December 31, 2012

Feierstein's Bounty Applies More Warp To Yemen

U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein meets with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi

Shortly before last weekend, Yemeni activists and reported the first preview of two videos produced by al-Qaeda in the Peninsula's (AQAP) media arm,   The shorter of these videos, released just before Christmas, has taken center stage by announcing a bounty program for killing U.S. combat personnel in Yemen, which range from Marines guarding the U.S. embassy in Sana'a to CIA operatives treading through southern Yemen. Contracting new hits on top of AQAP's ongoing assassination campaign would kickstart a nimble strategy, tapping a murky economic pool to track U.S. personnel in the field.

AQAP is essentially hoping that America's unpopularity in the country will pay dividends over time. The group's biggest bet of all: three pounds of gold for U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein.

Having tumbled through the wire for days, this news already generated a stir in Washington before Sunday's reports from The Associated Press and Reuters. Whether AQAP or a third party added the clip onto its main video remains a subject of debate - and all possibilities must be considered from an intelligence standpoint - but the cage has been opened regardless. The Obama administration doesn't have the luxury of taking a wait-and-see approach after Benghazi's "massive security failure," and must treat a hypothetical threat as reality. Accordingly, the American majority can't be expected to understand more than the direct implications of another al-Qaeda death-threat on a U.S. ambassador.

Most Americans are unlikely to realize that Gerald Feierstein is no Chris Stevens, and the U.S. mainstream media won't help them by adding context. Simply put, Feierstien is one of the least welcomed Americans in a country that usually welcomes Americans, contrary to popular opinion. Feierstein failed to redeem himself to the revolutionaries after staying close to Ali Abdullah Saleh, at first suffering more from proximity. Over time, though, Feierstein remained closer to Saleh's regime in a presumed effort to coax him out of office, a policy truly intended to maintain U.S. influence through Yemen's revolution. The ambassador assumed the grunt work of getting everyone's signature on the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing deal, a U.S.-Saudi initiative that locked the revolutionaries out of power in favor of Yemen's opposition and Saleh's own party.

He's considered more imperial viceroy than diplomat.

Feierstein fell into particularly hot water during Yemen's first Life March in December 2011, initially telling protesters not to approach the presidential palace. Describing the march as a "provocative act," combined with the brutal crackdown that followed, created the impression that he had cooperated with Saleh's regime. Unaccountability has been the constant of Feierstein's stay in Sana'a. Now he "advises" Saleh's former vice president, Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, and continues to grant limited access to the revolutionaries, who enjoy a token ear rather than a real audience. 

Never does Feierstein use the word "revolution," preferring to diffuse a "political crisis" instead.

“Almost from the start of his tenure in Yemen," warns the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC), "Ambassador Feierstein has never been very cordial with his personal (we certainly would hope that they are not viewed as official US views, accepted by your Administration) disappointing declarations on Yemen and the Yemeni people, and Feierstein's mostly defensive stances with the tyrannical Saleh regime.”

For all of these reasons and many more, a small group of protesters rallied after Stevens's murder to demand his own death. These individuals counted themselves amongst Yemen's political extreme but were not affiliated with AQAP, and represent a very real hostility directs towards the Ambassador. His staunchest opponents are peaceful, democratic-minded Yemenis. While few will support Feierstein's open murder, even fewer will miss him when he's reassigned.

The Obama administration's public actions suggest that they have no idea how unpopular he is, but their inner admissions must present a stark contrast. The signs are impossible to avoid noticing in private.

AQAP's pseudo-threat brings nothing good to Yemen, only new fear to overreact towards and new distractions to subvert more urgent priorities. Real or not, a public threat could permanently tighten the U.S. Embassy's security and eventually demand more personnel at a refurbished Sheraton Hotel, now home to the State Department. This situation is lose-lose for Yemenis: put up with Feierstein's continual presence and the extra security he may bring, or risk his violent elimination by an AQAP-contracted assassin. Both outcomes lead to further militarization and obstruct Yemen's democratic evolution.

December 30, 2012

Basic Anatomy of U.S. Propaganda In Yemen

Importing news from Yemen to the American populace is similar to taking candy from a baby. Ignorance opens a wide gate to all sorts of transgressions in the so-called "War on Terror," and Saturday's drone strike in Al Bayda' Governorate demonstrated how easily information can be manipulated without consequence. The Associated Press soon reports that a missile strike on a Land Cruiser killed "three suspected militants" in el-Manaseh village, located near Rada'a.

"Their bodies were charred and the car was completely obliterated," a tribesman told Reuters from the scene. "Their bodies were not recognizable, but the government says they're from al Qaeda."

Of course that's often the story of Yemeni officials with a vested interest in keeping U.S. operations and President Abd Mansur Rabo Hadi's complicity under wraps. Yemenis hold an extremely low opinion of the government's credibility as a result of past and present obscurity; the U.S. and international news cycle is currently dominated (however briefly) by anti-drone sentiments. Yemen's Ministry of Defense claimed that local al-Qaeda commander Saleh Mohammed al-Amiri, but one tribal official told al-Alhmardar that the victims were civilians. 22-year old Abdul Wahid al-Amiri and 11-year old Salim Mohammed al-Amiri were named as the casualties, with the discrepancy of the third victim going unexplained.

The anonymous tribal figure said he plans to take the bodies to Rada'a and demand an explanation from the government.

Problematically, investigations into civilian casualties have already been obstructed by Hadi's interim government at the Obama administration's request. Information regarding the operational nature of each strike - whether the ordnance was fired by U.S. or Yemeni forces - has also been blurred to the point that an accurate count doesn't exist. Estimates vary between 41 and 54 confirmed U.S. air-strikes in 2012, with the AP publishing the Long War Journal's low count. Rough counts of alleged U.S. strikes since 2002 have climbed high above 100, and the ratio between civilian and militant casualties has been lost in the shadowy, meaning-grinding process of counter-terrorism.

It's safe to assume that more Yemeni civilians have been killed than either government admits. Rada'a has witnessed multiple drone strikes of a questionable nature and at least one open slaughter of civilians; anonymous U.S. officials finally admitted to the attack earlier this month after previously letting Yemeni fighter planes take the blame. Hadi would visit Washington three weeks afterward to laud the use of drones, telling the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, "They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you're aiming at."

He must have already known that the U.S. didn't.

The strike in al-Manaseh will likely endure a similarly nebulous fate, but the political costs for Hadi will continue to rise as well. The only certainty surrounding U.S. covert activities is his authorization and Yemenis are growing increasingly disenchanted by his subservience to Washington - and how they are paying the price of his promotion with their lives. Over time this unpopularity will transfer to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) bank. As one survivor infamously told The Washington Post, “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans."

True counterinsurgency is impossible to apply in these conditions, especially by robotic birds.

