end of the day it only makes sense that when people feel polarized, cornered and ignored they're going to look for help from wherever they can get it. I'm actually really surprised that hasn't happened yet. I'm really surprised that we're still to a large extent peaceful. I'm surprised we're not as sectarian as I thought we would be and that we haven't yet reached a point where we say we'll find help from wherever it comes."

Either Washington and London don't realize this dilemma, or more likely, they believe that their position is as invincible as King Hamad's. Unfortunately Bahrain is traveling far off the path of democratic reform and Western powers comprise a big section of the roadblock.