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September 29, 2006

Negotiating With 'Yapping Dogs' Is Easy

The Center for Security Policy's Alex Alexiev suggests, To stop Iran, twist European arms.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's UN rant against the Great Satan got banner headlines around the world last week. But two smaller news items out of Iran, largely unnoticed, tell us far more about where Iran is heading and how U.S. policies can nudge the belligerent regime in the right direction.

The first report: The Iranian public did not buy a single government bond in the five months prior. The second: The French banking group Societe Generale invested $2.7 billion in Iranian oil and gas development. Taken together, they reveal an Iran that is ripe for positive change - should the Bush administration meet the moment and change its hypocritical policies now.

You see, despite huge windfall oil profits, the Iranian economy is headed for the rocks. Take the oil (90% of exports) away, and Iran is a failed state. Even with it, 40% of the population lives in poverty - and unemployment among the young is 35%. Iran's own ministry reports indicate galloping inflation and severe financial problems that threaten to shut down scores of hospitals and bankrupt critical companies.

No wonder the Iranian people have no more confidence in regime bonds.

Instead, we watch from afar as Javier Solana meets and greets the Iranian 'negotiators,' desperate to emerge the diplomat who 'dicovered a solution,' one which Iran simply will not yield.

Alexiev provides a glimpse into the Iranian psyche beind their 'no compromise' approach to what - for some reason - continues to be called 'negotiations' under such conditions. Alexiev uses Ahmadinejad's own words for the construct.

"Europeans are like yapping dogs, kick them once and they run away," Ahmadinejad opined while also dismissing America as a "superpower made of straw." Discomforting as it is to admit, given the record of European and American policies in the intervening year, his tirades are not completely devoid of sense.


Football, Soccer and Iran

Iran may be experiencing technical difficulties forging ahead in their nuclear enrichment, at least at the pace they desire. Says David Ignatius at the Washington Post...

The problem, according to intelligence officials, is that the centrifuges that are supposed to enrich uranium are overheating. Some are breaking down and must be replaced. As a result, Iran has not ramped up its enrichment effort as quickly as analysts had expected.

This assessment is based on recent conversations with analysts from several Western nations that are watching the Iranian program closely and on an unpublished report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that was completed Aug. 31. To me, it's the equivalent of adding some extra time to the clock in a tense football game. The urgency remains, but there is an opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over.

ahmadinejad2.jpgThis is where Ignatius and I part ways. His sentence should conclude simply, "The urgency remains." Any perceived "opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over" relies upon an assumption that any in the West know precisely when that game will be over. If there is no reliably measurable clock, the only sure approach to preventing a nuclear Iran is to stop convincing each other that we know when the clock strikes zero. Doing so is to rely upon any number of disparate predictions and/or intelligence analyses - which range from months to more than a decade.

Imagine one is seeking to protect his family from neighborhood violence. A gang is expected to be able to brandish high-powered machine guns on your street at some point, with .50 calibers mounted inside the sliding doors of their vans. All concede this will happen, and there are various estimates on when this will become reality, ranging from two weeks to two years. Without knowing, under which presumption do you operate in order to protect your family - whether through direct conflict, negotiation or law enforcement?

When Ignatius - who is certainly not alone in this thinking - says that "there is an opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over" and concludes that "the clock is still ticking," he is not necessarily incorrect, but he employs a rigid American mentality regarding a 'game clock.' Ignatius acknowledges as much when he says, "To me, it's the equivalent of adding some extra time to the clock in a tense football game."

This is a mistake. In American football, there is a known finite clock. When it strikes 0:00, the game is over. We know when this will happen. But Iran and Europe do not employ any such mentality, as can be evidenced by the approach to talks even after the UNSC concrete deadline as stated had passed without adherence.

Iran and Europe employ the 'game clock' - and thus clearly in their approach to 'deadlines'- quite naturally in a soccer sense. When the game clock in soccer reaches the 90:00 mark, the supposed end of the game, it neither stops nor pauses. It continues on beyond for a precise amount of time known only to the referee that has been quietly tabulating how long the clock should be extended for interruptions during regulation play. Eventually and suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, that referee will blow a whistle ending the game, jarring the stadium into surprised acknowledgement that the game is now indeed over.

No one knows when that whistle will blow for Iran. But to approach these unknown 'extended minutes' as if there's still time for maneuver undermines the very sense of urgency required when facing a known consequence in an unknown time.

Complexity of the Japan - China Relationship

Fred Stakelbeck provides a glimpse of the complexity of the relationship between Japan and China as the newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes the reigns. In Sino-Japan relations remain complex, a very good look at the situation that Abe steps into is provided.

The Sino-Japan relationship remains one of the world’s most complex; defined by one-hundred years of mutual hostility and unremitting suspicion.

Adding to the precarious nature of Sino-Japan relations, Tokyo has expressed growing reservations concerning China’s meteoric global rise and the country’s ultimate intentions in “Greater Asia”. In particular, Beijing’s continued military modernization; energy pursuits in the East China Sea and unprecedented economic expansion have gained the attention of Tokyo, forcing the country’s leadership to affix greater urgency to the development of a revised China policy.

In July, Japan’s Defense Agency released its much anticipated annual report. The 429- page report urged China to provide more information to neighboring countries about its growing military buildup, saying China’s navy had become “active” in the region. The Defense Agency report was released at a time when calls have intensified at home for Japan to transform its own military. The country currently spends US$43 billion on defense each year, placing it behind the U.S., Russia, China and Britain. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has pushed hard for the country to revise its pacifist Constitution to address perceived regional threats such as a nuclear-armed North Korea, saying, “It is time to deepen the debate on a constitution for a new era.”

Yet, exemplifying the intricate and complicated nature of the relationship, Fred Stakelbeck later shows that there are positive developments in the Sino-Japan relationship as well, especially in the trade arena.

Despite the continued military posturing, accusations and disagreements, positive signs of an improvement in bilateral relations between the two Asian powers have begun to surface.

In January, Prime Minister Koizumi told the Diet, the country’s legislative body that he planned to move forward with a variety of measures aimed at strengthening relations with both China and South Korea. “While there may be differences in opinion or disputes in certain areas, China and South Korea are very important neighbors,” Koizumi said. Over the past several years, China has become one of Japan’s largest trading partners and the destination for billions of dollars of Japanese foreign direct investment. Bilateral trade between the two countries increased almost 13 percent in 2005 to a record US$189.3 billion, marking the seventh straight year of double-digit growth. During the same period, Japan’s trade deficit with mainland China reached a record US$28.6 billion, offering further proof of the island nation’s voracious appetite for cheap Chinese goods.

Fred's analysis is excellent on its own merits, but brings value added also in the sense that there are security developments abound beyond that which is related to the War on Terror.

Fred Stakelbeck is a good friend to ThreatsWatch and is the Senior Asia Fellow at The Center for Security Policy, where today is also found an interesting article on Hugo Chavez.

September 28, 2006

Outsourcing Intelligence

As DNI Negroponte Orders a Review – Good or Bad?

Today, outsourcing surrounds our lives. You call Dell Computer, you get a techie in India, Pakistan or the Philippines. Just when does outsourcing cross the line?

With all of the attention and controversy surrounding our Intelligence Community and about the conflicting analysis that has occurred, you might be surprised to learn that more than half of the employees at the National Counterterrorism Center are outside contractors (estimated at 17,500, double the level of contractors five years ago). Apparently, the CIA actually wants to go beyond that.

So, it is the analysis piece of the puzzle that is being outsourced. And it appears to be evidenced most dramatically in the President’s daily briefing. From the article, U.S. Intelligence Analysis:

To a degree never before witnessed in American history, many core functions of the U.S. intelligence community are being outsourced to the private sector. Outsourcing has taken place in almost every aspect of intelligence work -- collection, counterintelligence, covert operations –- but nowhere has the recent trend been more dramatic than in the analysis that informs what the President receives on his desk every morning. "The outsourced analysis piece, particularly since 9/11, is a significant portion of the analysis that's done," said John Gannon, a former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence and now head of BAE Systems' Global Analysis Group. "And it's growing."

More on the same subject can be found in the recent L.A. Times article, Spy Agencies Outsourcing to Fill Key Jobs.
Although this situation is good for employees (and the private companies that manage them), some remain uncomfortable with intelligence agencies hiring out sensitive work.

Concerned by the lack of data and direction, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte this year ordered a comprehensive study of the use of contractor, and all sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies have been instructed to turn over records on contractors. "We have to come to some conclusion about what our core intelligence mission is and how many it's going to take to accomplish that mission," said Ronald Sanders, the official charged with reassessing the program. "I wish I could tell you [all this contracting was] by design," he said. "But I think it's been by default."