U.S. propaganda continues to thicken in Rada'a, where the AP reports that several hundred AQAP gunmen stormed the city in January 2012 after a "security lapse." Yemen's former dictator and current warlord, Ali Abdullah Saleh, used such "lapses" as a tool to foment chaos in the south and keep himself useful to the U.S. (and keep the U.S. busy with AQAP). Although not cooperating directly with AQAP figure Tariq al Dhahab, a brother-in-law of drone victim Anwar al-Awlaki, eyewitnesses reported the same lack of government resistance that marked Jaar and Zinjibar's "takeovers" in Abyan governorate. None of this backstory was reported.

Instead, "AQAP overran entire towns and villages - including Radda - last year by taking advantage of a security lapse during nationwide protests that eventually ousted the country’s longtime ruler. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen’s army was able to regain control of the southern region but al-Qaida militants continue to launch deadly attacks on security forces that have killed hundreds."

This version sounds far more competent than the Obama administration's policy of initially backing Saleh, making his replacement unpopular, alienating a new generation of Yemenis, opposing their peaceful revolution, militarizing their country and watching AQAP grow its ranks.

Lastly, the AP reports that "an infantry brigade in the northeastern province of Marib to stop armed tribesmen who maintain cordial ties with al-Qaida from attacking oil pipelines and power generating stations, as well as to counter al-Qaida militants." Separately, a tribal source told AFP that Salah bin Hussein al-Dammaj is responsible for the recent attacks, and that he demands "100 million riyals ($480,000) in compensation for land he claims was taken from him in Sanaa." Many possibilities could explain his dispute with in the capital, one of them being with Saleh himself. Yemenis believe that he has orchestrated these attacks in response to his gradual loss of power, or else his tribal contacts now left hanging are committing their own retaliation.

The AP wrote mere days ago, after another U.S. strike, that "some tribal chiefs are also suspected of being allied with former longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The attacks appeared to be aimed at undermining the new government."

This information was placed at the report's very bottom - now it's completely gone.

December 29, 2012

Al-Shabaab Staying Mobile To Survive

Somalia's next non-battle is headed for Bulo Burde, a minor town strategically placed along the highway from Mogadishu to Ethiopia's border. Progressively jettisoned from its territory by a combined force of Somali and African Union soldiers - Beledweyne to Baidoa, Merka, Kismayo and recently Jowhar - al-Shabaab is running out of places to run to. Ahmed Abdullahi, a local security official in Bulo Burde's Hiiran region, says that he's received information on the incoming movements of senior al-Shabaab commanders, citing eyewitnesses and government intelligence.

"According to what we have been told by Bulo Burde residents, some al-Shabaab leaders such as Yusuf Sheikh Isse, who is in charge of the Middle Shabelle region, and other leaders have been coming to this town," Abdullahi told Sabahi. "Since the allied forces took over the city of Jowhar, field commanders of the group have been relocating from areas of Middle Shabelle to eastern Hiran."

Local Al-Qaeda boss Muktar "Ahmed Godane" Zubeyr is also rumored to be traveling in the Hiran and neighboring Bakool, although this information is obviously less reliable than al-Shabaab's presence in Hiran.

Somali and AMISOM forces plan to change the battlefield's dynamics by slicing through Hiran and cutting al-Shabaab's logistics between the north and south. The group lost a large portion of its southern territory over 2012 and has reportedly shifted northward towards Puntland to compensate, leading AMISOM in the same direction. By pushing al-Shabaab out of Bulo Burde and clearing a path from Mogadishu to Beledweyne, Somali and AU commanders intend to block al-Shabaab's migration and contain the insurgency to the central regions, where its remaining forces can be attacked from all sides.

General Abdullahi Ali Anood of Somalia's First Battalion explained to Sabahi, "We are preparing for a bloody battle against al-Shabaab to prevent it from rebuilding its infrastructure and regrouping, and [its fighters] will be unable to find a safe haven in which to hide."

However al-Shabaab is more likely to follow its current trend and move out of Bulo Burde before major fighting develops. Mined roads, ambushes and skirmishes usually precede a swift withdrawal into outlying areas, and al-Shabaab lacks the necessary manpower to mount a counteroffensive against hundreds of armored troops. Even an unconventional defense will exceed their available resources and the town isn't worth so much as to risk much. Said Mohamed Ali Mohamed, a retired captain in the Somali National Security Service, told Sabahi that he expects the insurgents to melt away into the surrounding forests.

"As we have seen in previous months, al-Shabaab fighters have been retreating from all the towns without any resistance as soon as allied forces approach."

The insurgency now has little to do except play cat and mouse with AMISOM. With few towns left to rally around, one of them being Bardera, al-Shabaab must keep moving through rural terrain and stay on the urban defensive at the same time. The group must also find a way to replenish its financial and military resources after losing its grip on Mogadishu and Kismayo, as Ali Mohamed notes: "it will not be able to obtain the necessary funding to reorganize itself and fund its military operations."

"Al-Shabaab's withdrawal from strategic cities to rural areas does not mean that they have chosen to disengage from direct combat in order to avoid heavy losses," he said. "What it means is that the group is unable to withstand the attacks and defend the areas it controls so its members are fleeing to rural areas for protection."

This conclusion is true to a point - many analysts have left al-Shabaab for dead - but the two outcomes aren't mutually exclusive. While the difference between offensive and defensive avoidance is significant, only foolish or suicidal guerrillas would make a desperation stand and forget to fight another day. Al-Shabaab has certainly regressed from its peak strength in 2009 after AMISOM proportionally increased its own, and now assumes a rudimentary form of insurgency. Worse still for the group, rural warfare works best when fueled by popular support, not carried out in continually hostile areas. The fundamental problem is that insurgencies evolve and devolve over long periods of time (al-Shabaab being a 20-year continuation of Operation Gothic Serpent), and their demise or resurrection often depends on specific conditions of the environment. 

Loss of irreplaceable leadership is one of many, and al-Shabaab's commanders have managed to keep themselves alive with multi-million dollar bounties on their heads. Changing this factor could alter the group for better or worse depending on the target's faction.

Al-Shabaab also lacks foreign sanctuary to take shelter and the foreign cash to survive, so they must make do with Puntland's mountains and Kenya's porous border. The insurgency has run low on options due to their leadership disputes, lack of unit cohesion between nationalists and foreigners, and harsh treatment of Somalis, forcing the group to ride out hard times or endure disintegration. The most realistic strategy is to wait and hope: hope the new Somali government falters (possibly in Kismayo), hope Uganda or another African state loses Western funding due to internal disputes, and hope that survival gains a new respect from potential recruits.

Al-Shabaab must reorganize over time, shed dead weight and rebrand itself with a nationalist agenda, thus these moves should be expected by African and Western governments in 2013.

