Al Qaeda’s Nuclear Plant

May 7, 2010


Alain Pilon

All eyes are on Faisal Shahzad, the man charged with the attempted bombing in Times Square on Saturday.

But perhaps we ought to be concerned a bit less with Mr. Shahzad, a failed terrorist now in custody, and significantly more with Sharif Mobley – a New Jersey native, a former high school wrestler and, until shortly before he moved to Yemen to allegedly join Al Qaeda, a maintenance worker at five nuclear power plants along the East Coast.

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Yemen’s al Qaeda calls for jihad in region: report

February 9, 2010

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda called on Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula to wage jihad, or holy war, against Christians and Jews in the region.

“The Christians, the Jews, and the treacherous apostate rulers have pounced on you…you have no other way out from this plight other than to wage jihad,” the wing’s deputy leader, Saeed al-Shehri, a former Saudi inmate at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, said in an audio tape posted on a website often used by Islamist groups.

Shehri was one of 30 al Qaeda members that Yemen claimed to have killed in an air strike in December but this was later denied by the global militant network.

“We advise you, our people in the Peninsula, to prepare and carry your weapons and to defend your religion and yourselves and to join your mujahideen brothers,” he said.

Shehri said the Yemen-based wing’s failed bomb attack on a U.S. bound plane in December had been carried out in coordination with network leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attack in January, weeks after the al Qaeda in Yemen first said it was behind the operation.

Shehri said a conference convened in London last month where high-level officials discussed how to stabilize Yemen showed there was an ideological war being waged against Muslims in Yemen by the West.

Shehri said U.S. forces had killed Yemeni women and children with what he termed “espionage planes,” an apparent reference to unmanned drones.

Yemen has said it would not allow direct foreign military intervention in its fight against al Qaeda, which could play into the hands of the militants.

Shehri also addressed his call for jihad to a number of Yemeni tribes, including to the sheikhs of the “Houtha,” in what appeared to be a reference to the northern Shi’ite rebels known as the Houthis.

Yemen has been fighting a northern rebellion from a minority Shi’ite sect since 2004 and is also struggling with a secessionist movement in the south.

(Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Clear views from the Afghan summit

February 1, 2010

London’s conference on Afghanistan concentrated minds, but did not answer the vital question: will the new strategy work?

Simon Tisdall

If nothing else, the London conference on Afghanistan concentrated minds. It defined the parameters of success and failure. It went some way towards charting a co-operative path out of the morass after eight years of often directionless drift. It dangled the prospect of a longed-for peace. But it provided no answer to the only question that really matters: will the new strategy work?

The war’s western principals have now made clear how they plan to proceed and roughly how long they think it will take. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, no great democrat but a great political survivor, completed his latest rehabilitation. The key regional player, Pakistan, renewed its pro-western vows just as divorce beckoned.

But Taliban leaders looking down from their Hindu Kush fastnesses stuck stubbornly to the old script. “Invading forces” must withdraw before there could be any talk of talks, they said.

Today’s conference was a “waste of time”. And offers to rehabilitate Talib foot soldiers were an infidel “trick”.

Important things changed in London nonetheless. Karzai’s prominent appeal to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, presumably agreed in advance, for guidance and assistance for the new peace and reintegration programme was a sharp move. Potential Saudi leverage over the militants, going back to the Soviet invasion, is unmatched.

As recent events in Yemen show, the old Saudi posture of standing back, cashing the west’s oil receipts, and indulging Wahhabi fantasies of an untrammelled, conservative Islam is no longer affordable. The London message to all parties – the need to commit – seems to have been heard at last.

Pakistan, too, is back onside after a difficult year politically and rifts with the Obama administration.

Pakistan’s relations with Kabul are also much improved. Islamabad seems to belatedly recognise that its aim of curbing Indian influence in Afghanistan is best served by supporting the western-backed government, especially given the prospect, post-London, of power-sharing with Taliban elements friendly to, or schooled by, Pakistan.

Interviewed before the conference,the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said Pakistan was ready and able to mediate any future talks with the Taliban. His offer has taken on added significance after it emerged that some elements of the Taliban held secret talks with a UN special envoy this month. This increased engagement by regional countries signals acceptance of the British argument that Afghanistan poses regional problems requiring collective, self-generated regional answers.

The regional approach, coupled with the emphasis on Afghan self-reliance in security matters, a progressive reconciliation and reintegration process, and ongoing financial, developmental and institutional assistance, is the way Britain and the US hope finally, and in the not too distant future, to extract their legions. Like past empires, they have learned the hard way that nobody wins in Afghanistan. London confirmed the best they now hope for is an orderly and honourable retreat, scattering alms as they leave.

Yet to succeed, even this limited, stripped-down objective must negotiate a string of booby-traps both numerous and daunting, such as endemic corruption. Karzai’s suggestion today that it may be 15 years before Afghanistan’s security forces achieve reliable self-sufficiency seems more realistic than the more ambitious transitiontargets touted by Gordon Brown.

In the regional context, India’s refusal or inability to respond substantively to efforts to reboot its peace process with Pakistan is deeply troubling for western policy-makers. Another Mumbai-style terrorist attack, blamed on Pakistan-based militants, would spark “limited war” between the two, most probably in Kashmir, a well-placed diplomat predicted. That could spell disaster for the Afghan strategy. Yet it seems to some that India is waiting for the bombers to strike again.

Most tendentious of all is the ­dazzling assumption, propagated by Brown today and Barack Obama in his state of the union address, that the Afghan troop surge will work. Nothing in the past two years, a time of significant Taliban advances, justifies any such unqualified conclusion. It’s a live hope, not a dead certainty. Because Afghanistan is different, there can be absolutely no guarantee of success. Who’s saying that? General David Petraeus, architect of the original Iraq surge, that’s who. And he should know.

Violence, fear and confusion: welcome to the Horn of Africa

January 11, 2010

Peter Beaumont

In Yemen, Somalia and beyond, the lawless, strife-torn region has provided disturbing evidence that its myriad problems cannot be ignored – and that the west must see the connections between them all

It looked like many of the dhows that sail the Gulf of Aden, a nameless boat identifiable only by its registration number – 11S2. This dhow, however, was not carrying fish, or even engaged in the lethal people smuggling trade conducted across these waters.

Tracked by Yemeni intelligence officials, it was laden with a quite different cargo that had been loaded at Hes Bes on Somalia‘s arid coastline.

When it was boarded late last year by Yemeni coastguards, the ship’s captain and his crew of 12 were discovered to be ferrying arms into a country already awash with weapons. About 60 million handguns, at the last count, arm a population of 21 million people in Yemen. The arms traffic is hardly one-way. Indeed, Yemeni ships are more often smuggling arms in the opposite direction, to fuel the terrible conflict in Mogadishu and south central Somalia.