With intelligence budgets bursting with more than $10 billion a year in extra post-9/11 spending, and with political demands mounting, the government is straining to fill new analyst positions. Contractors command higher salaries than government workers do. Many of the contractors in fact are former IC employees with security clearances who have left military and intelligence community positions to work in the private sector. Many of these former IC professionals simply rotate back into similar jobs, without much of the restrictions and bureaucracy of their former positions.

At CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., senior officials say it is routine for career officers to look around the table during meetings on secret operations and be surrounded by so-called green-badgers — nonagency employees who carry special-colored IDs.

Some of the work being outsourced is extremely sensitive. Abraxas Corp., a private company in McLean, Va., founded by a group of CIA veterans, devises "covers," or false identities, for an elite group of overseas case officers, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the arrangement.

Contractors also are turning up in increasing numbers in clandestine facilities around the world. At the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, as many as three-quarters of those on hand since the Sept. 11 attacks have been contractors. In Baghdad, site of the agency's largest overseas presence, contractors have at times outnumbered full-time CIA employees, according to officials who have held senior positions in the station.

What better source for this capability than former IC people?

The use of outside firms has enabled spy agencies to tap a deep reservoir of talent during a period of unprecedented demand. Many of those hired have been retired case officers and analysts who were eager to contribute to the response to the Sept. 11 attacks and who have more expertise and operational experience than agency insiders. In fact, the CIA has created its own roster of retired case officers — known as the "cadre" — who are eligible to be hired as independent contractors for temporary assignments.

This really isn’t a new occurrence, but what is happening now is that the risks and costs of using contractors to do spy work concerns some IC professionals. At the same time, the profits of the contracting firms are soaring, raising the question of profit motive influencing intelligence tasks.

U.S. intelligence agencies have used contractors for decades. Corporate giants such as Lockheed Martin Corp. have long competed for classified contracts to build spy planes and satellites. Spy services routinely use private companies to handle support functions, such as providing security or building classified computer networks. In fact, two-thirds of the contractors at the counter-terrorism center are information technology workers who manage computer systems. And independent contractors have at times played significant roles in overseas operations, including pilots who flew clandestine supply runs for the CIA in Vietnam.

There has always been “life after” for government workers and military people. Today, it appears clear that cycling back into the “community” in a higher-paying contractor position is more and more the career path of choice. The question that one could ask though, it at what cost?

Meanwhile, new intelligence entities created to fix Sept. 11-related failures — including the intelligence director's office and centers tracking terrorism and weapons proliferation — have created thousands of new positions and cannibalized the ranks of the CIA and other agencies.
In Baghdad, contractors "do everything, especially 'ops' work," a former CIA officer who has served extensively in Iraq said of the operations functions. "They're recruiting [informants], managing the major relationships we have with the military, handling agents in support of frontline combat units. The guys doing that work are contractors. They're not staff officers."

The Enemy Wears No Jersey

Much is still being made about former President Clinton's appearance with Chris Wallace this past weekend. At first glance, one may think Tom Joscelyn is also making political hay on this in his latest titled Warning Signs. But if the reader digests the entire article and successfully reaches his conclusion, something entirely different emerges.

He begins the article quoting former First Lady Hillary Clinton defending her husband saying, "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team." Joscelyn shows otherwise.

The report goes on to list three examples of "information that was shared with senior U.S. Government officials, but was not made available to the American public because of its national security classification." This information was "explicit about the gravity and immediacy of the threat posed by Bin Laden" and included "a classified document" signed by President Clinton in December 1998, which read in part:

"The Intelligence Community has strong indications that Bin Laden intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the United States."

This conclusion was based on numerous threads of evidence. Beginning in 1998 the U.S. intelligence community received regular reporting concerning not only al Qaeda's determination to carry out attacks in the United States but that the terror group also planned to hijack civilian aircraft. Some of the reporting even specifically referenced the World Trade Center.

But this alone is still not the point, as Joscelyn later also notes intelligence reported after President Bush's 2000 election as well as the inherited intelligence above.

The politicization of the conflict deposited at our feet five years ago - in a manner that could not be denied, with 3,000 dead and precious little to bury - continues to hinder this nation's ability to defend itself. Given the nature of the enemy, this defense is necessarily forward-leaning and aggressive in nature.

Yet, considering the current political climate, al-Qaeda would be wise not to attack on American soil. We're doing a fairly adequate job of ripping ourselves apart at the seams without their further input. To that end and within that context, Joscelyn's conclusion is spot on.

That's the real point in all of this. Prior to September 11, 2001, no one in the U.S. Government--Republican or Democrat--did enough to stop the terrorist threat from metastasizing on U.S. soil.

Until Americans outright demand that the Republican and Democrat parties acknowledge that al-Qaeda is the enemy, along with other like-minded Islamists, and not the Democrat or Republican Party, we will slowly cede victory to the Islamist terrorists and the states that support them.


The enemy wears neither a red nor blue jersey. Nor is he particularly fond of symbolic elephants or donkeys. The enemy waves neither a blue nor red banner in November.

The enemy flies the black banner of jihad. Daily.

America, please take note.

September 27, 2006

Bad News For al-Qaeda in Baghdad

In Baghdad, Sunni tribal leaders met with Iraq's Shi'a PM Nuri al-Maliki and pledged their support in cooperation to drive out al-Qaeda. This is a very significant step for Iraq, especially within the context of sectarian violence raging since the bombing of the Shia's Golden Mosque in Samara.

Sattar al-Buzayi, a Sunni sheikh from Anbar province who has emerged in recent weeks as a leader of a tribal alliance against Osama bin Laden's followers, said he and about 15 other sheikhs bq. had offered their cooperation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"We agreed to cooperate," Buzayi told Reuters. "We haven't agreed to anything specific, but we agreed to cooperate."

Maliki's office issued a statement praising the chiefs for their committment to fighting the militants.

"This is admired and respected by all Iraqis. We are fully prepared to back your efforts," the prime minister said.

Also see previous ThreatsWatch coverage on this here:

RapidRecon: Anbar Tribes Take Arms Against Insurgency / al-Qaeda
InBrief: Anbar Sunnis Turn on al-Qaeda

Israel Taught Iran Nuke Model?

Just what is the point of the Reuters article republished by the Washington Post titled Iran seen borrowing nuclear strategy from Israel?

"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, there are elements of resemblance between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s," Avner Cohen, author of a landmark study entitled "Israel and the Bomb," in a telephone interview.

"This is a great irony of history but Iranian policymakers and nuclear technocrats may be strategically mimicking the Israeli model," said Cohen, senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies.

As Cohen sees it, the elements the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs have in common are secrecy, concealment, ambiguity, double talk and denial.

Within the context provided, this appears to be a meaningless study, or at least a meaningless observation. What nation was ever open about their initial development of nuclear weapons? Was the Manhattan Project an open program?

Lets remove the names and restate the key sentence to demonstrate.

As Professor J.Q. Public sees it, the elements the ________ and ________ nuclear programs have in common are secrecy, concealment, ambiguity, double talk and denial.

Insert, if you will, each of the following sets to complete the sentence:

Set A: Iranian, Pakistani
Set B: Iranian, Indian
Set C: Pakistani, Indian
Set D: American, Russian
Set E: Russian, Chinese

The problem is that Iran is the epicenter of International Terrorism as the world's foremost state-sponsor of terrorism. Are we to believe then that if Israel did not have nuclear weapons that Iran would not pursue them out of a sense of fair play?

"If only Israel did not have nuclear weapons" is the concept being furthered by this article and, possibly, the CISS study.

Another dire issue to barely be whispered past the lips of leadership is the fact that Pakistan - a nuclear power - is dangerously close to incrementally falling into the hands of radical Islamists who are or identify with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance.

But that is another story for another day. Today, it's still Israel's fault.

Taliban Relief = Taliban Attacks

I happen to like the Seattle Times a fair bit, but in this instance their editors seem lacking or at minimum behind the knowledge curve for their choice for the following headline to a pretty good recap of events regarding the Taliban in North Waziristan: Truce Deals May Be Helping Taliban Rebels.

The article appears orignially at Newsday (Taliban Truce Raises Doubts) and is worth your read from either source regardless.

Since Pakistan signed a truce in June with the Taliban in its border region of North Waziristan, "we have seen a 300 percent increase" in Taliban attacks in the adjacent Afghan provinces, a U.S. intelligence officer said Tuesday. Most came from Pakistani soil, he said.

This month, Pakistan converted that truce into a long-term pact that Musharraf said bars the Taliban from crossing to fight in Afghanistan. Military analysts in Pakistan and Afghanistan say the deal cannot be enforced and is a surrender to the Taliban. President Bush has defended Musharraf, saying simply, "I believe him."

Again, Pakistan's disengagement has only freed the Taliban-al-Qaeda aliance to increase their attacks in Afghanistan's direction (to the tune of tripling their attacks, no less). And the 2,500 Taliban & al-Qaeda terrorists released were freed on the condition that they not stay in Pakistan. Three guesses where they have headed... (Hint: There are more than three destinations.)