December 28, 2012

Iraqi Opposition Turns Up Heat On Al-Maliki

Last week's multi-site raid on Iraqi Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi,                 a government operation that netted his chief of protection and nine bodyguards after the dust cleared, has thawed a frozen standoff with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Isolated by the premier's centralization of power, Sunni officials spent the first half of 2012 unsuccessfully organizing a no-confidence vote against al-Maliki's hostile behavior. Numerical support from Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani couldn't swing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to motion a vote in parliament, close as they came before last-minute signature retractions, and the plan was shelved for a future opportunity.

Al-Issawi now considers the present as ripe for action. Announcing his intent to restart the no-confidence process shortly after the raids on his home and political offices, one of al-Maliki's most vocal opponents is flexing his muscles to gauge the Sunni streets' temperature. Five days of modest protests in Ramadi and Samara are the first of more to come, and its participants have expressed themselves in even less diplomatic terms than their leaders.

"Injustice, marginalization, discrimination and double standards," al-Issawai announced from Ramadi, "as well as the politicization of the judicial system and a lack of respect for partnership, law and constitution… have all turned our neighborhoods in Baghdad into huge prisons surrounded by concrete blocks."

At least one MP from Iraqiya claims that the group will be sending its parliamentarians to Anbar governorate to back al-Issawi. Tribal authorities of the Dulaim, which counts the majority of Anbar's Sunnis as its members, have already flocked to the regional capital in a show of support for their Minister, who declared that the demonstrations "represent all components of Iraqi people." This statement is truer than not; Kurds and Shia supporters of al-Sadr are joining in too, rolling their individual grievances into one big snowball to challenge al-Maliki. Their commonalities have unified into Iraqi nationality and produced a sit-in at Ramadi.

"This sit-in will remain open-ended until the demonstrators' demands are met, and until the injustice against ends," cleric Hamid al-Issawi said at the protest.

The spread of these fervent protests and roadblocks, being mobilized in Sunni heartland by the most disenchanted of all Iraqis, naturally concerns al-Maliki's government. Especially irritating was the flying of Iraq's old flag, which the government used to discredit the opposition as unlawful Baathists. The threat, though, is treated as the main problem. Brushed aside is al-Maliki's long-standing alienation of Iraq's opposition, making room for political attacks on al-Issawi. The Minister has every right to "be in the government and use the street against it at the same time," for that government denies his legitimate authority.

According to local and national accounts, al-Maliki's autocracy has pushed the average Sunni and Kurd beyond reconciliation. They simply do not recognize him as the leader of Iraq. When al-Essawi explained his plan to bring a representative of the protesters "to negotiate with Baghdad" - a possible stunt - demonstrators began to chant, "We only want a revolution." Most Iraqis probably wouldn't express themselves that far, but they do demand more representative government and won't receive it with al-Malliki in charge of Baghdad. That leaves few options beyond festering disillusion, and this powder-keg could eventually blow if heated up high enough.

As Tehran and Riyadh position themselves on opposite sides of this divide, Washington and Ankara are left as the only possible brokers of a mediated settlement. Accordingly, the Obama administration must apply greater pressure on al-Maliki to abide by 2010's Irbil Agreement. Obviously this idea is easier suggested than practiced, and al-Maliki has already proven unresponsive to Iranian overflights into Syria. U.S. influence dwells below Iraq's neighbors and immediate challenges rise above the threshold: force al-Maliki to cede personal authority of the Interior and Defense Ministries, grant Ayad Allawi a position of national security, drop the charges on Sunni officials or hold fair trials, and negotiate a mutual outcome to Kurdish autonomy.

Yet with the exception of Kurdish disputes, the Obama administration has allowed al-Maliki to rampage at large and stunt Iraq's regeneration. Anonymous statements, private messages, diplomatic jargon and Turkish mediation still lack the combined weight to alter al-Maliki's behavior. He must be called out publicly, by high-ranking officials, if the White House genuinely believes al-Maliki has crossed red lines. Otherwise silence and apathy give him the green light to proceed, even if he must double back on occasion to save face.

Public measures may appear to yield minimal effects in the actual political process, but President Barack Obama's red-carpet treatment of al-Maliki has already given too much impetus to Iraq's political crisis.

December 26, 2012

Bahrain's Monarchy Waging Fierce Infowar, Lawfare

Credit must be given where credit is due, however tainted it is.

Under Western pressure to moderate its repression and remain a credible ally, Bahrain's monarchy has wielded a combination of riot tactics, well-connected public relations and legal exploitation to minimize its international profile. This strategy, along with Bahrain's indispensable position vis-à-vis Iran, has achieved its objective of blunting Western criticism and accountability, but utterly fails to resolve Bahrain's political dilemmas. Instead, a recklessly confident King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is allowed to ignore and thus perpetuate the historical crisis facing his government. Protected internationally by the U.S. and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by counterrevolutionary sponsor Saudi Arabia, Hamad's alliance seems to believe that he cannot be pulled down from his throne.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa described a United Military Command to the 33rd session of the GCC Supreme Council, envisioning an umbrella of "Peninsula Shield Forces as well as the air and naval forces."

Making these types of statements in Bahrain, ground-zero for the Peninsula Shield's mayhem, is one of countless demonstrations of the monarchy's insensitivity. GCC unity does present a long, winding road that won't reach its goal in the near future, but the trend is gradually pushing towards enhanced economic and military integration. The GCC already functions as a Saudi-fueled NATO, counterattacking the flames of political opposition and revolution wherever dissent erupts.

Addressing King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as princes would acknowledge their superior, King Hamad concluded his keynote speech by announcing, "We believe that achievements will achieve integration and unity. We ask God Almighty to bless our efforts for a brighter and prosperous future."

Domestically, Hamad's royal circle has pursued the beheading of oppositional leadership in an ongoing effort to isolate the youth coalitions, in turn forcing them towards unorganized and violent reactions to the government's abuses. Medical personal has become another main target of legal prosecution, when they aren't being assaulted or tortured themselves. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has suffered in particular due to its independence, national appeal and legitimacy with international groups. Its co-founder, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was arrested, tortured and sentenced to life in September for "breaching the Constitution and participating in plot to overthrow the regime and having intelligence contact with foreign entities and other charges."

To measure the dizzying height of these trumped-up allegations, a charge levied on eight of his fellow defendants, one was accused of plotting a coup involving 40 Iranian warships.

As for Zainab, one of al-Khawaja's tireless daughters, she as been arrested nearly a dozen times for non-violent protests, many of them solitary sit-ins or vigils. Chants of "Down, Down Hamad" have resulted in verbal and physical abuse during her detention. Nor is Zainab's intimate family safe; her husband was released in January 2012, and her brother-in-law "was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011." She claims they were tortured as well, acts that have disappeared into the shadows of the King's hollow "Independent Commission of Inquiry."

Zainab's sister, Maryam, currently operates in exile, pushed out by her father to continue their cause safely off the island.