The capture of the ship was a small event in the scheme of things, but an illustrative one. The Horn of Africa retains the potential to be one of the continent’s most explosive regions, having suffered some of Africa’s longest and most bitter conflicts during the past century. “The problem with this region as a whole,” says Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, “is that you cannot talk about Ethiopia without talking about Eritrea and Somalia. You can’t talk about Sudan without mentioning Egypt.” Dowden is convinced too that a failure to understand the nature of the relationships between the various neighbours by other countries – not least the US and Britain – has contributed to the difficulties in the area. With Yemen, just across the Gulf of Aden, added to the mix, the area’s multi-layered security, economic and political problems appear so interconnected at so many levels as to seem irresolvable at a local one alone.

This region has left its mark on the international consciousness over the past two decades for all the wrong reasons: war, famine and massive displacement of civilian populations.

The most potent images, inevitably, are of disasters that struck westerners rather than the local populations: the Battle of Mogadishu that saw dead US servicemen dragged through the city’s streets; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole by al-Qaida in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors, and the kidnapping of western ships and tourists by pirates off Somalia’s coast. Then there are the connections to the failed Christmas Day plane-bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is believed to have received training and instruction from al-Qaida in Yemen.

The profundity of the region’s problems has seen it defined as one of the two anchors of the so-called “arc of crisis” – the locus of religious, economic and political faultlines which extends in a broad sweep through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, terminating in India.

Yet the complexity of the relationships between the states that make up the area remains the least examined and least understood contributor to that arc.

Last week, it was the turn of the prime minister of Somalia’s beleaguered Transitional Federal Government, Omar Sharmarke, to dramatise what many see as the shortcomings of western policy towards the region – a tendency to ignore the potential fallout from and consequences of external intervention.

Responding to the US offer to help Yemen in its fight against al-Qaida – and Gordon Brown’s move to convene a summit on the issue – Sharmarke issued a warning. He said the sudden upsurge of interest after Abdulmutallab was linked to Yemeni-based extremists would only displace Yemen’s problem to Somalia and other parts of Africa.

“Gordon Brown has rushed to call an emergency summit on Yemen,” said Sharmarke, “but it must be understood that the problem will simply displace to Somalia unless there is corresponding support here. We call on Mr Brown to ensure that the summit agreed for the end of this January considers Somalia and Yemen jointly, and that resources are deployed immediately to assist our efforts against this scourge.

“Al-Qaida and their affiliates such as al-Shabaab [the Somali Islamist militia] are simply making sure that whilst Yemen is the subject of increased western attention and Somalia receives only empty gestures, they seize the opportunity to secure new supply routes and movement corridors for a move deeper into Africa.”

Western preoccupations have not only been driven by the alleged links between Abdulmutallab and the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. There are also reports that fighters from Afghanistan have relocated recently to Somalia and Yemen. Yemen is also home to thousands of former mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

But while the increased presence of al-Qaida and its proxies in both Yemen and Somalia are the inevitable focus of concern, there are other more worrying dynamics at work – all of them with the potential to cause widespread violence.

Three key externally sponsored peace processes in the region appear to be either in danger of unravelling, or not worth the paper they are written on.

The most dangerous situation for now is in Somalia, where relative stability is confined to the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland regions. There, the feeble stop-start peace process of the past decade which created a Transitional National Government – torpedoed by Ethiopian interference – and then the present Transitional Federal Government, installed by force with the help of the same state, has hardly solved the country’s problems; in fact it appears to have exacerbated them.

The involvement of the US in approving Ethiopia’s disastrous intervention encouraged the rise of the brutal al-Shabaab militia, which has been backed by Ethiopia’s enemy Eritrea, and armed with weapons smuggled from Yemen. It is precisely this competition between Ethiopia and Eritrea that has been one of the most dangerous conflict accelerators in the Horn in the past five years. While the political elites on both sides were once allies in the battle against Ethiopia’s Marxist regime of president Mengistu Haile Mariam – who was toppled in 1991 – the “civil divorce” that subsequently permitted Eritrea’s secession turned into conflict over a border dispute in 1998.

While that war ended in 2000 with the Algiers Agreement – which saw the two countries agree to binding arbitration over the demarcation of the border – the mechanisms of arbitration failed when Ethiopia refused to recognise the new border. The result – driven by a mutual loathing that has seen policy dictated by the credo of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – has been a proxy conflict in Somalia which has seen Eritrea – a secular state – back the al-Qaida-allied al-Shabaab and Ethiopia, the Transitional Government.

A final area of risk has been produced by the slow corrosion of the US-brokered comprehensive peace agreement which ended the second Sudanese war between the mainly Muslim north and Christian-Animist south. That agreement began unravelling at the end of 2007. Tensions have been exacerbated by plans in the south to hold a referendum next year on full independence – a vote Khartoum has warned could lead to all-out war.

In the past year alone, according to a report released last week by aid groups, 2,500 people have been killed in the south and more than 350,000 have fled amid renewed ethnic clashes. Violence flared again last week when 140 villagers were killed in a cattle raid.

Meanwhile in Yemen, a slow disintegration is taking place of a government faced with insurgencies in the north and south – the latter associated by the government with al-Qaida.

Dowden is worried that the same tactics employed in the past by the west – largely without success – are now being used again without thought for the lessons of history. “I believe that grave mistakes are being repeated right now,” he said. On the question of Ethiopia and Somalia, he believes the west’s tacit approval of Ethiopia’s intervention to counter the rise of the Islamic Courts Union – one of whose militias was al-Shabaab – failed to appreciate the enmity between Somalians and Ethiopians. “It showed an unbelievable lack of knowledge when all anyone had to do was ask the question: how will the neighbours feel?”

The answer to that question has had baleful consequences for Yemen and Somalia. Abdul Ghani al-Aryani, an independent political analyst based in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, is increasingly fearful that the Yemeni state may struggle to survive. “Thousands of Somali refugees have been arriving on Yemen’s coastline,” he said. “It is open to them. No one knows how many are associated with al-Shabaab and al-Qaida, but there is evidence that some of them are. We know too that fighters who were with al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan have returned in recent months to both Somalia and Yemen.”

If there are, as al-Aryani suspects, links between al-Qaida groups and proxies in the two countries, he contends that the mutual destabilisation has been driven in recent years by the Yemeni government – not least from the involvement of powerful figures in the arms trade. The same weapons, it would now appear, that are coming back into Yemen to supply a separatist Shia conflict in the north and a second insurgency tied to al-Qaida-linked tribal leaders in the south. Echoing Dowden’s concerns, al-Aryani is concerned that in a country with strong anti-western feelings, unpopular outside intervention, including US involvement in an airstrike before Christmas, can only inflame the problems.

It is a view endorsed by Roger Middleton, who co-ordinates the Horn of Africa Group at the Chatham House thinktank. Middleton believes that a combination of ignoring endemic problems – as described by prime minister Sharmarke – and ill-considered interventions, have contributed to the dangerous cocktail. “If you look at Somalia, for instance, the lesson to the international community is if you ignore these place you do not know what is going to happen. And a policy of intervention can be dangerous.

“You could argue that the US intervention in the early 1990s fuelled the growth of warlordism and that the Ethiopian intervention fuelled the growth of al-Shabaab.” But if the problems of the Horn and Yemen are marked by their similarities they are also distinguished by crucial differences.

Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, sees a number of common threads, but warns against “lumping” the region’s states together despite the way in which individual agendas appear to collide. “All the players have very different public personas and agendas, although many of them feed each other. Is there a centre? I am not sure.”