Spinning the CIA

President Bush has now ordered declassified the key judgments of the CIA's 2006 "National Intelligence Estimate" (PDF). The NIE, completed earlier this year, has become the subject in recent days of political spinning which is entirely inappropriate, and not related to a serious analysis of either the NIE or the terrorist threat. A full analysis of the document will have to come, but the issue of Iraq and its place as a "cause celebre" for jihadists has been spun as evidence that the Iraq war was making the terrorist threat worse.

This flawed logic, and ignorance of history, needs to be exposed - whatever the United States is doing most prominently to fight jihadist organizations at any given time will always be the "cause celebre" of global terrorism. Prior to 2003 it was Afghanistan; in the mainstream Arab media, the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was largely presented as a "war on Afghanistan" and often as a "war on Islam." During the 1990s the United States was pressuring Israel to compromise politically with the Palestinians, but nevertheless we supported Israel's right to fight Hamas, Hizballah and other terrorist groups. And as a result, this was the most prominent issue raised by terrorist recruiters. It was common to hear in Arab discourse especially that the United States was waging war against the Palestinians.

This phenomenon is not limited to Muslim societies - in any war, one is always most likely to focus one's propoganda on the most publicly visible actions of one's enemy. This is true of the U.S., it is true of all, and the more effective a military action is at taking the war to the enemy, the more likely it is to be a rallying point. It is entirely logical for those hostile to us to resent such action; it is not logical for us to then cease to take action. The NIE does not say that the Iraq war itself is causing the spread of terrorism, only that it has become a rallying point. Acceptance of the spin we have seen in recent days would logically lead to not being able to take any action against global jihad.

September 26, 2006

Faces of Courage

MSNBC has released the first of what we hope will be many video segments honoring those who've fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first segment is on Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.

To view the segments visit our Faces of Courage section - or click the image of SFC Smith above.

Help us to encourage MSNBC to produce and release more of these by emailing MSNBC at heroes (at) msnbc (dot) com.

September 23, 2006

Stanford, GDP, Hizballah and Marines

Perhaps you have not stumbled upon an article published in the online version of The Stanford Review by Joe Dunn, a young Economics major from Illinois. But perhaps you should. He makes some excellent points about UNSC Resolution 1701, the UN codified ceasefire agreement in place currently in Lebanon. Among them is this:

International sources—the news departments of CNN, ABC, and CBS, et cetera—widely agree that Iran feeds Hezbollah upwards of $250 million in direct funding annually. This may be an overestimation, but the low-end estimate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies places Iranian aid to Hezbollah at a quite considerable $50 million annually. Even according to this most conservative figure, Iran spends, as a fraction of GDP, nearly three times as much arming Hezbollah as the United States spends arming the Marine Corps under the 2005 Navy budget. This astonishing comparison exposes the hopelessness of disarming Hezbollah with a strategy that does not include Iran.

Resolution 1701’s proposal to strengthen the Lebanese Government is a backward approach to controlling the rapid influx of Iranian weaponry through Syria into Lebanon, which the Center for Strategic and International Studies places above 10,000 rockets in 2006. Building the infrastructure necessary to give UN peacekeepers even a slim chance at policing Lebanon’s 233-mile border with Syria would require years, and millions of dollars. It is truly baffling that the UN neglected to challenge Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah. Resolution 1701 is more an appeal to the UN’s hyper-non-confrontationalism than a legitimate strategy for disarming Hezbollah.

Leave it to a Stanford University economics student to link GDP to Iran, Hizballah and the United States Marine Corps. Compellingly.

Not bad, young man. Not bad at all.

Re: bin Laden Death Report Questioned

Steve notes at the end of bin Laden Death Report Questioned that UbL is unlikely to go without medical treatment. He cites his wealth and stature.

Certainly UbL's place at the forefront of the mujahideen would make him a priority candidate for medical treatment. Likewise the number of physicians - such as Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri - who are likely to be close to him would increase his likelihood of receiving medical care.

On the other hand - his wealth has been over stated for years and is now part of his lore and mythology more than reality.

Is he dead? Unlikely.

bin Laden Death Report Questioned

Following a report in a French newspaper that quoted "usually reliable sources" (Saudi Arabian) that Usama bin Laden had died of typhoid fever, France is investigating the bin Laden 'death' leak.

French President Jacques Chirac said on Saturday he would investigate the leak of confidential French defense ministry documents containing a report that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, and stressed the report had been in no way confirmed.

"I was rather surprised to see that a confidential note from the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security) was published and I have asked the minister of Defense to start an investigation immediately and to reach whatever conclusions are necessary," Chirac said.

"Secondly, speaking of the source of the information itself, this information is in no way confirmed."

In fact, reports are beginning to surface that the word of bin Laden's death are an al-Qaeda disinformation operation through Pakistan's ISI after North Waziristan truce with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. (India Daily)

Pakistan has spread the rumor that typhoid killed Osama Bin Laden in August.Report on Osama Bin Laden's death from typhoid is a set up by Pakistan's ISI after truce with Taliban.

Officially Pakistan denies even of hearing any thing like that...

French secret service got the information from their ISI dual agent bases working to protect France from Pakistan based Islamic terrorists.

A senior official in Pakistan's Interior Ministry also said: "We have no information about Osama's death."

The daily L''est Republicain reported that, according to a French secret service report, Saudi Arabia was convinced that bin Laden died of typhoid in Pakistan in late August.

There is likely good reason this sat quietly within French intelligence circles until now. If bin Laden is in Pakistan as suspected, it may be worth considering the typhoid fever occurrence and death rate in the region. A 2005 CDC study reflected fewer than 400 incidences per 100,000 in Pakistan and a death rate of <5. The risk is highest among the poorest with little medical care. Usama bin Laden likely lacks little for health care, given his wealth and stature.

Nasrallah: Words of a Victor, Actions of Defeat

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

While Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah throws his fist in the air at a public rally celebrating a "divine victory," quite another picture of the private psyche of terrorist figurehead emerges.

The Washington Institute's Ehud Yaari speaks surprisingly of Nasrallah’s Malaise [via Pajamas Media], privately dejected and depressed at his lost stature, both personally and with regard to the present and future diminishing strength of Hizballah.

Hassan Nasrallah is showing clear signs of “dejection, melancholy and depression,” according to the editors of the Lebanese daily al-Safir, who are counted among the most steadfast supporters of the leader of Hizballah. Alongside a tiresomely long interview with him, published on September 5, they note that the man radiates a sense of “disappointment and distress.”

It is no trifling matter that Nasrallah, who is always punctilious in demonstrating self-confidence and determination, comes across this way to those visiting him in his hideout. “I myself don’t even know where I am,” he told his interviewers. “They have moved me from one hiding place to another dozens of times.”

...There are already signs that Hizballah has started moving its military equipment from the South toward the Lebanese Biqa [or Bekaa Valley]. In other words, Nasrallah understands that the South has ceased to be “Hizballahstan” and he is conceding the role that he had taken upon himself in the past, to serve as the guardian of Lebanon’s border.

Read all of Yaari's latest. It exposes a telling contrast between the private Nasrallah and the public Nasrallah, who screamed today at a Hizballah rally in Beirut, "No army in the world will be able to make us drop the weapons from our hands!"

More precisely, no army in the world has the political within its civilian leadership to disarm Hizballah. The IDF as a military force is perfectly capable of disarming Hizballah. Yet, the combination of UN-flagged and Lebanese troops have at least the ability to force Hizballah to hide their weapons in the 'tool shed' rather than brandish them on the streets. That Hizballah is heeding this negotiated demand is a sign of weakness when compared to their bellicose militant history.

So, while Nasrallah proclaims a "divine victory" over the Israeli armed forces in the south, Hizballahstan is moving north. These are not the actions of a victor.

September 22, 2006

RE: Rumsfeld - On Systems & The Global Condition

Today, Marvin directed readers to view and hear Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's comments today in response to a sailor's question of who the enemy is and why they are an enemy. [Special thanks to reader Maria for sharing the link with us and others.] Watching the first two-thirds of his response, I kept thinking of Marvin's own Commentary published Thursday regarding the same topic. Though Marvin is too modest to reference his own writing, his thoughts on who the enemy is - and equally important, who is not the enemy - are compelling. For readers who found value in Secretary Rumsfeld's words today, you may likely find value in Marvin's as well in Fighting The Long War.

Perhaps the most compelling part of Secretary Rumsfeld's response came about two-thirds of the way through. If you did not watch the whole 8 minutes the first time, consider revisiting the video and fast-forwarding to about the two-thirds point, beginning where he says, "The idea that the reason there are problems in the world is the United States is balogna. We are not what's wrong with the world."

While that is a powerful statement in itself, it is his explanatory analogy that is perhaps the finest concise example of spoken clarity on the issue of prosperity and poverty in the global condition. He uses North and South Korea, with the same people and the same resources. Yet one starves and the other is the 12th most prosperous economy on the planet. The difference, he points out, is not people or resources, it is the system of a free democratic government and a free and open economy on one hand, and a dictatorial regime and command economy on the other.