The BCHR's other co-founder, Nabeel Rajab, also occupies a jail cell following the recent confirmation of his sentence, albeit reduced from three years to two. An irrelevant detail given the monarchy's ability to rearrest and delay appeals, Rajab's unjust "legal process" inevitably broke the same way as al-Khawaja's and removed both charismatic personalities from Bahrain's streets. Unsatisfied by these gains, the monarchy then arrested Said Yousif Almuhafda, the BCHR's media coordinator, during last Monday's protests in Manama and delayed his hearing until the beginning of 2013. This legal procedure for harassing the pro-democracy opposition has proven effective under the U.S.-GCC's own legal umbrella.

Zainab's case has now been delayed to January 20th, much to the disgust of her supporters who chant "justice delayed is justice denied." Yet this coordinated and calculated assault to undermine Bahrain's opposition has failed to elicit any  accountability from its most powerful Western ally. Instruments of crowd control still flow to the island, advertising America's undemocratic position directly to the people that are expected to negotiated with a monarchy that has lost legitimacy.

Writing in The New York Times before her December 26th hearing, Zainab warns, "This double standard is costing America its credibility across the region; and the message being understood is that if you are an ally of America, then you can get away with abusing human rights."

The deafening silence articulated by Zainab and the BHRC may break after Christmas's media pause, but Bahrain's allies are unlikely to do anything more than talk. The last U.S. statement on Rajab's detention dates August 23rd, while the al-Khawajas have been abandoned to a merciless King. House raids continue day and night as Manama remains outlawed to protesters.

"The BCHR is concerned and disappointed by the silence of the international community and the lack of concrete actions to put an end to the authorities' violence towards peaceful protesters and their militarization of Salmaniya Medical Complex. The BCHR also calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN and all other allies and international institutions to put pressure of the Government of Bahrain to stop its use of excessive force in response to the continued peaceful protests, and to consider a meaningful solution to resolve the persistent political issues of instability in the country."

December 25, 2012

Chaos In Sana'a, On Yemen's Information Battlefield

Rapidly unfolding events in Yemen seem to have acquired lasting significance amid the country's ongoing revolution.

Concluding exactly what happened isn't easy due to the fact that no Western media is paying full attention to Yemen's revolutionary streets. Add in Yemen's notorious uncertainty and proliferation of semi-reputable news sources, and dispersing the fog of war becomes nearly impossible. The only information agreed upon by all involved parties describes a confrontation between Yemeni demonstrators and security forces in the capital of Sana'a.

Beyond this rudimentary consensus lies a thick haze of asymmetric war. Accounts from Yemeni civilians claim that police and military units opened fired with tear gas in an effort to disperse a second coming of their Life March, a mobile demonstration that just arrived from Tai'zz to advance their cause. The marchers had entered Sana'a from the south and proceeded to Al-Sabeen Square, located between the Presidential Palace and Al Saleh Mosque, where they encountered a security presence in their way.

Opposing accounts diverge at this point. Those involved with Yemen's democratic movement claim that government forces opened fire without provocation. The situation turned ugly fast, from picture-posing in the day to confrontation at night, and reportedly left multiple protesters wounded or missing. The corresponding information also jumped quickly between participants, eye-witnesses and supporters through transmedia, presumably undergoing a warping process. Reports of casualties have turned negative, but the information regarding several kidnappings has yet to reverse course. Protesters have since moved in front of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s home on nearby 60th Street to continue their demands:
1 - Dismissal of all military leaders and Supreme Security who worked with Saleh, headed by Ahmad Ali Saleh, Ali Mohsen Saleh, Ghalib Aalghemh and fully dismissing them and not reshuffling their positions in the new appointments, whatever the circumstances; and accelerate the implementation of the decisions of the army restructure and achieving safety, security and stability in the country and the extend the state power on the entire regions and provinces, particularly Saada and Marib.

2 - The release of prisoners of the revolution, and forcibly disappeared, and support the families of the martyrs and the wounded, and prosecute the killers of the rebels and looters of public wealth and the private sectors, and recover the looted and stolen wealth.
Yemen's government has released a different viewpoint of Al-Sabeen's showdown, claiming that security forces were provoked by rock-throwing youths. One protester was injured after falling from a vehicle and is receiving medical attention at the State's expense. All other injuries were denied by Interior Ministry, "those detained have been released" and an investigation is supposedly forthcoming.

A relatively minor clash lies behind the tear gas, but one that carries a bigger punch than may be expected. The upshot appears to be a tangible shift against Hadi's moderate popularity, which has kept him floating above his connections to Saleh. Al-Sabeen's confrontation is negating a piece of the goodwill earned by Hadi's recent military announcements, and represents another step back into his former boss's shoes. He must act wisely and cautiously to prevent further escalation ahead of Yemen's anticipated National Dialogue.

Protesters do not bear the burden of disproportionate force and cannot be faulted for distrusting the corrupt parts within Yemen's interim government (including Saleh as the head of his General People's Congress), or the foreign powers shielding them from accountability.

December 23, 2012

Mali's Islamists Toying With International Negotiators

A rapid turnaround in northern Mali has fully illuminated the multidimensional nature of netwar.

Last Thursday the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution outlining a dual-track approach of political negotiations and military engagement against dissenting Islamic militants. As if coordinated before the UNSC's unanimous vote - itself the process of intense calculation between NATO, the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - Timbuktu's local Islamist outfit struck back immediately on Friday by announcing a pact with Mali's rival Tuareg movement. Under their public terms, Ansar Dine and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) pledged to "coordinate their positions and actions in the context of seeking a peaceful and durable solution with the transitional authorities in Mali, with the guarantees of the relevant parties."

Their joint-statement claimed that mutual security would be established "through the deployment of security forces comprising members of both their groups."

These statements belie northern Mali's ground conditions, which indicate that no sustainable agreement can be forged between the two groups. They have already fallen out after leeching each other's abilities to rout Mali's army; once a days-long pact was broken in late May (or possibly never signed to begin with), Ansar Dine and its Islamist allies proceeded to kick the MNLA out of its Gao headquarters. The strategically-located city now hosts the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and is unlikely to be shared with the MNLA. The only tangible progress from months of negotiations between Ansar Dine and the MNLA, organized by neighboring Burkina Faso and Algeria, is the Islamists' military advance on MNLA positions.

Ansar Dine recently assisted in MUJAO's capture of westerly Léré after its leader delivered an ultimatum to the MNLA, essentially threatening to join or die. The MNLA rejected Iyad Ag Ghaly's message and "expressed their determination to fight against all terrorists."

Muddy as these negotiating waters are, Mali's fourth-generation reality emits a polarized clarity and reveals an ingenious plot at work. The possibility of Ansar Dine establishing sincere relations with the MNLA cannot be discarded entirely, on account of Ag Ghaly's history with Tuareg militias, but the odds hover near zero. In addition to a cutthroat ultimatum, Ansar Dine just spun off Mali's own version of Ansar al-Sharia with formal approval from the group's leadership. AQIM has supposedly tasked this new group to improve relations with its Libyan counterpart, a loose network of jihadist groups blamed for the assault on Benghazi's consulate, and potentially construct a training base in eastern Libya.