One thing most analysts do agree on, is the risk. Ginny Hill, who runs Chatham House’s Yemen Forum, believes future instability in Yemen could expand a lawless zone from northern Kenya, through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, to Saudi Arabia. “People are worried about the transit of Islamist radicals, but the real story is arms. If you can find a way of tackling the arms trade you could improve governance in Yemen and reduce the potential for further conflict in Somalia. It also needs to be recognised that the Gulf of Aden itself is a vector for instability.” The Yemeni coastguards who intercepted dhow 11S2, stuffed with guns, would doubtless agree.

Luck must go

January 5, 2010

Zafar Hilaly

India has also commenced the process of taking on board Kashmiri groups fighting for independence in discussions on the future of Kashmir. These are nascent but welcome steps. Nevertheless, they are not enough. India should restart the composite dialogue process

Even the most foolish must know by now that the greater the turmoil, the higher the casualties, the more intense the indignation, the larger the media coverage, the deeper is the satisfaction that terrorists derive from their actions. And, as happens so often, an unwitting accomplice of the terrorists is their enemy. Today it is America and tomorrow perhaps India too. Only the Israelis have done better than America in antagonising an entire religion, nay civilisation.

Seeking revenge, rather than justice, the US has waged war on Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia and is about to do so in Pakistan and perhaps Yemen. In its search for a handful of terrorists, the US has destroyed countries and caused the death and dislocation of millions. Not content, Washington is preparing to wreak havoc in Pakistan. Harassed and on the run, Al Qaeda terrorists are the quarry, and so is the leadership of the Taliban – an assortment of hitherto defeated, demoralised and unpopular antediluvian fundos that have prospered, gained respect and, to a large extent, become popular as a result of a lethal mix of American folly and Afghan xenophobia.

The misguided crusade begun by the doltish Bush against militant Islam continues under the stewardship of the opportunistic Obama. Soon America may be joined by India. The latter’s fanciful doctrines, such as ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Three Front War’, are reminiscent of Cheney’s ‘One Percent’ and the Petraeus’s ‘Surge’ theories. Spawned in the military classrooms of India’s indolent soldiers, they are being trotted out for airing as lynchpins of Indian military strategy. Presumably, the Indian establishment will indulge these military fantasies if another attack is mounted by terrorists whose provenance is traced to Pakistan. This only provides further incentive to the lashkars and jaishes, which seek to profit from the turmoil, to launch yet another attack on India. Encouraging a war that the enemy craves for is surely the height of folly.

America’s war in Afghanistan is not going well. Robert Taber summed up why America will lose in Afghanistan, “The guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend, too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with.” The same fate awaits an Indian incursion into Pakistan. At best, Pakistan may be destroyed but never defeated. The true war would only begin once the fighting is over. Indian gains on the battlefield will be lost in the blood lust that would ensue as entire religions and populations collide. And this would happen even if a nuclear conflict is avoided.

The US and India would do better to heed to the desire of their respective populations which, in the case of the former, shows a steady erosion of support for the war in Afghanistan and a decisive shift in favour of an American withdrawal and in case of the latter, was revealed by what a recent poll conducted by two media houses of India and Pakistan discovered. Only a tiny minority, 17 percent in India and 8 percent in Pakistan, it discovered, are opposed to the idea of consigning their hostility to the dustbin of history. An overwhelming 66 percent of those polled in India and 72 percent in Pakistan said that they desire a peaceful relationship between the two countries.

These encouraging results were supported by the observations of an eminent Indian doctor holidaying in Indonesia whose contacts with most segments of Indian society are intense. “Indians do not buy their government’s line that the regime in Pakistan or the people were involved in the attack on Mumbai. They favour greater people-to-people contacts and are appalled at what the public in Pakistan were being subjected to at the hands of the terrorists. They genuinely wish that Pakistan is able to tide over the crisis and defeat terrorism. They feel that India must help where it can,” he wrote.

Of course, the next al Qaeda sortie from Pakistan may drown such friendly sentiments, at least that is what the terrorists count on. Manmohan Singh, who has dragged his feet in engaging with Pakistan after Mumbai, may find himself compelled to let the desire for revenge replace reasoned judgment. America too may seize on the additional pressure another Mumbai would exert on Pakistan’s brittle regime to obtain Islamabad’s concurrence for American forces to fan out looking for jihadists in Pakistan. That, of course, would be a recipe for disaster. A Pakistan invaded, weakened, divided and even defeated might bring temporary relief, but eventually permanent ruin to India. There seems no reason for India to play fortune’s fool. India and Pakistan can determine their own fate although time is not on their side.

Following their unsuccessful attempt to blow up Margaret Thatcher and other members of the British Cabinet at a hotel in Britain in 1984, the Irish Republican Army called the police to say, “Today we were unlucky. But remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” The Nigerian student Omer Farooq Abdulmuttallab caught trying to blow up an American airliner over the Atlantic might have said the same thing, and so too other suicide bombers prevented by luck or good intelligence from reaching their targets. But luck, like chance, is a fickle friend. Eventually it runs out.

Manmohan Singh has begun what could prove to be the first step in a long process of the demilitarisation of Kashmir by withdrawing 30,000 Indian forces from Indian Kashmir. Pakistan has reciprocated by transferring an equal number of her forces to the Western border with Afghanistan. Sensibly, India has also commenced the process of taking on board Kashmiri groups fighting for independence in discussions on the future of Kashmir. These are nascent but welcome steps. Nevertheless, they are not enough. India should restart the composite dialogue process, conclude a number of agreements that await signature and begin once again the process of building confidence.

Because how far India and Pakistan are down the path of peace will determine their response to the next terrorist attack. Hopefully, negotiations would have advanced far enough to ensure that they can make their own ‘luck’ and not let the terrorists do so. In fact, the object should be to banish luck as a determining factor in relations. That surely is also the mandate that their respective peoples have given to two democratically elected governments. It is not ordained that the poisonous, clinging ivy of the terrorist should smother and suffocate the tree of peace. “We may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets,” rightly said Karl Popper.

The writer is a former ambassador

Pakistan does not want arms race in the region, says Zardari

January 5, 2010

KARACHI: Pakistan is a peace-loving country that does not want an arms race in the region, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday.

The president made the comments while addressing a passing-out parade of the Pakistan Naval Academy (PNA). However, he said, “Our desire for peace must not be taken as a sign of weakness … our armed forces are ready to meet all challenges … our forces are ready to meet all the challenges and guard [the country] against all external and internal threats”. He also said that the country must remain prepared to face any threat to sovereignty. He said it was “our duty” to fight external and internal enemies disrupting country’s peace and progress. Zardari also said that the Pakistan People’s Party would not disappoint the nation.

He said a strong navy was necessary to meet challenges to maritime security. He said the Pakistan Navy was following a path of self-reliance, and the construction of submarines within the country was a significant step in this context. He also called for the optimum use of the national resources. “The country is facing new challenges to its security … extremism is a big threat to our existence. We need united national commitment to fight and defeat militancy,” he said, adding that the current government had given political ownership to the war on terror.