If you missed it, be sure to go back and watch.

What About Hamas? "No To Abbas."

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared at the UN Thursday that the potential 'unity government' in the process of being formed would recognize both Israel as a state and existing PLO agreements with Israel, we asked "But What of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Mr. Abbas?" For it appeared that no affirming words had been spoken by Hamas on their own behalf suggesting any recognition of Israel. Abbas' statement unfortunately appeared more idealistic than realistic.

Well today Hamas has spoken. Clearly.

But Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, in a mosque sermon in Gaza City on Friday, said: "I personally will not head any government that recognises Israel."

Earlier, Ahmed Youssef, a senior adviser to Mr Haniya, said there would be no explicit recognition of Israel, but Hamas was prepared to agree to a 10-year truce with the Jewish state.

"The government and the Hamas movement will be against recognising Israel. Our position to solve the crisis is a 10-year truce which will be good for stability and prosperity," he said.

In short, we are back to the non-prospect of 'hudna,' just as it was proposed on the eve of Hamas' electoral victory. ThreatsWatch took a close look at Hamas' January 2006 offer of hudna in The Hamas Hudna Hoodwink.

Al-Zahar refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, claiming that Hamas would decide that issue once they met his demands as set forth. Those demands include “to release our detainees; to stop their aggression; to make geographic link between Gaza Strip and West Bank”.

The substance of the above demands aside, the true insight into the subject offered by Hamas came with the qualifier that followed the demands, as al-Zahar concluded, “at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give us one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that.”

In short, if Israel releases all of its prisoners (not happening, as many are held on direct charges of acts of terrorism), pulls out of the West Bank entirely (including all settlements), ceases all operations (presumably including future operations in reaction to attacks by any other Palestinian-based terror group not recognizing a Hamas hudna), and gives them an additional swath of land from Israel proper in the Negev Desert that links Gaza and the West Bank, then Hamas will think about reconsidering their recognition of Israel.

For those interested, Hamas' 10-year length is not an arbitrary (nor necessarily strategicaly planned) term. From Wikipedia's Hudna entry:

According to Umdat as-Salik, a medieval summary of Shafi'i jurisprudence, hudnas with a non-Muslim enemy should be limited to 10 years: "if Muslims are weak, a truce may be made for ten years if necessary, for the Prophet made a truce with the Quraysh for that long, as is related by Abu Dawud" ('Umdat as-Salik, o9.16).

Iraq: Another Pointless 'Blue-Ribbon' Commission?

I tend not to have a very high opinion of "Blue Ribbon" commissions and similar enterprises involving famous names called in to lend their wisdom on an issue of public controversy. This skepticism was deepened by reading an article in the Washington Post on the Iraq Study Group, a low-profile bipartisan group of very high-profile individuals charged with studying Iraq for a few months to "save" the country ("Called From Diplomatic Reserve: Former Secretary of State Leads Attempt to Salvage Iraq Mission"). Or, as the partisan writer of this news article put it, "Is Jim Baker bailing out the Bushes again?" (And, of course, the subheading was biased; this should have appeared in the opinion section, not the news.)

Yes, the group is co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, and also includes, among others, Sandra Day O'Conner, who knows a bit about the law, Rudy Giuliani, who knows a bit about domestic security issues, and two Clinton officials, attorney and Clinton golf partner Vernon Jordan and former chief-of-staff Leon Panetta. It wouldn't bother me if Panetta headed up a group on budget reform or if Giuliani chaired one on police reform. But none of these individuals knows Arabic, and aside from Baker, none has significant experience in the region. It would be as if a group of eminent Turks were to travel to the United States and began to make recommendations on urban renewal or prison reform although none of them knew English or had significant previous experience with the country.

It does not help that the Post writer chose to use the article to promote the group and its mission. Baker is indeed a skilled diplomat, but Iraq's problems have little to do with diplomacy, and skill in managing differences is of little use if one's underlying substantive ideas are wrong. This point is illustrated by a quote from the article:

"I think he basically wants to call it the way he sees it," said this source, a critic of the administration's approach to Iraq. "He's also been frustrated by the mistakes that have been made. In many ways, it has damaged the legacy he established as secretary of state."

Yet the two areas in which Bush I-Baker established a legacy in the Middle East - Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - have both turned out disastrously. In the former case, the U.S. ended up supporting sanctions which starved much of Iraq's population but didn't starve Saddam's terror network, and in the latter the Oslo Peace Accords and the 1990s "peace process," the primary consequence of which was the arming and empowerment of Palestinian terrorist groups. In 1989 Palestinians were throwing stones, while in 2000 they were firing mortars, and Oslo made the difference. Baker surely listened to "experts" at the State Department and the intelligence community who told him that removing Saddam would bring an Iranian-style state to Iraq and that Yasser Arafat could be trusted. They were wrong on both counts, and much of Bush II foreign policy has been spent correcting the flawed legacy of Bush I.

Baker has said that the group intends to publish its recommendations after the elections in November in order to protect it from partisan influences. He could go a step better and save the taxpayers whatever is being spent to fund this group, and shut it down now.

Rumsfeld via the Pentagon Channel

Secretary Rumsfeld was asked "Who the enemy is, what they want and why they are the enemy?"

His answer is absolutely worth our attention. The Pentagon Channel unfortunately is designed for Microsoft Internet Explorer - so we've added the Secretary's response to our Multimedia section for those who use other browsers - you must still have Windows Media Player installed.

You may view it here.

But What of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Mr. Abbas?

PA President Mahmoud Abbas came to the UN and said Thursday that a Palestinian Unity government will recognize Israel. When we first saw this, we posted a link to the story in our NewsBriefs section and added a note to the NewsBrief rather than an excerpt.

[TW Note: There’s just one thing missing: Hamas’ statement to the same, the other half of ‘Unity’.]

From the original article:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly Thursday that the planned national unity government will recognize Israel.

The Hamas-led Palestinian government that won elections in January has refused to recognize Israel, end violence, and honor past agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads....

"I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority have committed to," he said.

We also intended to revisit the issue here shortly addressing with a little bit more detail the fact that Hamas has not said the same, lest a reader be misled that some sort of major step forward between the Palestians and the Israelis had just ocurred.

But the good Captain has already done precisely that. From Captain's Quarters:

This will be a neat trick. Hamas has repeatedly stated in the last few months that it will not recognize Israel, and since they hold a majority of seats in the Palestinian assembly, Abbas' ability to deliver on this promise appears problematic at best.

One has to assume that Abbas hammered that deal out during the negotiations. If so, then Hamas won't kill him when he returns. However, the rank and file of Hamas may start wondering whether to turn on its own leadership, especially those who have lost relatives foolish enough to conduct suicide-bombing missions. And Hamas is not the only problem. Islamic Jihad has never joined in Palestinian self-government, preferring to remain unsullied by the stench of compromise and negotiation. Other smaller groups with less formal leadership will present Abbas with even more difficulties in enforcing this new policy.

The ThreatsWatch response is quite simply: "Concur"

Just one more observation: Is this 'Unity Government' going to enforce against recalcitrant PIJ, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas members who don't quite feel up to recognizing Israel or PLO agreements?

UPDATE: Question answered: What About Hamas? "No To Abbas."

September 21, 2006

Managed Democracy in Yemen

Yemen had its presidential election yesterday, and the consensus view seems to be that while the ruling party led by President Ali Abdullah Salih pulled some dirty tricks and used its powers of patronage to the full, the elections themselves were relatively free and the election did offer a real choice (Washington Post). In other words, Yemen is a managed democracy. It is a desparately poor country, one of the poorest in the Arab world, with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. It is also a society in which radical Islam has a strong sway, and which al-Qaeda has found inviting. It could use a government committed to development rather than self-enrichment, and while Yemen's government could be worse, it could be a lot better.

Jane Novak, a frequent critique of Salih and the Yemeni government, noted that despite facing many disadvantages, the opposition candidate was allowed to travel around the country and present his views to voters. Managed democracy is better than a police state, and perhaps this partial political opening will help spur reform in other ways.

Careful What You Call A 'Suicide' Bomb

As has been noted elsewhere, it is now comes officially from the Iraqi government. From the USA Today:

Iraqi Interior Ministry says insurgents kidnap people to use in car bomb attacks

Iraqi insurgents are no longer using just volunteers as suicide car bombers but are instead kidnapping drivers, rigging their vehicles with explosives and blowing them up, the Interior Ministry said Thursday.

In what appears to be a new tactic for the insurgency, the ministry said the kidnap victims do not know their cars have been loaded with explosives when they are released.

The ministry issued a statement saying that first "a motorist is kidnapped with his car. They then booby trap the car without the driver knowing. Then the kidnapped driver is released and threatened to take a certain road."