The group is reportedly overseen by Oumar Ould Hamaha, a senior military official connecting Ansar Dine and MUJAO. Hamaha, a local Tuareg from the Timbuktu area, also doubles as a confidante of AQIM personality Moktar Belmoktar, who announced the formation of his own El Moulethemine katibat ("Brigade of the Veiled Ones") in early December.

Ansar Dine and its allies' vision of peace is total control over northern Mali. Instead of negotiating an agreeable outcome with the international community or MNLA, the group is stalling to attract more human resources from West Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Now Ansar Dine is taking shelter beneath the MNLA, a group that the international community cannot avoid negotiating with, in an attempt to stave off a foreign intervention entirely. This wise maneuver is reminiscent of the guerrilla hiding within an urban population, hugging civilians in order to deter aerial bombardment.

Following the UNSC's vote, an adviser of Mali's interim president said that his government is ready to "wage war against the terrorists and continue to negotiate with our brothers who are ready for dialogue."

Problematically, Malians are expecting military action but lack faith in their government and military, directing a trickle-up effect towards the UNSC. Furthermore, non-state actors move with exceptional quickness in relation to cumbersome international blocs. As a result of Mali's internal crisis, which legally bars the U.S. from direct aid, and the international community's hesitant response to the situation as a whole, both sets of actors have given the distinct impression that they seek to avoid fighting under the present conditions. The UNSC has painted itself into a corner by emphasizing dialogue over military action, and the Islamists are "cooperating" by giving what is being requested. Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO all realize the advantage of this wariness to enter an uncertain terrain the size of Iraq, with less than ideal resources, for an unspecified length of time.

The end product: Ansar Dine is positioning itself as a necessary component of Mali's political solution and an outright international front of AQIM.

"We denounce this decision," Mohamed Ag Akharib, a representative of Ansar Dine, told reporters between meetings in Algiers. "We have always denounced the (planned) military intervention and we have said that it is not the solution. We are very optimistic and we ask Algeria and the international community to join us in searching for a peaceful solution to the Mali crisis."

Algiers' Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) is suspected of manipulating both sides of the Sahel - coordinating with AQIM and other non-state actors in opposition to the Tuaregs, and using AQIM to establish favorable military and intelligence relations with Western capitals. The government's massive influence in the region is unlikely to prove a source of lasting stability in northern Mali, although Islamists and the Obama administration are both looking its way for assistance. To its credit Algiers is legitimately cautious of spillover into its territory and understands the opponent better than most. Military and intelligence analysts have reached a consensus that the proposed force - 3,000 ECOWAS soldiers, an equal number of Malians and NATO trainers to guide them - falls disturbingly short of northern Mali's taxing demands.

"You cannot really fight a conventional war there," warns Abdallah Baali, Algeria's ambassador to Washington. "Your enemy will vanish in the desert before your eyes."

Of the other scenarios in play, Ansar Dine could be gunning for absolute control of Mali's Tuareg movement with the intention of evicting AQIM, MUJAO and the MNLA in turn. Thus of all the conceivable scenarios, workable peace between Ansar Dine and the MNLA appears furthest removed from reality.

December 22, 2012

Divisions Sapping al-Shabaab Of Remaining Strength

The job of Omar Hammami, al-Shabaab propagandist and rapper, naturally obscured his own life's story. Known as Abu Mansur Al-Amriki to the jihadist world and designated by his former country as a terrorist, Hammami quickly rose up al-Shabaab's ladder through a combination of battlefield courage and media savvy. Here, finally, a converted American was fighting against America's Christian allies for the Internet to witness, and their new weapon similarly unleashed his own online campaign. Many have panned his raps asking for death by a U.S. missile.

Hammami's media personality has thus endured a vortex of internal and external activity, complicating an accurate impression of his status and relations to al-Shabaab.

However propaganda has now slammed into reality. For at least six months Hammami has been running from nameless shadows, surfacing after one supposedly fatal meeting between al-Shabaab commanders to release a cry for help on YouTube. The insurgency's Twitter feed replied that Hammami had nothing to fear, but Hammami has lived in fear ever since. When not in hiding to the outside world, Hammami continued to release and delete his raps and jihadist videos amid the African Union's multi-front offensive on al-Shabaab. Death by beheading or drone seems to be a matter of time if he can't flee Somalia.

On Monday al-Shabaab announced via Twitter, "In the last few months the story of Abu Mansur Al-Amriki has been playing out in the media circles, not only feeding the narrative of the Western media that deep ideological differences were beginning to devour the Mujahideen in Somalia, but also leaving the Muslim Ummah extraordinarily confounded with a string of video releases that have stimulated a wide range of diverse reactions."

"In the light of these events and for the sake of clarification of the intricacies surrounding the Abu Mansur saga, Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen hereby declares that Abu Mansur Al-Amriki does not, in any way, shape or form, represent the views of the Muhajireen in Somalia. The opinions expressed by Abu Mansur, the alleged frictions and the video releases are merely the results of personal grievances that stem purely from a narcissistic pursuit of fame and are far removed from the reality on the ground."

Which side al-Amriki has chosen, al-Shabaab's nationalist core or foreign branch, isn't clear since both sides are rumored to have been provoked. One video reportedly criticized local jihadists while another blamed al-Qaeda's leadership for the insurgency's divide. Either way, the group is correct in its assessment of his propaganda: observers have taken his overall actions as a sign of al-Shabaab's disarray.

A greater message exists, though, in the form of al-Qaeda's local boss in Somalia. The source of real fissures within al-Shabaab's ranks, Moktar Ali Zubeyr issued his own audio message on December 11th in a last-ditch effort to rally his troops. Zubeyr, who operates under the alias Ahmed Ali Godane, proved so divisive that al-Qaeda actually removed him from al-Shabaab's leadership in December 2010. However Zubeyr continued to operate his cells parallel to al-Shabaab's nationalist head, Muhktar Robow, and left the cleavage untreated. Zubeyr is responsible for triggering renewed international focus by declaring his allegiance to Osama bin Laden, a main point of contention in the group.

A more effective counterattack against AU forces in the south and west could have been mounted with harmonious leadership and morale, whether ultimately successful or not.

"This year comes as the crusade against Islamic rule in Somalia has been mounting and the crusader enemy has intensified its military, security, political and media capabilities to dim the light of sharia and defeat Islamic rule," Zubeyr admitted before puffing out his chest again. "I would like to tell the Islamic nation and its elite mujahideen, particularly Mullah Omar and Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri that the military might of the mujahideen in Somalia is strong and that they are waging a holy jihad that relies on raids and ambushes to create a state of instability for the enemy in the areas they control."