He said the Pakistan Navy’s participation in the Coalition Maritime Campaign (CMCP) had improved country’s capability to check the smuggling of arms and drugs and human trafficking. He said the campaign had also improved Pakistan’s capacity to fight militancy.

The president urged young naval officers to dedicate themselves to their profession and guard the maritime boundaries of the country. He said he had been pleased to learn that the Pakistan Naval Academy was training cadets from Kazakhistan, Maldives, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan. He said he was particularly pleased to note that women officers were also part of the pass out parade. He said women’s presence at the ceremony reflected the policy of the government to encourage women to play their role in all areas of the national progress. app

New Wars for the New Year?

January 4, 2010

by William Pfaff

While the government of Iran reels under the continuing pressures of a popular uprising, whose character is inexorably changing from protest at a rigged election, contrived by the ambitious and obscurantist Revolutionary Guard, into a challenge to the Islamic government itself, the American-backed campaign for further sanctions on the economy, and inevitably the people, continues, to punish Iran’s resistance to further international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

The Israeli threat of military intervention also has been intensified, despite the public uprising against the Tehran regime and the perfectly real possibilities of a government upheaval that could prove of great and even pacific significance in the country’s relationship with its neighbors, the U.S., and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It should be understood that there are two reasons why Iran’s rivals would wish to attack that country. The first is to destroy a supposed nuclear threat to other countries. The other would be simply to cripple Iran as an industrial economy and major actor in the affairs of the region, as has happened to Iraq.

In this respect, supposedly official documents demonstrating the military nature of the Iranian nuclear program continue to be distributed by unidentified sources. The latest, published in the Times of London on Dec. 14, purports to show that Tehran has worked upon or is working on a “nuclear initiator,” a component in a nuclear weapon. The document is challenged by some independent intelligence sources because of its lack of an identifiable source, implausibility in the document itself, and because of its suspicious dating.

American intelligence officials say that the document “has yet to be authenticated.” Its claimed date, later than November 2007, would be consistent with an effort to undermine the conclusion that Iranian work on nuclear weapons has ceased, which was the finding of the United States intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, which Washington has never repudiated.

If this were not cheer enough for New Year’s Eve 2010, we have news of a new American military intervention into an Arab country of which Americans know next to nothing, the land of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen.

The young son of a prominent Nigerian banker and former official, who studied engineering at the distinguished University College London, seems to have passed by Yemen in the peregrinations that on Christmas Eve took him to Amsterdam and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, which he attempted to blow up. This drew attention to Yemen, where a terrorist group has claimed that he is indeed one of their agents.

This was no surprise to American security specialists, who have had their eye on Yemen for some time, with special forces operators reportedly active in a $70 million plan to train counterterrorism forces, while unofficially assisting in certain operations against this group, which calls itself “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman and other officials visited Yemen in August, and Lieberman declared that “Yemen now becomes one of the centers” of the fight against lawlessness. Gen. David H. Petraeus had been there earlier in the summer.

U.S. officials are quoted by the New York Times as saying that the country could become “al-Qaeda’s next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan,” which suggests that the American “surge” in Afghanistan may soon find a rival claim on American resources from Yemen, a country engaged in regional civil war until 1990.

That year, Arab League mediation culminated in a constitutional agreement between Yemen’s rival republics, the nationalist and Marxist People’s Democratic Republic and the nationalist and Nasserist Yemen Arab Republic, mainly identifiable as representing, respectively, northerners and southerners. Yemen also enjoys the anxious regard of its large and not particularly friendly neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

In the time of the Queen of Sheba, in the first millennium B.C., Yemen was known for its rich and prosperous trade in spices and incense. Today its exportable resources are cotton, salt, gypsum and stone. It had some oil, but this reportedly is running out. There are possibly exploitable natural gas resources. The estimated population is 24 million, with a per capita annual individual income with a purchasing power equivalent to $870.

The reliable Statesman’s Yearbook reports that Yemen possesses an estimated four firearms for every person in its population and is therefore “arguably the world’s most heavily-armed country.” The United States and Israel will be relieved to know that it is a signatory to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Dick Cheney’s lies about President Obama

January 4, 2010

By Eugene Robinson

It’s pathetic to break a New Year’s resolution before we even get to New Year’s Day, but here I go. I had promised myself that I would do a better job of ignoring Dick Cheney’s corrosive and nonsensical outbursts — that I would treat them, more or less, like the pearls of wisdom one hears from homeless people sitting in bus shelters.

But he is a former vice president, which gives him a big stage for his histrionic Rottweiler-in-Winter act. It is never a good idea to let widely disseminated lies and distortions go unchallenged. And the shrill screed that Cheney unloosed Wednesday is so full of outright mendacity that, well, my resolution will have to wait.

In a statement to Politico, Cheney seemed to be trying to provide talking points for opponents of the Obama administration who — incredibly — would exploit the Christmas Day terrorist attack for political gain. Cheney’s broadside opens with a big lie, which he then repeats throughout. It is as if he believes that saying something over and over again, in a loud enough voice, magically makes it so.

“As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war,” Cheney begins.

Flat-out untrue.

The fact is that Obama has said many times that we are at war against terrorists. He said it as a candidate. He said it in his inaugural address: “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” He has said it since.

As Cheney well knows, unless he has lost even the most tenuous grip on reality, Obama’s commitment to warfare as an instrument in the fight against terrorism has won the president nothing but grief from the liberal wing of his party, with more certainly to come. Hasn’t anyone told Cheney that Obama is sharply boosting troop levels in Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid losing a war that the Bush administration started but then practically abandoned?

Cheney knows this. But he goes on to use the big lie — that Obama is “trying to pretend we are not at war” — to bludgeon the administration on a host of specific issues. Here is the one that jumps out at me: The president, Cheney claims, “seems to think that if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war.”

Interesting that Cheney should bring that up, because it now seems clear that the man accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was given training — and probably the bomb itself, which involved plastic explosives sewn into his underwear — by al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. It happens that at least two men who were released from Guantanamo appear to have gone on to play major roles as al-Qaeda lieutenants in Yemen. Who let these dangerous people out of our custody? They were set free by the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The former vice president expresses his anger that the Obama administration is bringing Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to trial in New York. Cheney is also angry that Obama does not use the phrase “war on terror” all the time, the way the Bush administration used to. But Obama just specifies that we’re at war against a network of terrorists, on the sensible theory that it’s impossible to wage war against a tactic.

Toward the end of his two-paragraph statement, Cheney goes completely off the rails and starts fulminating about how Obama is seeking “social transformation — the restructuring of American society.” Somehow, this is supposed to be related to the president’s alleged disavowal of war — which, of course, isn’t real anyway. It makes you wonder whether Cheney is just feeding the fantasies of the paranoid right or has actually joined the tea-party fringe.

I can find reasons to criticize the administration’s response to the Christmas Day attack. Obama and his team were slow off the mark. Their initial statements were weak. Obama shouldn’t have waited three days to speak publicly, and when he did he should have shown some emotion.

But using a terrorist attack to seek political gain? I have a New Year’s resolution to suggest for Cheney: Ahead of your quest for personal vindication, put country first.