But this is not a 'new tactic' employed by jihadis at all, not even in Iraq. Consider, ironically, an AP report from September 2005.

Mohammed Ali, who claimed to be Saudi-born and appeared to be in his 20s, said he managed to flee after another suicide attacker set off his bomb, killing at least 12 worshippers Friday as they left a mosque in the northern city of Tuz Khormato.

In confession broadcast on state television later that day, Ali told Iraqi interrogators he did not want to bomb the mosque and hoped to go home.

Results from medical tests on Ali were "consistent with his story and characterization of his treatment," Col. Billy J. Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman said Sunday.

Ali said insurgents kidnapped him from a field near his home earlier this month, then drugged and beat him.
[Emphasis Added]

In intelligence circles, it has been a known tactic that when a terrorist cell does not have a willing suicide bomber on-hand, they will kidnap a local to pilot a VBIED. This is not preferred because they are much less reliable than inspired volunteers, as Ali's story clearly displays.

There is always the risk of the kidnapped local's escape before the act. Also, at the point of attack, an inspired volunteer suicide bomber will seek out an alternate target if the primary does not present itself as planned. The local forced-homicide captive, however, will not. It is, after all, his home. This also is quite telling as to why most true and motivated suicide bombers are foreigners.

How Good News Is Bad News

Headlines are important. Many people who do not have the time or interest will read no more of stories than the headline. Far more people read a headline than do the given text. This is why headlines often do not match story content: Because headlines are about message while the story itself is (or should be) about an event or circumstance. This is also one reason editors choose headlines rather than the authoring journalist.

To this end, John Noonan of OPFOR highlights what he calls Agenda Driven Journalism of the Day. Reuters runs a story with the following headline:

U.N. says Iraq deadlier, Italians pull out

For the headline reader, the two naturally seem related. Such as, "al-Qaeda Attacks NYC, Nearly 3,000 Dead." Such styled headlines read as Cause & Effect. And editors know this clearly. Their livelihoods revolve around words and communication.

But Noonan points out rightly that neither of the two issues in the Reuters headline are remotely related.

The Italian mission in southern Iraq has been a real success story, yet the Reuters lead was deliberately calculated make it appear as they are retreating from an unwinnable fight. What the UN says about Iraq is completely irrelevant to the Italian withdrawal, which has been planned for some time now. It has everything to do with the Italians successfully managing the sector, to the point where Iraqi troops can comfortably handle the security load on their own.

To be sure, the ability to read, filter and decipher the various media sources available is a developed skill set akin to learning a second language.

CIA Interrogations Exposed 14 Attack Plots

Hot Air has video up of ABC's Brian Ross discussing his Intelligence sources who claim that, while some of them remain opposed to such practices as waterboarding, this and other methods of interrogation have broken such men as Khaled Sheik Muhammed, the 9-11 mastermind, and prevented at least 14 attacks, including another airliner plot to strike Los Angeles' Library Tower.

Those who oppose CIA (formerly) secret detention centers and selective application of harsh tactics will never know just who is alive today that otherwise would not have been. [Note: I personally do not equate waterboarding with torture. I equate with torture bamboo chutes under fingernails, being strapped to an electrified box spring mattress, being hung by the wrists (tied behind the back), and having toes and fingers smashed with a hammer. None of these we employ.]

Also recently from Brian Ross is this: Musharaff Reveals New Bin Laden Intelligence. However, the 'new intelligence' is more stating the obvious than the sharing of any intelligence.

A Look At Hugo Chavez

A former Venezuela-based foreign correspondent, David Paulin, explains one reason why Hugo Chavez is so virulently anti-American as he sits atop the only OPEC member state in the Western Hemisphere.

Hugo Chavez’s bizarre anti-American rant at the United Nations has got Americans asking, “What makes Chavez tick?”

To understand him, stop thinking of oil-producing Venezuela as a Latin American country. Think of it as a dysfunctional Middle Eastern petro-state. Doing that is the key to understanding Chavez and Venezuela.

Chavez is not alone in his thinking, which can be considered a manifestation of outward hatred diverted from internal failings.

Chavez’s anti-Americanism, moreover, achieves the recognition he never could attain by providing mundane things such as decent public services, crime control, and serious anti-poverty programs. It’s no wonder that Chavez gets along so well with oil-rich Middle Eastern thugs, who also are adept at the blame game, as they accuse Israel, America, or whatever they can come up with to excuse their dysfunction.

No wonder so many Third World delegates in the U.N. applauded Chavez's anti-American rant. They, like Chavez, find it easier to blame America than to accept responsibility for their personal and collective failures.

Yet while Chavez is enjoying his increasing celebrity status abroad, this appears not to be the case at home in Venezuela.

Some may be curious if you still buy your gasoline at Citgo...

September 19, 2006

Thailand's Bloodless Coup

While no formal statements of recognition have been offered to the new Thai leadership, it is increasingly looking as if the bloodless coup, led by General Sonthi Boonyarataglin has succeeded. The Thai military forces behind this move have captured the parliament, taken control of the nations communications apparatus and have stated that the temporary government they are creating will have the backing of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

It has been announced that retired General Surayudh Chulanont will be acting as Prime Minister until the government is returned to the people. No date, as of yet, for those elections has been set. Other reports state that General Sonthi Boonyarataglin will act as Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has canceled his speech for this evening at the United Nations.

Thailand State of Emergency

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in New York at the United Nations, has declared a State of Emergency for Thailand as the members of the Thai military loyal to Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and, reportedly the King, have attempted a coup.

Forces are said to have entered the Prime Ministers offices and have tanks on the streets of Bangkok.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Prime Minister has denied any involvement by the King - "His Majesty is not really involved in politics. We should not bring him into politics." That from an interview on Monday in New York.

More as it becomes available.

Iran's Hormuz 'Oil Weapon' Inert Ordnance

Max Schultz agrees: Iran’s Oil-Weapon Threat Rings Hollow.

The implication is that such actions would set off a depth charge in the international energy economy, so the U.S. and its allies should back down.

Don’t believe it. Certainly Iran’s leaders are unhinged enough to try making good on one of those two promises. Either action would send oil soaring, perhaps well over $100 per barrel. Gasoline would spike too, perhaps to $5 or $6 per gallon. The dirty little secret about Iran’s threats, however, is though they might cause some pain, they wouldn’t cripple our economy. The American economic engine is too strong to be brought to its knees by Iran’s machinations, and the weapon Tehran threatens to wield is not as menacing as they would have us believe.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman noted recently that the United States could weather a hypothetical Iranian oil disruption and foil Tehran’s efforts at nuclear blackmail. The United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve currently holds upward of 700 million barrels. The Bush administration would not hesitate to release oil from the reserve if Iran closed its taps. That’s the sort of leverage we didn’t have during the 1973 energy crisis.

But the chief reason this is not your father’s oil embargo is that the U.S. economy is much less susceptible to being harmed by an oil shock today than it was during the 1970s.

Thanks to Max for ably highlighting why Iran's 'Oil Weapon' would have little effect from this side of the pond's economic perspective. After citing in detail why the American economy would not suffer a mortal blow, he gets to the principle reason, as ThreatsWatch has asserted repeatedly, why Iran's touted 'Oil Weapon' is more akin to inert training ordnance if it involves shutting the Strait of Hormuz or pulling Iranian oil from the international markets.

At the end of the day, the Iranians probably won’t go the route of pulling their oil from the market, which would hurt Iran more than it would us. Iran depends on oil sales for 90 percent of its export revenues and roughly half of its government’s budget. Halting oil sales would be like the incompetent suicide bomber who blows himself up without getting near his target.

Iran is also unlikely to try to stop shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, as it would likely involve military action against its Islamic neighbors and fellow OPEC members (not to mention tankers bearing China’s flag). Iran’s beef is with the West, not with Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

While we do not necessarily share the belief that Iran is terribly concerned about harming Saudi Arabia or Kuwait in the process, Iran remains quite concerned about destroying themselves economically...at least before the apocalyptic nihilists among them seek the final push to "pave the way for the return of the Mehdi (12th Imam)."

Until then, the Iranian 'Oil Weapon' should be recognized as a strategy of maintaining oil prices as high as possible with maximum flow, without which funding for their nuclear sprint evaporates.

September 18, 2006

Talibani: Dear America

The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, thanks Americans.

Dear Americans:

As I am visiting the United States for the second time representing free and democratic Iraq, I felt it my duty to give you an update on what has been achieved in Iraq over the past year and on the challenges that lie ahead.

The first thing I would like to convey is the gratitude of all Iraqis, who are fighting for a democratic government and a civil society, to the Americans. Without your commitment, our struggle against despotism could not have made the progress that we have achieved. No expression of thanks could be enough for those who lost loved ones in Iraq. We feel your pain, we honor your sacrifice and we will never forget you.

To those of you who have family and friends in Iraq today, we say: Your sons and daughters are helping us through a historic transition. We will always remember the enormous sacrifice that America is making for Iraq.