Al-Shabaab seems finished in its current form. Many political and military analysts have already reached this conclusion. The Trench adopts a more cautious position, expecting disintegration but also transformation. At this moment Somalia's new government holds more promise than any of its predecessors in the last 20 years, and Mogadishu is gradually rebuilding itself for a new future. Al-Shabaab is low on popularity, funds and arms, reduced from semi-conventional warfare across half a state to ambushes on former strongholds. Unfortunately Somalia's slope is slippery, and stalling on government services is the quickest way down into the unknown. The political conflict over Somalia's southern Jubaland, which includes local warlords, Ethiopia and Kenya, is far from resolved. al-Shabaab's nationalists could potentially split from al-Qaeda and rebuild their brand, or else strike a deal with the government.

Insurgencies as old as al-Shabaab can die, but they usually survive longer than its current throes.

December 21, 2012

Al-Maliki Fires New Shots At Iraq's Finance Minister

Buffered by fears of a snap election and renewed politico-religious strife, Nouri al-Maliki appears to consider himself beyond the reach of Iraqi law. The Premier managed to dodge a vote of no-confidence throughout 2012 after pushing his opponents to the brink of desperation, and clearly has no plans to cede power before his term ends in 2014. Over the summer al-Maliki's political opponents - Iraqiya, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Kurds - tried to collect enough signatures to lobby President Jalal Talabini into motioning for a parliamentary vote. This effort failed partly due to their own political shortfalls and party due to al-Maliki's capitalization on Iraqi fears of sectarianism.

His office repeatedly issued statements to the effect that, "When the other side refuses to sit at the table of dialogue and insists on the policy of provoking successive crises in a way that causes severe damages to the supreme interests of Iraqi people, the prime minister found himself obliged to call for early elections."

Most Iraqis, including Talabani himself, don't wish to go through this process so soon after March 2010's divisive election.

Yet al-Maliki's autocratic style assures a persistent opposition to his rule, and 2012's heated debate is rising again following a suspicious raid on one of his opponents. Shortly after the peace-brokering Talabani was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment, Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi announced that a "militia" stormed his offices and kidnapped 150 people (his house was also raided). Al-Issawi didn't think twice when naming the culprit.

"My message to the prime minister, you are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people," he said during a televised address. "I demand the release of all detainees and I demand an apology of this illegal shameful act. I demand from the Iraqi Parliament to activate a no-confidence vote against a government that does not respect its institutions and its sovereignty."

al-Maliki makes for a natural suspect, having retained control of Iraq's Defense and Interior Ministries in violation of the 2010 Irbil Agreement that secured his second term. Iraq's armed forces have become personalized around al-Maliki's agenda as a result, opening the door for all types of political injustices, and a large-scale roundup inside Baghdad is beyond al-Qaeda's capabilities. Al-Issawi also makes for a natural target of al-Maliki's wrath; last December, al-Issawi teamed up with Iraqiya chief Ayad Allawi and parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to author a vicious New York Times op-ed on al-Maliki's misrule.

This article was, amongst grander political objectives, a direct response to al-Maliki's harassment campaign against them. Throughout December 2011, as Iraqiya escalated its boycott of al-Maliki's government, the Premier busied himself of accusing al-Issawi, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq of supporting political assassination squads. On December 15, two weeks before the NYT posted his op-ed, al-Issawi was briefly placed under house arrest and later delayed from flying to Irbil, where he planned to meet with Kurdistan regional president Massoud Barzani. Barzani has generally supported Iraqiya's drive to limit al-Maliki's authority.

He recently explained his position in a wide-ranging interview with Al-Monitor: "I want to be fair, and in fact, I don't blame Maliki alone for what has happened. I blame the council of ministers, the council of representatives, the president and other political leaders. Why did they allow him to behave in such a way, where it has reached the point that he actually considers himself the absolute ruler of Iraq."

As for al-Issawi, he escaped an IED blast soon after The New York Times op-ed and received the same lack of cooperation as now.

Interestingly, Barzani mentions that al-Maliki "immediately escalated the situation" upon his return from Washington, a trip that shocked Iraq's political equation. Agitated by President Barack Obama's hearty welcome of al-Maliki, al-Mutlaq quickly responded on CNN by infamously calling al-Maliki "a dictator." Allawi later issued a direct statement to the White House: “President Obama said very clearly that the United States have left Iraq as a stable and democratic country. It’s neither stable nor democratic, frankly speaking."

Barzani, like many others, also considered the warrant on al-Hashemi to be a pivotal step towards marginalizing the Sunnis, and believes the Kurds are next.

Kurdish developments usually yield vigorous action from Washington, but the power struggle between al-Maliki and Iraq's opposition has failed to do the same. No reaction or a meek response to al-Issawi's kidnapped staff would be the latest of many strikes against U.S. policy in Iraq.

December 20, 2012

Mali News Travels Slow To Western Media

Nearly six days ago The Trench recorded the formation of a new Islamic militant group that had branched out from Mali's local tree, Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Christening themselves as the fourth Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) in the MENA (after Yemen, Tunisia and Libya), this group has allegedly recruited Barabiche tribesmen from Timbuktu's surrounding area and placed them under the authority of several Ansar Dine officials: Omar Ould Hamaha and Sanad Ould Bouamama.

In every manifestation Ansar al-Sharia operates either as a loose front for al-Qaeda's general ideology or a masking agent for the group itself, as in Yemen's case. However Mali's new group has reportedly received specific directions from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On top of decentralizing the group's network and tapping into local human resources, Ansar al-Sharia has been tasked to build a logistics highway between eastern Libya and northern Mali - and, if AFRICOM is to be believed, establish a base in east Libya to strike the West.

"In return, AQIM is offering to provide Libyan Islamist groups with training and finance," The Telegraph reported earlier this month.

Somewhat oddly, this news created no initial splash in the U.S. media and is just now reaching American ears in the form of an ABC News report. New information is only presented in small portions, namely a welcoming statement from one of Ansar Dine's senior leaders. Although potential disinformation, no mention of the connection between Ansar al-Sharia and Libyan militants is made. Instead, speculation of the offshoot's cause revolves around Ansar Dine's leadership and the absorption of fighters from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

In the latter case, ABC News claims that MUJAO has been losing fighters to Ansar Dine and Ansar al-Sharia due to their local reputations, which carry more weight inside and outside Mali.

Unnamed "analysts" attribute this trend to Ansar Dine's legitimacy at the negotiating table, but local credibility and momentum is the likeliest culprit of any established pattern. The network of AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine acts as a jihadist funneling system, drawing fighters from across the MENA and shaking them down into appropriate roles. Both Ansar Dine and MUJAO fighters have joined Ansar al-Sharia because the group is allegedly involved in expanding eastward, where MUJAO hopes to go. MUJAO's military planner, Omar Hamaha, also doubles as an Ansar Dine official, reinforcing the connection between all three groups.