Al Qaeda’s Yemen Connection, America and the Global Islamic Jihad

December 31, 2009

The attempt to destroy Northwest Airlines flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day underscores the growing ambition of al Qaeda’s Yemen franchise, which has grown from a largely Yemeni agenda to become a player in the global Islamic jihad in the last year. Since merging with the al Qaeda franchise in Saudi Arabia last January and renaming itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), it has stepped up operations in Yemen itself, struck into Saudi Arabia, and now operates on the global stage. The weak Yemeni government of President Ali Abdallah Salih, which has never fully controlled the country and now faces a host of growing problems, will need significant American support to defeat AQAP.

Al Qaeda has long been active in Yemen, the original homeland of Osama bin Laden’s family, and one of its first major terror attacks was conducted in Aden in 2000, when an al Qaeda cell nearly sank the USS Cole. A year ago, the al Qaeda franchises in Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged after the Saudi branch had been effectively repressed by the Saudi authorities under the leadership of Deputy Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayif. The new AQAP showed its claws last August, when it almost assassinated the prince with a suicide bomber who had passed through at least two airports on the way to his attempt on Nayif.

The same bombmakers who produced that device probably also manufactured the bomb that Omar al Farooq Abdulmutallab used on Flight 253. In claiming credit for the Detroit attack, AQAP highlighted how they had built a bomb that “all the advanced, new machines and technologies and the security boundaries of the world’s airports” had failed to detect. They praised their “mujahedin brothers in the manufacturing sector” for building such a “highly advanced device,” and promised that more such attacks will follow.

Yemen has sought to repress al Qaeda off and on for the last decade, with little success. The Saleh government has other more immediate problems on its plate, in particular a rebellion among Shia Zaydi tribes known as Houthis in the north that has escalated in the last two months with attacks by the rebels into Saudi territory. The southern part of the country, which only merged with the north in 1990 and fought a bitter civil war in 1994 when it tried to break away, is hostile to the Saleh government and is looking for a chance to split off again. The economy is weak and heavily dependent on dwindling oil reserves, and the majority of the 23 million Yemenis are illiterate and poor.

The Obama administration has offered Saleh additional military assistance, and has encouraged the government to strike hard at al Qaeda hideouts in the last few weeks. The attacks have killed some AQAP leaders, but it is unclear exactly how serious a blow these attacks have inflicted on the group as a whole. AQAP has vowed revenge for the strikes, which it blames on an alliance between America, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Saleh government.

AQAP has also provided refuge for the Yemeni-American cleric Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was in contact with U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas on November 5, 2009. In an interview with Al Jazeera released on December 23, Awlaki said he had encouraged Nidal to kill his fellow soldiers because they were preparing to go to Afghanistan and were part of the Zionist-Crusader alliance that al Qaeda says it is fighting. The next day, December 24, Awlaki was reported to be among those killed in a Yemeni-American strike on the AQAP leadership, but that is still unconfirmed. In claiming credit for the Christmas Day airline attack, AQAP also lauded the Fort Hood massacre and urged other American Muslims to emulate Nidal Hassan.

Al Qaeda has always found weak and failing states like Yemen to be its best staging bases and sanctuaries. Along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, Yemen offers an ideal location to operate with little outside interference. The president has been right to focus additional resources on combating AQAP, but the battle has just begun. If the Yemeni state becomes further destabilized, bin Laden’s cadre in the Arabian Peninsula will have more room to operate.

The attack on the Amsterdam-Detroit flight also shows that al Qaeda remains obsessed with striking the American airline industry, a target it has gone after repeatedly since 1999. If AQAP has now been told by the al Qaeda core leadership to take on the job, we can probably assume that other al Qaeda franchises in North Africa, Iraq, Southeast Asia and elsewhere have also been pressed to attack.

Source: Brookings

What to make of the failed terrorist attack

December 31, 2009

Homeland security, intelligence and legal experts share their reactions.


Assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism; chair of the Homeland Security Council from May 2004 to January 2008; partner at law firm Baker Botts

The president has ordered two reviews since the attack attempted against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. While such reviews are necessary to understand why a multibillion-dollar aviation security system failed to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a U.S.-bound flight with explosives, the American people rightly expect more.

This plot appears to trace back to Yemen, a country that is not a new counterterrorism problem. Since the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed, two administrations have pushed Yemen to confront al-Qaeda without sufficient success. It was from Yemen that terrorists brought the guns used to attack our consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2004; our embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, has been attacked at least four times since 2000. Al-Qaeda recently launched from Yemen an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the head of Saudi Arabia’s counterterror police.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have poured money and counterterrorism resources — military, intelligence and law enforcement — into Yemen. But after nearly a decade the American people are understandably fed up. The Obama administration needs to take a clear, tough line with Yemen: Take care of the terrorism problem within your borders so you are no longer a threat to the United States and our allies in the region, or allow the international community to come in and clean it up for you. The time for polite diplomacy is long past.


Former general counsel of the CIA; partner at Arnold & Porter

More than eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks, we are still not able to connect the dots effectively. Stopping dedicated suicide bombers is a difficult task, and it is reassuring that the administration’s surprisingly tepid initial reaction has been replaced with a strong call for action.

Here are a few questions that administration officials, Congress, the airlines and our allies, all of which must be involved in making the necessary fixes, needs to address:

– When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father told U.S. officials that his son had been radicalized and gone to Yemen, did we alert the Yemenis, the British and other relevant countries? Why didn’t we revoke or suspend his visa?

– Did anyone notice that Abdulmutallab paid cash for his plane ticket, in an out-of-the-way location, and was traveling without checked luggage? If not, why not? Did he request a seat that near the plane’s fuel tank?

– What value is the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list with its 550,000 names? How is it used? Do we share all key information with like-minded governments? If Abdulmutallab were put on the TIDE list, should the facts that he paid cash for a ticket and didn’t check luggage automatically move him to the no-fly list or at least a list requiring far more scrutiny (as Israel’s El Al does)?

– The Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, on which I serve, has been pressing for more and better information-sharing for years. Progress has been made, but the failure to identify Abdulmutallab as a threat before the flight means much more must be done. Technology can identify suspicious patterns. Policy changes are needed to support additional information-sharing. Airport security checkpoints also need better equipment to detect explosives. What can be done to make these a higher priority?

We also must adopt a more sophisticated passenger- screening process that focuses on people who are more likely to be terrorists (some may call this profiling, but given the risks it is necessary), and we must foster even closer coordination with like-minded governments. Finally, we must continue to attack the problem at the root, in Yemen and elsewhere, not only with force but also with political, economic and social programs.


Inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2004; head of the Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Program

Given the 24-7 media focus since the attempted attack, security gaps regarding terror watch lists and passenger screening are likely to be closed. Less noticed, and less likely to be addressed, are vulnerabilities in our visa system.

The would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, held a Nigerian passport, which meant he was subjected to the post-Sept. 11 visa process. Had his passport been from Britain, France or another of the 35 countries whose passport holders can travel freely to the United States, Abdulmutallab would not have been interviewed by a U.S. consular officer; had his name checked against various terrorist or criminal databases; or been photographed and fingerprinted so that on his arrival U.S. customs officials could determine whether he is the person to whom the visa was issued.