Continue reading...

Pakistan Defending AQ Safe Haven

Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri was defending Pakistan's peace deal with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the Waziristan provinces Sunday.

"I can understand why people are confused, but there's a time when not just brawn but brains are also needed," Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said. "Sometimes what happens is that when you have acts of violence you end up alienating the local population."

Brains. Including, perhaps, sending more than just conscripts into the region to face an enemy with superior motivation and terrain knowledge.

It was a choice. Confronting the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance was deemed less necessary by Musharraf than the conflict in Baluchistan over gas and oil resources and the show of force on the Indian border. Serious considerations to be sure, but there is no escaping that America and the West are left holding the bag.

Precisely who was being alienated by Pakistan's decision to hand over both Waziristan provinces is open to interpretation.

Perhaps the executed 63-year-old man in North Waziristan would challenge Foreign Minister Kasuri as to just who was being alienated. "A note found on the body said the white-bearded man who hails from Ederkhel Tribe of Teshil Mir Ali confessed to spying for Americans during interrogations, and anyone doing such a thing will face the same fate."

It cannot be stressed enough that this is a nuclear power ceding more and more territory to a global terrorist network. The rest of the North West Frontier Province is next on al-Qaeda's list....a stone's throw from Islamabad.

The Tehran Calculus and Procrastination's Reward

If it was missed when it was published Friday, be sure to read and consider The Tehran Calculus by Charles Krauthammer.

The next day, he [President Bush] responded thus (as reported by Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne of National Review) to a question on Iran: "It's very important for the American people to see the president try to solve problems diplomatically before resorting to military force."

"Before" implies that the one follows the other. The signal is unmistakable. An aerial attack on Iran's nuclear facilities lies just beyond the horizon of diplomacy. With the crisis advancing and the moment of truth approaching, it is important to begin looking now with unflinching honesty at the military option.

The costs will be terrible:

Krauthammer goes on to detail the likely high economic, military and diplomatic costs that will likely be incurred, either all collectively or in some combination, as well as the cost of doing nothing. He concludes one of the most salient and brutally honest observations yet, making once again the point made here regularly: There simply are no palatable options left. Procrastination has yielded as much.

Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to America Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeini's ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.

Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the West prepared to wager its cities with their millions of inhabitants on that feeble gamble?

These are the questions. These are the calculations. The decision is no more than a year away.

It will be a decision taken by a single state, likely the United States or Israel.

It took three years for the United Nations to consider the deceptive Iranians' program at the Security Council. It's own concrete deadline has been defied without consequence. Simply put, there will be no action taken by or with the 'international community.'

September 17, 2006

Anbar Tribes Take Arms Against Insurgency / al-Qaeda

A big development in Iraq today as 25 of the 31 al-Anbar tribes have openly declared against al-Qaeda and the insurgency and have commited to fight them and rid their region of their violence.

“We held a meeting earlier and agreed to fight those who call themselves mujahedeen,” Mr. Rishawi said in an interview today. “We believe that there is a conspiracy against our Iraqi people. Those terrorists claimed that they are fighters working on liberating Iraq, but they turned out to be killers. Now all the people are fed up and have turned against them.”

The agreement came on a day when a series of coordinated suicide bombings rocked two of Iraq’s most volatile cities outside the capital.

It is important to note that the sizes and relative power of the tribes in Iraq varies greatly. It is not reported precisely which tribes are among the 25 and which 6 tribes remain in support of al-Qaeda and the insurgency, which is not an insignificant detail. However, that being said, one of the tribes among the 25 is a 'subset' of the largest tribe in Anbar and some numbers were mentioned in the article.

Mr. Rishawi said the 25 tribes counted 30,000 young men armed with assault rifles who were willing to confront and kill the insurgents and criminal gangs that have torn at the fabric of tribal life in Anbar, dividing members by religious sect and driving a wave of violent crime.

“We are in battle with the terrorists who kill Sunnis and Shiites, and we do not respect anyone between us who talks in a sectarian sense,” said Mr. Rishawi, the leader of the Rishawi tribe, a subset of the Dulaimi tribe, the largest in Anbar Province. Half of the Rishawi are Shiite and half are Sunni Arabs, he said.

Mr. Rishawi said the insurgents counted about 1,300 fighters, many of them foreigners and backed by other nations’ foreign intelligence services, though he declined to say which ones. [Emphasis added]

Kirk Sowell has been providing detailed coverage on developments in Iraq and noted this coming shift in early August.

One of the more interesting developments of 2005 was a kind of de facto alliance between the intensely anti-American MSA and the Sadriya. Yet over the past year, the MSA has gradually distanced itself further and further from foreign jihadists such as al-Qaeda and have at the same time come to blame Sadr’s Mahdi Army for both vigilante violence against Sunni militants and atrocities against Sunni civilians.

As reported in the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, MSA member ‘Asam al-Rawi blamed the failure of talks between the MSA and Shia leaders on the fact that militias had come to control some areas of Baghdad, an implicit reference to Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and al-Qaeda others. He then explicitly stated that this was the cause of the “spoiling of the close ties which had existed between the association and the Sadr faction.” Rawi was further quoted as saying that militia factions sought to destroy the reconciliation initiative of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, “calling on the necessity of the Sadr faction to recognize the initiative.” Al-Hayat went on to quote him saying that Maliki’s initiative had not yet succeeded, explicitly blaming the Shia militia.

Kirk will have more details on this news soon in an InBrief, including insight on how it is being reported and additional information provided by local Iraqi Arabic language media outlets.

September 16, 2006

Hayes on SSCI Report

Stephen Hayes asks, How Bad Is the Senate Intelligence Report?

And he answers, taking exception first to the authors' acceptance of Saddam Hussein's claims that America was not considered and enemy of Iraq.

None of this is a secret, as the press coverage attests. But the authors of the Senate report seem determined to write it out of the history. On what basis do the authors claim that Saddam Hussein was "resistant" to cooperation with Islamists? The finding is sourced to "postwar detainee debriefs--including debriefs of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz." Well then, that settles it.

But why take Saddam's word for it? This is, after all, the same man who claims that he is the president of Iraq. Even assuming the man isn't a pathological liar, isn't it the case that detainees interrogated by a government fighting a global war on terror might have an incentive to understate their complicity in global terror?

This appears to have occurred to the report's authors. "The Committee believes that the results of detainee debriefs largely comport with documentary evidence, but the Committee cannot definitively judge the accuracy of statements made by individuals in custody and cannot, in every case, confirm that detainee statements are truthful and accurate."

In fact, it's not clear that the results of the detainee debriefs do, in fact, largely comport with the documentary evidence. What is clear is that where there was a conflict, the committee almost always chose to disregard the documentary evidence in favor of the debriefings, sometimes to comical effect. According to the report, Saddam Hussein was asked whether he might cooperate with al Qaeda because "the enemy of the enemy is my friend." The report dutifully--and uncritically--offers his response. "Saddam answered that the United States was not Iraq's enemy. He claimed that Iraq only opposed U.S. policies."

Really? That's hard to reconcile with these instructions from Saddam Hussein in a 1993 address. "Attack them, our beloved people," Saddam ordered in a speech broadcast on Iraqi television. "You are the glory of our nation. Attack them." Or this editorial: "American and British interests, embassies, and naval ships in the Arab region should be the targets of military operations and commando attacks by Arab political forces," argued Uday Hussein's newspaper Babel on November 15, 1997.

Hayes continues on to dissect the report. Read it all.

Screening Cargo For Nuclear Material - DHS Awards New Contracts

This week, the Department of Homeland Security awarded contracts totaling $1.35 billion to L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., American Science & Engineering Inc. and employee-owned SAIC to screen for radioactive material in hidden cargo

The DHS program is called the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography System, or CAARS, and it is designed to deliver "an advanced imaging system that will automatically detect high density shielding that could be used to hide special nuclear material such as highly enriched uranium or weapons grade plutonium."

Each of the companies will receive $50 million initially to develop prototypes of an advanced imaging system. Once the prototypes have been tested, DHS will determine how the remaining $1.3 billion will be awarded for the production of up to 300 units.

According to Vayl Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office of the Department of Homeland Security:

” It might go to one or to all three companies, depending on the systems and how they might be used. This is where the real carrot is - to successfully complete the development cycle because the real incentive is to get to production.”

The new system is envisioned as a complement to advanced spectroscopic portals, or ASP, which detect and identify unshielded or lightly shielded nuclear materials. In July DHS awarded $1.16 billion worth of ASP contracts to three vendors -- Raytheon, Thermo Electron, and Canberra -- for one base year plus four annual options. The goal for the first year is to develop a fixed radiation detection portal which will become the "standard installation for screening cargo containers and truck traffic."

Officials said it will be more effective than current systems because it can identify high-density shielding - like lead or carbon-based products - used to mask nuclear materials such as uranium or weapons-grade plutonium.