While decentralization can instigate personal feuds within a network of militant groups, Mali is big enough to necessitate a portfolio of groups tasked with specialized agendas. The inflation of open territory and density of local actors are determining factors in slicing up northern Mali's pie.

Coincidently, ABC News's reporting is equally sluggish as the international community's response to northern Mali's conflict. Today, almost a year after the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine began to overrun Mali's military, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution authorizing a two-track intervention in Mali. Except negotiations with Ansar Dine amount to a stalling tactic for AQIM and MUJAO, meaning that an ECOWAS force of 3,300 won't land in Mali until the second half of next year at the earliest. The Trench has frequently reported on the obstacles facing an international coalition, starting with Mali's fractured government and ending with the virtual certainty of guerrilla warfare.

"It is likely that [the MNLA and MUJWA] will avoid direct confrontation, in which case [the intervention force] would have no chance," a senior French officer told the AFP after the UNSC's vote. "If the force sent to deal with them is credible, [the MNLA and MUJWA] will certainly leave the towns and head for their sanctuaries in the mountain ranges close to the Algerian border... and that will become a different ball game to dislodge them."

One "former intelligence chief" states the problem in even blunter terms: "It's not 3,000 men that are needed, it's 100 times as many, and for a long time. We are far from what's required. Take Afghanistan as a reference and you'll understand."

This estimate, while excessively high, still offers a more realistic assessment than the international community (UN, NATO, AU, ECOWAS) has tabled. Roughly speaking, a minimum of 30,000 troops and 3-5 years (plus Western logistics) appear to be needed to control northern Mali's population belt and wage asymmetric warfare against the Islamists. Give Ansar Dine and its allies another 10 months and they will embed themselves that much deeper in northern Mali's terrain.

The international community is trapped between the dilemma of an immediate but reckless campaign, and waiting for Mali's government to put itself back together first.

December 19, 2012

Yemen President's Military Restructure Elicits Praise, Skeptisim

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his November day-trip to Sana'a.

Hesitant celebration has broken out in Yemen and beyond following President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s latest military restructuring, which finally confronted the major pawns of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The strongman's nephew, Yahya Mohammad, now finds himself replaced by Ahmed al-Magdashi as Chief of Staff of the Central Security Forces, a unit that directed its intimidation towards Yemeni protesters and tribesmen throughout the country's ongoing revolution. Hadi also merged Yahya's Anti-Terrorism Force to the Defense Ministry as part of a command overhaul of Yemen's counter-terrorism forces, namely Saleh's U.S.-trained Republican Guard.

This force, previously commanded by Saleh's cold-blooded son Ahmed, is now coming under the Defense Ministry's authority and Hadi's direct command.

The sudden moves have triggered a mixture of joy, pride, relief and caution amongst Yemenis and their international supporters. Months after Hadi's referendum in February, protesters continue to demonstrate for the removal and prosecution of Saleh's relatives, who took the lead in viciously assaulting Yemen's revolutionaries. On Monday a group of political representatives met with Hadi to demand a high-level restructuring before he opens an anticipated National Dialogue in early 2013. Failure to restructure would delay the conference for a second time and rob Hadi of the political opportunity he needs to establish his own track record, with an eye towards 2014's presidential election.

Removing Saleh's family from their positions is necessary for both Hadi's individual progress and the revolution's grand objective of a free Yemen.

However uncertainty naturally remains in a country where false news seems to outpace real news. No future positions have been assigns to Ahmed or Yahya, and both are capable of operating independently through Saleh's network of loyalists - some inside and others outside Yemen's military. While this network is slowly dwindling in numbers and resources, underestimating Saleh's capabilities or his willingness to subvert Yemen's national government equates to foolishness. Information of Saleh's "approval" is already surfacing and raising suspicions in the process.

Rogue General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar also remains active after theoretically losing his 1st Armored Division, telling Al Jazeera, "There is no choice but to execute these decisions, no one can ignore them. This is where everyone is headed, this is the direction of the revolution. If anyone wants to put a blockage in the way (of the decrees), they will be ruining Yemen; the entire country is in favor of the presidential decree."

Mohsen is no less likely to resist a loss of power than Ahmed Saleh, and neither is prepared to cede power to the other. Thus both must be stripped of authority in order to have any chance of evicting both from Yemen's politico-military environment.

"Yahya was going out anyway," observed Farea Al-Muslimi, an otherwise upbeat youth activist. "The real problem is with Ahmed Ali & Mohsen. I mean why celebrate this minor change? I thought we did a revolution."

A good amount of speculation is also questioning the influence of Riyadh and Washington lurking behind Hadi's announcements. Timed to the decrees was a meeting with UN envoy Jamal Benomar, along with a subsequent announcement that threatened  the "possibility" of UN sanctions "against whoever creates an obstacle or attempts to delay the track of the [political] settlement." These types of statements have been directed at Saleh since his fall from office, but largely as part of a disingenuous attempt to control him and Yemen's future government (a continuation of U.S.-Saudi policy).

Although "any challenge will be a challenge to international community," the select foreign powers overseeing Yemen's power-sharing deal will benefit either way. Saleh and company could resist their demotions - or attack Yemen's vulnerable oil pipelines and power lines - and bring new heat on them, just not enough to yield tangible punishment. The reality is that Saleh possesses too much information of Saudi and U.S. crimes against Yemenis to see an international court; sanctions are meant to silence like a Witness Protection Program, not bring justice to three decades of corrupt and savage misrule.

Hadi's decisions, if properly executed, should benefit the state and allow a national dialogue to open with momentum, except greater control of Yemen's military is key to Washington and Riyadh's regional plans. Now they can work with a more compliant president and military; the U.S. devoted ample energy during Yemen's revolution to making new friends in the army. Drones, Marines, Special Forces, CIA and their accompanying logistics have done their part in militarizing Yemen's conflict against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group that cannot be defeated with the present strategy. 

The result: U.S. policy now gels with Yemen's government, as opposed to Saleh's notorious duplicity, but American and Saudi influence remains highly unpopular and unstable.

Mohammed Albasha, Yemen's spokesman at its U.S. Embassy, says an English transcript will be posted on the government's website by Thursday morning. The time between now and an eventual dialogue will shake out more details than are currently available.

December 18, 2012

AQAP Assassinating From Position of Strength In Yemen

Last Tuesday gunmen located and eliminated Ahmed Baramadah, deputy chief of the Political Security in Yemen's Hadharamout governorate, in the regional capital with seemingly minimal effort. Another motorized shooting followed on Sunday, killing an intelligence officer in Ghayl ba Wazir, and now a third attack on Tuesday morning has left this crater on the side of a colonel's vehicle. 

Furthermore, Monday's assassination of a purported government soldier in al-Mukalla, Hadharamout's capital, has been revealed as another intelligence hit. All four attacks occurred within several hundred miles of each other; at least 60 assassinations have been counted since 2011, the majority of them in Sana'a, Aden and Hadharamout.