While not foolproof, these security measures make it harder for terrorists to evade law enforcement, which is why terrorists prize passports from visa-waiver countries (“shoe bomber” Richard Reid held a British passport; Zacarias Moussaoui held a French passport), and why the Obama administration should put a halt to the Bush administration’s penchant for expanding the program to countries as a reward for support of our foreign policy. Once granted, it’s nearly impossible to revoke a country’s visa-waiver status. Revoking waivers would cause a diplomatic uproar just as we are working overtime to win back international support, not to mention the cost and disruption of requiring millions of additional applicants to go through the already underfinanced and overworked visa system. At the least, though, we should stop extending the waiver to additional countries. And the Department of Homeland Security should greatly expand its use of visa-security officers to ensure that the paramount focus is on security, not diplomacy. After Sept. 11, the State Department fought hard to retain the power to issue visas, but Homeland Security visa officers were supposed to be dispatched to missions around the world as an additional security measure. They remain underutilized, primarily due to diplomats’ turf consciousness and the agency’s underappreciation of their potential strategic value.

The visa system should be amended to revoke automatically the visa of anyone later included on a terror watch list, a serious omission in this case, and Homeland Security should add an exit feature to the automated U.S. VISIT entry system so we know whether people are leaving this country when their visas expire. If we learn that someone who has entered this country has terrorist ties, it would be helpful to have some indication of whether he or she is still here.


December 31, 2009


Gordon Duff

When nothing adds up, its time we starting looking at what we know. Our recent terrorist, now dubbed “the crotch bomber” is another dupe. He could have been working for anyone, drugged, brainwashed or simply influenced, maybe by crazy Arabs, maybe by the Mossad, maybe by the CIA. We only know the game is falling apart.

We do know a couple of things. Dad, back in Nigeria, ran the national arms industry (DICON) in partnership with Israel, in particular, the Mossad. He was in daily contact with them. They run everything in Nigeria, from arms production to counter-terrorism. Though Islamic, Muttalab was a close associate of Israel. He has been misrepresented. His “banking” is a cover. Next, what do we know about the two Al Qaeda leaders Bush had released, the ones who planned this?

According to ABC news, the Al Qaeda leaders running the insurgency in Yemen were released from Guantanamo, although two of the highest ranking known terrorist there, without trial.

Guantanamo prisoner #333, Muhamad Attik al-Harbi, and prisoner #372, Said Ali Shari, were sent to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 9, 2007, according to the Defense Department log of detainees who were released from American custody.

Both of the former Guantanamo detainees are described as military commanders and appear on a January, 2009 video along with the man described as the top leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Basir Naser al-Wahishi, formerly Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary.

With all the hoopla about trials in New York, not a word is said when top level terrorists are released to Saudi friends of the Bush family who let them go. We are now fighting these two Bush friends in Yemen. They are running a major insurgency there. We have been using Cruise missiles and our jets to attack their bases in the last weeks.

It is claimed by groups claiming to be Al Qaeda in Yemen that the Detroit attack was in retaliation to US attacks on bases in Yemen run by Al Qaeda leaders released by Bush.

The government of Yemen, as reported in the BBC , says that the Al Qaeda terrorists, led by those released by Bush, are really Israeli agents though they have organized attacks against US targets:
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said the security forces have arrested a group of alleged Islamist militants linked to Israeli intelligence. Mr Saleh did not say what evidence had been found to show the group’s links with Israel, a regional enemy of Yemen. The arrests were connected with an attack on the US embassy in Sanaa last month which killed at least 18 people, official sources were quoted saying.

“A terrorist cell was arrested and will be referred to the judicial authorities for its links with the Israeli intelligence services,” Mr Saleh told a gathering at al-Mukalla University in Hadramawt province. “Details of the trial will be announced later. You will hear about what goes on in the proceedings,” he added.

The 17 September attack was the second to target the US embassy since April. Militants detonated car bombs before firing rockets at the heavily fortified building.

Mr Saleh did not identify the suspects, but official sources were quoted saying it was same cell – led by a militant called Abu al-Ghaith al-Yamani – whose arrest was announced a week after the attack.

With continual reports from Pakistan that India and Israel have been involved in terrorst attacks against US supporters there and the recent reports that the Detroit bomber was assisted by an Indian while boarding in Amsterdam and partially confirmed reports that a second bomber, an Indian, was arrested and taken from the plane in Detroit. MILive broke this story in the US which originated with Reuters:

Reuters reports Dutch military police are investigating claims that an accomplice may have helped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab board Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam on Christmas day without a passport.

Kurt Haskell of Newport, Mich., took to the comments section of this Web site early Saturday to share his story: That he and his wife, Lori, saw a well-dressed man help Abdulmutallab board the flight without a passport under the guise he was a Sudanese refugee. The military police have already said Abdulmutallab did not go through passport control at Schiphol when he arrived from Lagos.

In another interview on Inside Edition, Haskell described what happened:

A passenger has come forward with disturbing new details about the plot to bring down a jet, including the astonishing claim that the accused terrorist was able to board the plane without a passport.

Kurt Haskell showed INSIDE EDITION his boarding pass for Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. The lawyer, who lives outside Detroit, was returning home from an African safari when he says he saw the terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabm, and another man, who he thought was Indian, approach the ticket agent.

“Only the Indian man spoke,” says Haskell, “And what he said was, ‘This man needs to board the plane but he doesn’t have a passport.’ “

“His clothes were like jeans and a t-shirt or something, he looked kind of thin, like a 16-year-old teenager, and the other man, looked like he was 50 years old, looked like he was a wealthy, Indian man. I just couldn’t figure out why they were together,” Haskell tells INSIDE EDITION.

Let’s review what we know thus far:

  • Our terrorist traveled to Yemen to meet with terrorist there
  • The terrorists in Yemen had been in Guantanamo but had been ordered released by the Bush Administration though they were, perhaps the most dangerous detainees held
  • The government of Yemen tells us that Islamic terrorists there have been arrested who have proven ties to Israeli intelligence
  • Our terrorists father, though we are told is a retired “Nigerian banker” actually ran their defense industry in close cooperation with Israeli Intelligence (Mossad)
  • Our terrorist’s visa to the US was never with drawn, though he was on a “terrorist watchlist”
  • Our terrorist, though flying from Nigeria, entered the Netherlands without passing thru customs, something impossible to do without assistance from an intelligence agency
  • Our terrorist was being assisted by a man appearing to be Indian, who claimed our Nigerian terrorist was a Sudanese refugee with no passport (no passport was used entering the EU, something technically impossible)
  • However, Dutch authorities, the same ones who confirmed he entered the country with no passport also confirmed he had a valid US visa, though on a terrorist watch list that is shared with Dutch authorities.

We keep going back to 2007. Why were these terrorists released to Saudi custody? Why did Saudi Arabia release them soon afterward? With the 2nd major terrorist front in the world being Yemen and the terrorist operation there under the control of released Bush detainees, there is reason for suspicion.