Vayl Oxford said the new system is meant to be deployed along with advanced spectroscopic portals that detect and identify unshielded or lightly shielded nuclear materials. Contracts for the advanced spectroscopic portal system were announced in July, and deployment begins later this year. Oxford said that “that ASP and CAARS will together provide the United States with the ability to detect unshielded and shielded materials without slowing down commerce.”
The awards come as the Senate moves closer to voting on legislation aimed at beefing up security at U.S. ports.
The bill would require major U.S. ports to screen incoming cargo for nuclear materials such as "dirty bombs," devices that combine conventional explosives and radioactive material. The bill, approved 98-0 in a pre-election push on national defense, would increase safeguards on the rail systems that pick up cargo from ports and authorize 1,000 new agents to screen containers coming off ships.

But the legislation does not go as far as some Democrats demanded in requiring inspections for all U.S.-bound cargo before it leaves foreign ports. Almost 11 million containers are shipped annually to the United States.

The plan, which authorizes spending $835 million next year, "works toward a goal of getting to 100% screening" of cargo leaving foreign ports, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., one of the bill's authors.

The Senate bill requires inspections of suspicious high-risk cargo at foreign ports. It also sets up a pilot program to scan for nuclear or "dirty bomb" materials in all U.S.-bound containers at three to-be-determined foreign ports. The trial would help determine if mandatory inspections would bottle up commerce and drive up costs, as Republicans fear.

The key here is the goal of screening 100% of the cargo leaving foreign ports. Often, the argument is raised that the U.S. only screens 5% of the containers entering our ports. That in itself is a hole in security. But ensuring that 100% of the containers are screened when they are loaded and shipped is a separate and equally important component of security. Of course, not discussed is ensuring that containers have not been tampered with during transit.

Further, it is important to note that James Jay Carafano, homeland security fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the Senate plan largely ignores security gaps such as the threat from small boats that could detonate explosives next to larger ships, as happened in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 Americans.

Editorial Comment: There is one other comment to make. This new CAARS contract of $1.35 billion has been awarded to three of the usual suspects SAIC, American Science & Engineering and L-3 Communications. The previous ASP contract went to Raytheon, Thermo Electron, and Canberra. Earlier this week it was announced that AS&E had been awarded $42.4 million contract to deliver 36 mobile X-ray systems for detecting explosives and plastics weapons. The systems are designed to be mounted to a van, and driven by detection targets.

While there is nothing wrong with this, or with the award of the CAARS contract, a question could be asked of why smaller companies with equally viable imaging systems for radiological detection were not considered.

Iran Claims Nuclear Fusion Program

Add to the list of great coming mullah accomplishments: Nuclear Fusion. How hard can it be?

The Atomic Energy Organization official, Mr. Sadat-Hosseini, said in Tehran that his country is "competing with the advanced world" in seeking to produce energy from nuclear fusion.

The statement came as a surprise in the midst of the grave international dispute over Iran's nuclear fuel-enrichment program, which the United States claims is part of a plan to develop nuclear weapons.

Sadat-Hosseini's comment drew immediate media attention, because fusion is a technique used to create the explosion in a hydrogen bomb -- a far more powerful device than the fission atomic bomb.

In comparing fusion with fission, the basic difference is that fission produces energy by splitting the atom. Fusion, on the other hand, fuses atoms together, which give off surplus energy as they combine.

It's as if the Iranians don't know when to stop. Remember the last time they were "competing with the advanced world" with claims of developing a stealth aircraft. You know the one...the one with that big whirling radar-reflecting metal propeller atop a big metal A-frame mount?

Flying Boat
Nuclear fusion. Right. Gotcha.

Division Within Neo-Taliban

A significant portion of a Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty article, Afghanistan: Contradictions Hint At Division Within Neo-Taliban, appears below.

The most recent contradiction between statements of the spokesmen of the Taliban and the website of the "Islamic Emirate" followed the suicide attack that killed Paktiya Governor Hakim Taniwal on September 10. Soon after that attack, Mohammad Hanif told a Peshawar-based news agency Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) that the killing was carried out by a Paktiya resident. He added that he had "no further details" beyond the attacker's name. Similarly, on the day of the Taniwal assassination, the "Islamic Emirate" website posted a report that identified the attacker as a heroic "seeker of knowledge" (mujahed talib al-'ilm) of the Islamic Emirate -- using the term "talib" in its traditional linguistic, not political, meaning.
On September 11, another suicide bomber targeted a number of Afghan security officials attending Taniwal's funeral in neighboring Khost Province, killing six people. The website indicated that a "heroic mujahed of the Islamic Emirate" carried out a "martyrdom-seeking" attack against high-level officers at the funeral.

But speaker Mohammad Hanif, speaking to AIP, expressed "strong condemnation," and said his movement had not committed the attack on the funeral.

The stark contrast could be related to conflicting ideologies within the ranks of the neo-Taliban. But it might also indicate a lack of any centralized command and control of the activities or policies of the far-flung movement.

A majority of neo-Taliban militants and sympathizers might well have viewed the assassination of Governor Taniwal as legitimate. He was a close confidant of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after all. But an attack on the attendees of any funeral service is generally disdain as running counter to Pashtun tribal norms.

A rift arose under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan between many traditional Taliban and elements who identified themselves with Arab Islamists -- namely Al-Qaeda. Allies of the Arab elements eventually gained the upper hand.

But the same ideological split could be resurfacing, if indications are correct of increasing contacts between some neo-Taliban and self-proclaimed "jihadists" operating in Iraq.

The "Islamic Emirate" website refers to the insurgents as "mujahedin" -- the same term being applied to insurgents and terrorists in Iraq. That -- and the existence of an Arabic version of the same website -- could indicate a link between the people behind the website and more radical global Islamists who are not sensitive to Pashtun traditions.

It is interesting that, among other things, a website was created by - apparently - a more al-Qaeda-aligned strand of the Taliban. All seriousness aside, the effectiveness of this communication method may be questioned within Afghanistan if communicating with the masses is the aim. I could be quite wrong, but Afghanistan may be the least internet-connected country on the planet.

Regardless, noting the non-monolithic nature of the Taliban in Afghanistan is worth a few lines of text in RapidRecon.

September 15, 2006

Murdock Takes Aim SSCI Iraq Report

In Connected, Deroy Murdock takes direct aim at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Phase II Report regarding prewar and postwar intelligence on Iraq.

For starters, the report’s sources include “debriefs of multiple detainees including Saddam Hussein and former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.” Both are on trial and could face severe punishment. Their exculpatory remarks should be highly suspect, but appear valid to Senate Intelligence staffers. On page 67, their report paraphrases Hussein’s statement that he eschewed al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism because “the United States was not Iraq’s enemy.” Perhaps he merely was being playful when he fired almost daily at U.S. aircraft patrolling the No-Fly Zone and attempted to assassinate President G .H. W. Bush in 1993. Indeed, on page 68, Aziz offers the FBI Hussein’s response to al Qaeda’s August 7, 1998, bombing of America’s Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies. Hussein “was pleased at the act of terrorism because the U.S. had bombed Iraq during the first Gulf War and tried to kill Saddam. Saddam thought that al Qaeda was an effective organization.”

Read it all.

al-Qaeda/GSPC Alliance Targets Europe

With Al Qaeda's "New" Ally, Tom Joscelyn delivers to the general public an excellent primer on the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Algerian terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). He makes clear that, while most may observe this a 'new' alliance as announced by Zawahiri recently, it most certainly is not.

In 1998 there was a falling out between the core of al Qaeda's leadership and some of the GIA's senior leaders, resulting from the GIAs murder of thousands of Algerian civilians--which in turn had alienated much of the country and jeopardized al Qaeda's chances for establishing an Islamist regime there.

In order to distance themselves from the GIA's unpopular tactics, bin Laden and Zawahiri selected a young GIA emir named Hassan Hattab to establish a new al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria. Thus, the GSPC was born.

Since then, the GSPC has been an especially active al Qaeda affiliate. Acting in concert with al Qaeda affiliates from Morocco and Tunisia, the GSPC's North African terror network provides al Qaeda easy access to the European mainland. In the last two years, several major GSPC plots have been uncovered on European soil, including a plot in Italy that may have aimed to kill as many as 10,000 people.

al-Qaeda support for and partnership with the GSPC and it's group of origin, the GIA, has been known for quite some time. The virulent anti-French nature of the GSPC indicates that al-Qaeda's recent announcement is less that of any new partnership than one of a new European focus. The French are rightly concerned.

See: French Worry Over al-Qaeda/GSPC - Boston Globe

September 14, 2006

Paintball Training for Jihad

Erick Stakelbeck, a good friend to ThreatsWatch and the forming Center for Threat Awareness, has an interesting report airing tonight on CBN, where he is a Terrorism Analyst and Investigative Reporter. At his blog, he previews "Radical Islamists Using Paintball to Train for Jihad?", with its full broadcast version airing on the ABC Family Channel 11pm (Eastern Time)/

So why is CBN News interested in a game that's been called the modern day equivalent of "Tag" or "Hide and Seek?"