It should be noted that Hadharamout is one rumored spot of a joint CIA-GIP base, conceivably along Saudi Arabia's border. Last month a Saudi diplomat was gunned down in Sana'a, although al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) reportedly denied ownership of the act

Immediate questions are geared towards those responsible for organizing these attacks, as well as the government's ability to hold a national dialogue in Sana'a when security remains unpredictable. Knee-jerk reactions automatically find their mark on AQAP, and no other actors appear to possess greater motivation, but this accusation necessarily credits their abilities. Contrary to the normally sensible Yemen Post (editing may be the real culprit), the ongoing spree isn't "part of an uncontrolled campaign of assassinations targeting military and security chiefs and officers."

Such a statement is illogical.

William Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, recently suggested that "substantial progress" had been made against AQAP during a UAE meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum Plenary. Touting the Obama's administration's practice of inter-government cooperation - whether democratic or not being largely unmentioned - Burns announced that AQAP "now holds little ground" in Yemen's southern governorates, an absurd way to measure progress during an insurgency. The reality is that AQAP only recently acquired the territory in question with subversive aid from a "U.S. ally," Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The active strongman needed to keep himself useful to Washington amid a revolution, and withdrawing his specifically-designated "counterterrorism" units from the main towns quickly accelerated this process. 

This plan may have succeeded if his vice president of 18 years, current President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, didn't comply so willingly with Washington and Riyadh. It also worked out well for the foreign powers behind Yemen's power-sharing agreement, which effectively blocked the revolution and preserved their own power over Yemen's skies and seas.

Once removed from Abyan by earnest government soldiers (backed logistically by Washington and Riyadh), AQAP has returned to its natural state of guerrilla warfare and remains very much on "the ground."

Assassinations can represent weakness and desperation in certain situations, but AQAP's case is a relative weakness. Its alleged strength is partly manufactured by none other than the Yemeni, American and Saudi governments, whose mismanagement of the conflict has inflated AQAP's numbers and area of operations. Now that AQAP has vacated the towns it held uncontested between May 2011 and June 2012, few government projects have set about rebuilding them and aiding their peoples. Those Yemenis who aren't militarized are unlikely to join AQAP - the vast majority reject terrorism - but those who have already crossed the line aren't coming back. U.S. drones also help them convert fence-sitters and tear open tribal wounds that can be exploited.

As a result of past and present factors, AQAP has achieved a higher operational state than before its territorial conquests. Several officers charged with governing Lawder and Ja'ar, located north of Abyan's capital of Zinjinar, even claimed that the task was too costly and tiresome to maintain. While AQAP may be defeated over time, the group is deeply rooted in Yemen and cannot be pried loose with Sana'a and Washington's current strategy.

Alternative conspiracies involving Saleh, Southern elements or the current government itself only tumble further into Yemen's fog.

December 17, 2012

No Rest For Bahrain's Duplicitous King

 Zainab Al-Khawaja being arrested at Salmaniya hospital on December 9th

Celebrating Bahrain's National Day on Sunday with the usual festivities, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa delivered another of his patented rhetorical offensives to a divided nation. Hamad had arrived at the University of Bahrain in order to mask his intentions, employing his father's name to establish the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa Fund to "serve all citizens without distinguishing between religions, sects or cultures." A noble concept in theory, but those Shia facing government discrimination (largely carried out by Sunni police and mercenaries) don't have time to wait for future promises. Nor do they have time for the denial that has gripped Bahrain's tottering monarchy.

Hamad's circle has refuted any connection to the Arab revolutions throughout the island's 22-month uprising, and employs his speeches to ignore a fundamental political crisis rather than address it.

"In conclusion and on the great occasion of the National Day, we call on everyone to move forward, to be diligent for the sake of further accomplishments and to continue the nation-building process in various fields in order to achieve the well-being of our citizens... We commend our armed forces and the security and the National Guard forces who are always ready to provide the appropriate climate for development and progress through achieving security and stability and meeting all challenges for the sake of all people’s welfare and benefit.”

Protests naturally ensued before and after Hamad's speech. Disenchanted by anything their king in name only had to say - and he waisted no time vindicating their reaction - the youth-led February 14 coalition organized roadblocks and protests around Manama's surrounding villages. They were promptly met with the ubiquitous tear gas and rubber bullets that characterizes Bahrain's unique low-intensity situation. On Monday protesters attempted to march on the capital, now a strict no-go zone under de facto emergency law, resulting in a number of arrests. Among them, the acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and his wife, Yousef al-Muhafedha and Zainab al-Sairafi.

Al-Muhafedha currently oversees the BCHR's activities because its founders, Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, already occupy jail cells for "instigating unrest." Rajab's three-year sentence was reduced to two last week and legitimized in the process, a cheap scam to keep him unjustly imprisoned. Al-Khawaja's daughter Maryam has also been forced into exiled to avoid the fate of her sister Zainab, who was recently handed another month-long sentence for one of more than a dozen pending charges. Zainab has been verbally and physically on multiple occasions for staging one-woman protests and chanting for the King's resignation, treatment shared by her BCHR comrades and other political prisoners.

The systematic assault on Bahrain's leading human rights organization, by itself, demonstrates that the monarchy is far less concerned with substantive reform and more committed to terror tactics than the opposition. Concealing the truth and covering up Bahrain's political fissures is priority one. Dispatched by the monarchy as the fist inside Hamad's velvet glove, the King's official spokeswomen laid all responsibilities of violence on Bahrain's oppositional network as she established favorable terms for negotiations.

"Any national dialogue to overcome the crisis will not ignore any component of the Bahraini society and will not be with one side at the expense of the other," State Minister for Information Affairs Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab told al-Sharq al-Awsat. "It will, however, be complementary to the national consensus dialogue that took place in July 2011 and will commence as soon as the opposition stops violence and relinquishes conditions and restraints put to engage in that dialogue."

The egotistical notion of Bahrain's monarchy refusing to hold a second "National Dialogue," after the first failed so miserably, is no less absurd than staging one immediately. Government security forces and allied mercenaries from friendly governments (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Pakistan) bear the majority of responsibility for applying disproportionate force, however non-lethal. Complaints of Molotovs lose legitimacy when the monarchy blows hard on the streets' flames; Shia communities are raided at night, gassed, beaten and tortured for the past and future actions, while no political measures have been arranged to mitigate the fallout. 

Rifts between loyalist and oppositional forces - and between their own ranks - continue to widen at a treacherous pace. This accumulation of events has pushed Bahrain's environment beyond the trust necessary to open a dialogue in the first place. An expanding section of Bahrain's opposition has lost all faith in the monarchy, and cannot be expected to participate until substantial goodwill offerings are secured: ending military raids and releasing political prisoners. And even these moves may fail to end one overriding demand.

"Down, Down Hamad."