Why have all of these facts, though easily verifiable, we have a much stronger case against the Bush Administration or Israel than Al Qaeda, an organization whose leaders are released and allowed to continue terror operations with full Saudi and American help?

When Pakistan comes to us and says that Israel and India are involved in terrorism there and we ignore it, is it because it isn’t credible or because the US government has been involved, as we seem to be involved in Yemen?

Why are we satisfied to take one person into custody, one person who ties to so many irregularities and ask nothing else?

As with 9/11 and so many other seeminly impossible times when so many things go wrong that only great power and the cooperation of many agencies in many countries could make it possible, why do we ask nothing.

We have a major investigation in Nigeria, not only of the father and his connections to Israel but our own embassy and why they left this visa alone when the individual was a known terrorist.

How could this terrorist travel to Yemen to meet with an organization run by former detainees released by Bush and his Saudi friends, former detainees that Yemen claims are working for israel? How could he do this and be allowed to return to Nigeria, a country whose intelligence services are tied to Israel and trained by Israel. They would have known in a second.

How did this terrorist enter the Netherlands without showing a passport? Try it. You will meet lots of Dutch people who will keep you in a small room for hours, days even. It is absolutely impossible.

People are picked up in the EU while in passport control for non-payment of child support. I am being told they can’t find a terrorist?

We haven’t begun to discover how he got past security equipment and screening. It isn’t like he isn’t the highest profile potential terrorist who has entered Nigeria in decades. He is Islamic, young and traveling alone. Ask any young Islamic traveler how many times they have been searched.

Is is on a terrorist watchlist. This is like the “no fly list” on steroids. You aren’t just denied flight, you are put under immediate surveillance.

If he had shown his passport, it would have shown him entering Yemen, a known terrorist training ground. This would have stopped him also.

With the Bush administration releasing terrorist leaders and shepherding them back into their former profession, with our embassy, State Department, Homeland Security and every other organization we spent so many billions of dollars to “coordinate” all failing, is there, just perhaps, a minor sign of conspiracy?

Senior Editor Gordon Duff is a Marine combat veteran and regular contributor on policial and social issues. Published under bilateral arrangements between Opinion Maker and Veterans Today.

Al-Qaida has changed its face and operates from a different base

December 29, 2009

Somalia and Yemen have become the hot spots for jihadist activities and recruitment

Peter Beaumont – The Observer

A few months ago the story about al-Qaida was how, under pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it had largely been unravelled and its operational abilities degraded. Now, after the attempted downing of a US jet bound for Detroit, the same sources – the US and UK intelligence agencies – say not only that al-Qaida is still a dangerous threat, but that it may have managed to export and reconstitute parts of its operations to Somalia and Yemen.

So what, precisely, should we believe? The reality is that there have always been Islamist groups in Africa who have described themselves as being al-Qaida. While some have been more closely associated with the core of Osama bin Laden’s ideology and were involved in early al-Qaida spectaculars in Africa, others have used the name as a cover for criminality.

In the past two years, however, there have been a number of significant changes in Somalia and Yemen that have contributed to the emergence of a more widespread and cohesive jihadi ideology far more closely aligned to al- Qaida’s aims and agendas.

In large part – at least in Somalia – US intervention has been responsible for the radicalisation. When the Islamic Courts Union emerged in Somalia in 2006 and brought a brief period of relative calm to the country it was America that encouraged its toppling. The consequence was a splitting away of a hardline faction of the courts’ militia – known as the Shabaab – who the US defined as al-Qaida allies or proxies and have targeted, including with drones.

The emergence of the Shabaab, which controls large swaths of Somalia, has coincided – if the claims of the US intelligence agencies are to be believed – with events in the “Af-Pak” theatre. Seasoned Arab al-Qaida fighters have been replaced by Central Asians and transferred to Yemen and Somalia under the guidance of its chief of external operations, Saleh al-Somali, who was killed in a drone attack in Waziristan this month.

What has also been well documented in the past few months has been the existence of an active recruitment system targeting young Somalis with US, European and Australian passports to train in camps that have sprung up in Somalia in particular. Twenty, it is believed, travelled from Minneapolis alone. Twenty more from Stockholm are also thought to have attended training camps, along with dozens of young British Somalis. Last spring it emerged that some of the four Australian citizens arrested and charged with planning to attack an army barracks had trained in Somalia.

It is not only in Somalia that it is claimed al-Qaida is reconstituting itself. In Yemen an insurgency in the remote Shabwa region backed by groups claiming loyalty to al-Qaida has provided a second regional centre. It was there, four days ago, that an al-Qaida-supporting group said it had declared war on the US.

Large questions remain. A number of those who have gone back to fight – or be recruited for training – appear to have died fighting, particularly in Somalia. And while more than $1bn a year in remittances goes back to Somalia, suggesting that the Shabaab would not be short of money for operations, it is unclear how well al-Qaida operations in both Yemen and Somalia are organised.

Equally uncertain is the scope of their agenda: whether they are more focused for now on a local, rather than international, jihad. One thing, however, is quite clear. It is that the new al-Qaida has a very different face and a different base. If the threat is as real as suggested by the attempted attack on Northwest Airlines, the West’s security services will be playing catch-up.


December 2, 2009

By Fatima Rizvi

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown donned the mantle of poodlehood when he made the extraordinary claim that the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. This completed his ongoing metamorphosis and it is doubtful that any of his countrymen will be proud of their very own poodle especially when its ownership is across the Atlantic Ocean. Before him his predecessor was seen as the poodle much to the disgust of a Britain that is opposed to the US led war on terror and does not want its youth to die in the mountains of Afghanistan in a futile no-win struggle.

Gordon Brown’s statement was not supported by any facts or any evidence. He was echoing what the US periodically says to deflect domestic opinion from the failure in Afghanistan after billions of US taxpayers’ dollars have gone down the drain. Pakistan can be blamed because it is being paid for access. Public opinion in Pakistan is against the US precisely for what the US says after Pakistan has done more than anybody else. Gordon Brown probably wants some of the negative public opinion—so far Britain has been held in high regard for its restraint and maturity. Pakistanis are rightly outraged by the Brown statement and see it for what it is-a tail wagging gesture for brownie points.

Read Complete Article :

Saudi Arabia goes to war

November 25, 2009

By attacking the Houthi rebels of Yemen, Riyadh is ill-advisedly turning up the heat on the region’s cold war

Mai Yamani

A crucially important conflict, woefully under-reported in the west, has now come to a head in the Middle East. In response to an ongoing fight that could spill out beyond the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia has entered into direct war with the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen.

Saudi military intervention marks the first time in the kingdom’s history that its army has crossed its borders without an ally. Previously, the kingdom engaged only in proxy wars. The Saudis used royalist Yemenis to fight Nasser’s Egypt in the 1960s, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to fight Iran in the 1980s, and the US to fight Iraq in the 1990s.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia has fought every “ism” that has sought to dominate the Middle East, including Nasser’s pan-Arabism, communism, and today’s Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the terrorism of al-Qaida and the Shi’ism of Iran. The tools it relied upon were oil money and Wahhabi Islam. During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia spent more than $75bn on the propagation of Wahhabi doctrine, funding schools, mosques, and charities across the Islamic world in an effort to bolster its influence.

A large share of these resources was reserved for its back garden, Yemen. Thousands of schools were established, covering every city and village in Yemen. Saudi Arabia created in Yemen a strong Wahhabi current that was politically and ideologically loyal to the ruling al-Saud. Indeed, Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, used imported Wahhabism to defeat his domestic opponents – first the communists, then the Houthis – despite being a Zaidi Shia.

But now this policy has backfired, with the Houthis openly rebelling against Wahhabi encroachment on their religious ideology, while themselves encroaching on neighbouring Saudi territory as they fight the government.

After four months of fighting, Saleh’s domestic forces had failed to contain the revolt. So, unable to prosecute the war on his own, Saleh turned a domestic rebellion into a sectarian and security threat to the entire Arabian peninsula, thereby manoeuvring the Saudis – eager from the outset to help Saleh, whom they view as their proxy – into providing military backing.

The Saudis’ justification for intervening is that their national territory is under threat. But that argument is weak, and there is no national support for this war in either country. Rather, Saudi military intervention reflects the kingdom’s wariness toward a hostile Shia region on its southern border, especially given that the same tribes and sects that populate northern Yemen dominate the southern Saudi regions of Jizan and Najran. The Saudi state doubts the loyalty of its own Ismaili and Zaidi populations, whose natural sympathies are suspected to lie with the Houthis.

Southern Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen have thus become a microcosm of the broader civil war playing out in the Muslim world. But Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the conflict has also turned what had been a cold war – a war of position and influence within the region – into a hot war with international repercussions.

The principal conflict is between the Saudis and Iran, which has established powerful political bridgeheads in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza. Saleh played a key role in reinforcing Saudi perceptions of a dangerous Iranian security threat, thereby helping to turn the Houthi rebellion into a geopolitical conflict.

Both the Saudi and Yemeni governments have also claimed that there are strong links between the Houthis and al-Qaida, thereby gaining American support. But the Houthis are not terrorists. Abdul Malik al-Houthi, a leader of the insurgency in Yemen’s Sa’dah region, said this month that the Houthis, who are Zaidi Shia, are ideologically and strategically antithetical to Wahhabi Sunni al-Qaida.

At the same time, al-Qaida has benefited from the conflict, as the chaos on the rugged and mountainous 1,500km border allows it to smuggle arms and fighters into Saudi Arabia in an attempt to destabilise the kingdom. Sunni areas of Yemen – a weak state, if not a failed one – have become a safe haven for al-Qaida.

But the Saudis are unlikely to succeed militarily in Yemen. Yemen’s army of 700,000 could not suppress the Houthi rebellion, despite five attempts since 2004. Now they are leaving Saudi Arabia’s untested army of 200,000 men to do the job for them. And, while the Saudis are currently relying on their air force, a full-scale land battle will have to follow – on the same harsh terrain that helped defeated Nasser’s battle-hardened troops in the 1960s.

The Houthis, for their part, lack aircraft and armoured vehicles, but have tactical advantages owing to their numbers, experience of the terrain, and skilful use of land mines. They also benefit from disciplined training, reminiscent of Hezbollah’s activities in Lebanon.

Saleh has declared that there is no end to this war, but a peaceful solution at this stage would put the Houthis in a stronger position to win their demands, which primarily concern the preservation of culture and identity. For example, the Houthis want a Zaidi university.

Is there a way out? Qatar acted as a mediator last year, and persuaded the Yemeni government to accept a ceasefire. Syria, which enjoys good relations with Yemen, has also offered to mediate. Each of these offers was unacceptable to the Saudi rulers, who fear that submitting the conflict to outside mediation would diminish the kingdom’s regional power. For this reason, Iran’s offer to mediate was seen as the ultimate provocation.

So the war continues, with no immediate possibility of a peaceful solution – and with the policy failure of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention eroding its position in the Arab world. The dilemma for the Saudis is that now the damage will be much greater if they do not crush the Houthis, as this would embolden al-Qaida. This is the biggest threat facing Saudi Arabia, but its rulers’ ill-considered war strategy has only brought that threat closer.

Afghanistan: Dangerous illusions

July 27, 2009

When the truth emerges, it has to be squashed. Lord Malloch-Brown, who is standing down as a Foreign Office minister this week, was forced yesterday to correct an interview he gave to the Daily Telegraph, in which he said British troops did not have enough helicopters. This is what every British general had been telling government for years. But what if there were enough helicopters? What does it say about the control Britain claims to have over Afghan territory eight years on, if the only safe way troops can move around is by air? And what if the cash-rich Taliban got their hands on surface-to-air missiles, as the mujahideen did before them? It would make communications with all forward operating bases vulnerable. Pull on one thread and the carpet unravels.

Now look at the military situation through the enemy’s eyes. Two major thrusts by US and British troops into territory the Taliban once dominated have resulted in record US and Isaf casualties: 31 US troops and 20 Isaf, 18 of them British, have been killed so far this month and many more grievously injured. The Taliban have lost men, but they have an endless supply of recruits. And they would be even less bothered by loss of territory. The battlefield has merely grown. History tells them to be patient. It tells them that they will return to the lands from which they have been ousted. Confronted by large numbers of foreign troops, Taliban commanders could rationally conclude they are weathering the storm. They buy what weapons they need with cash – guns, explosives, and Pashtun villagers to plant them – and their most effective weapon is a low-tech one, the improvised explosive device. Their war effort is eminently sustainable. Ours is not.

It becomes even less so when you examine the blithe assumptions Barack Obama’s commanders are making. Rory Stewart demolished them in the London Review of Books, but others just as knowledgable of the terrain, such as the CIA former station chief in Kabul, have as well. Assumption number one: that coalition forces can build an effective, centralised Afghan state in the space liberated by their troops. Such a state has never existed in recent memory. Assumption number two: that the counter-insurgency tactics that worked in Iraq will work again in Afghanistan. Why so? Afghan tribal chiefs bear little relation to the Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders who turned against al-Qaida. They lack coherence or any political programme. Assumption number three: that south Helmand is the frontline of a global war. The masterminds of the 7 July attacks on London in 2005 were trained in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not Afghanistan. And if every failed state has to be occupied to prevent squatters, is this not a recipe for invading Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere along the conveniently named crescent of crisis?

The empty rhetoric has to stop. State-building from the ramp of a Chinook is a fantasy, a folie de grandeur. The war against militants will not be won by expanding the battle-space. The resolution to this “good war” will not come from Kabul alone, but will be dependent on every neighbouring country with a stake in the conflict. The directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence made a telling point to the New York Times yesterday when it warned that a push by US marines in southern Afghanistan would force militants into Baluchistan. We have to stop thinking of Helmand as the frontline in a war that ends on the streets of London or Manhattan, and start thinking of what the growing conflagration is doing to Afghanistan’s immediate neighbourhood. There are no good options after eight years of warfare, only least worst ones. We should stop pouring more oil on to this fire and start thinking of realistic outcomes. And we should be doing this now.

• This article was amended on 24 July – a reference to a serious criminal case was removed.


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