Well, since 9/11, several jihadists in the U.S. and Europe have been arrested and charged with using paintball as a form of paramilitary training. One of the London subway bombers--Mohammed Khan--was an avid paintball player. Likewise, 17 Toronto Muslims charged this summer with plotting terrorist attacks in Canada used paintball to train. Another Canadian Muslim charged with planning terrorist attacks, Mohammed Khawaja, also played paintball.

Here in the U.S., two Georgia Muslims charged earlier this year with plotting attacks against U.S. targets played as well. The most notorious case, however, occurred in the Washington, D.C. area. A group of 11 American Muslims there have been convicted for plotting to wage jihad against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Indian troops in Kashmir. They trained by playing paintball in the northern Virginia countryside. One of the men told a grand jury he considered paintball "a form of jihad."

Like Erick, we direct readers to consider the following article which appeared in the September 10 edition of the UK's Times Online:

But the men who pursued each other last Sunday morning through the wooded grounds of Delta Force’s paintballing park near Congleton, Cheshire, had little in common with the stag parties and company teams nearby.

Instead of listening to corporate pep talks between sessions, the young Asian men were instructed by an imam dressed in fatigues on the need to unite Muslims worldwide in an international empire.

One senior member of the group, who is a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), which Tony Blair has proposed should be banned, insisted that devout Muslims should refuse to vote in British elections.

Be sure to see Erick Stakelbeck's report. He's been investigating for some time and it is certain to be informative.

Embassy Attack in Syria Debated

Almost immediately after the attack occurred, the finger pointing began. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood claimed that Assad's usual suspects were behind the attack while some within the Syrian regime suggested that America herself was behind the attacks. Interestingly, few give much credence to the independent capabilities of Jund al-Sham, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group - once led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - that claimed responsibility.

Sami Moubayed writes in the Asia Times' "Syria, US shrouded in the fog of war":

One would be on safe ground to dismiss the theory of a US plot out of hand. Baynouni's accusation of Syrian complicity, though, bears closer scrutiny.

Baynouni points out that the Rawda district is a heavily guarded neighborhood because it borders the Presidential Palace and the homes of high-level officials in the Ba'ath regime, in addition to several foreign embassies. It would be very difficult for armed terrorists to penetrate a security zone like Rawda, he said, had they not been helped by Syrian security. This argument, popular among some in the Syrian opposition, is difficult to believe for a variety of reasons.

Terrorists can, and have, previously infiltrated heavily guarded compounds not only in Syria but all over the world. In Syria, during the heyday of tight security in the 1970s and 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood carried out a series of armed attacks in similar heavily guarded neighborhoods of Damascus, assassinating prominent members of the Ba'athist regime. The most famous Brotherhood attack was on army headquarters in Omayyad Square in central Damascus, and another on the Azbakiyye neighborhood, both conducted in the 1980s.

On the other hand, is it not possible that the Syrian faction of Jund al-Sham is so heavily infiltrated by Syrian intelligence that the Syrian infiltrator(s) know of planned attacks - if not plan and/or even approve them - alerting Syrian intelligence long before hand?

Following this scenario for sake of discussion, it is illogical to believe that the four gunmen/car bombers knew they were playing on a Syrian Intel stage, only to be killed by a waiting Syrian security team before they had even infiltrated their target. To them, in such a scenario, the attack was real.

While stopping short of being convinced of Syrian regime complicity, said one counterterrorism official in a phone conversation Wednesday, "I would challenge anyone to find a successful Jund al-Sham attack."

Indeed, in 2005 a Jund al-Sham bomb placed under the car of a Lebanese pro-Hariri journalist, Ali Tu'mah, failed to kill or injure its target or anyone else.

Outside Syrian control, a Jund al-Sham attack earlier that year in Doha, Qatar, netted 16 injuries, but the only fatality was that of the Jund al-Sham suicide car bomber as he rammed his weapon into a Doha theater.

Pondering whether or not Syrian intelligence was behind the US embassy attack in Damamscus for the purpose of international consumption is pure speculation, to be sure.

But there is much to be said for the credence the idea is lent by Syria's own sponsorship of terrorism.

September 13, 2006

Musharraf, Tight Ropes and Consequence

There is a growing dark cloud over Pakistan - and the stakes are high. Very high. The Taliban and al-Qaeda have soundly defeated the Pakistani army in both South and North Waziristan...with their eye (and arms) trained on the North West Frontier Province. A significant portion of the professional elements of the Pakistani military are currently engaged in intense and bloody fighting in the Baluchistan Province. (Note: If ever there was a 'War for Oil,' look not towards Iraq but into Baluchistan.)

Much of the rest of Pakistan's professional military (as opposed to conscripts) is along the Indian border. So while the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance seeks the North West Frontier Province (and with it the major city of Peshawar), it is surely not their end game.

It is important to appreciate and understand events in Pakistan because it is a nuclear power currently losing battles with and ceding territory to the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance.

From India's Observer comes an interesting commentary that also serves as a fairly good two-minute primer (within the book-ended context of the Baluchistan War) on Pervez Musharraf's rise to power and, quite possibly, his fall. Concluding what serves as Musharraf One-Sheet, Balbir K. Punj's Pakistan’s trouble with Baluchistan concludes with realistic observation.

With two failed assassination attempts reminding General Musharraf that he is skating on thin ice, the expected revolt in Baluchistan could become the last straw that could fell his regime, which needs to get a new vote in 2007. He is accused of being too close to the American regime, which is the current demon in Pakistan, especially of the mullahs and maulavis who are behind the terror machines exercising daily in that country.

The General himself has been patronising the terror machine. However, following 9/11, the Americans twisted his arms and forced him to change sides, beginning with the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. So the political environment is full of cries of “betrayal” against the General Musharraf. The army’s own loyalty to him is of suspect. The last two assassination attempts at him revealed the hidden linkages between the army and the terror groups.

There is little doubt that Musharraf is doing a tight rope-walk. He is under tremendous pressure from the global community to come down hard on the terror network. His domestic compulsions force him to take an opposite line. How long Musharraf can manage this balancing act is anybody’s guess. The fate of both—Pakistan and its current President—hangs in balance.

As do Pakistan's nuclear weapons as al-Qaeda presses evermore toward Islamabad with patience and persistence.

No Iranian Oil Weapon?

Iran's Oil Minister, Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh, declared today that Iran would 'never' use oil as an economic weapon. "OPEC and Iran are committed to ensuring oil supplies," he said.

Iran's oil minister on Wednesday denounced suggestions that his country might use oil as an economic weapon as "baseless," reaffirming Teheran's commitment to supplying crude markets despite its standoff with the West over its suspect nuclear program.

Oh really? Someone please tell Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ari Larijani, who said of the prospect of sanctions, "Do not force us to do something that will make people shiver in the cold."

The fact of the matter is that for Iran to cut off oil supplies - by either cutting/curtailing export or shutting the Strait of Hormuz - would be far more injurious to themselves than any sanctions leveled by the UN Security Council or an American 'Coalition of the Willing.'

So don't read Hamaneh's declaration of being "committed" as generous or benevolent Iranian concern for global economies. It's basic economics. The day Hormuz gets blocked is the day Iran begins to choke on their own bankruptcy....far sooner than any 'Western' nations.

September 11, 2006

Justice in Waziristan

It only took days for the Taliban to freely assert itself in North Waziristan, unbound by the menace that Musharraf's Pakistani army presented. Taliban Justice has been meted out upon a 63-year-old man.

However, only five days after the accord was signed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, the security forces found the bullet-riddled body of 63-year-old Rahim Jan near a Preaching Centre on the outskirts of Miranshah. A note found on the body said the white-bearded man who hails from Ederkhel Tribe of Teshil Mir Ali confessed to spying for Americans during interrogations, and anyone doing such a thing will face the same fate.

The note did not specify when Rahim Jan had been captured by the militants. The letter further claimed that a CD carrying images of the man confessing that he was an American spy would be released in a few days. This is the first target killing in North Waziristan since the government and militants struck a peace deal on Tuesday. Under the deal, local militants or Taliban had agreed to stop target killings in the tribal area.

Truly no surprise, sadly.

And while the headline to the story reads "Pak deal with Taliban in jeopardy," this is certainly an exaggeration. Don't expect Musharraf to drive his army into the heart of Waziristan over the corpse of a 63-year-old man (or several dozen of them for that matter), regardless the nature of the death.

Simply put, expect it when he fears those opposed to al-Qaeda and the Taliban more than he fears the Taliban and al-Qaeda themselves. It really is that simple.

Hikmatyar Arrested in Afghanistan

Five years to the day after the al-Qaeda attacks in America, the man who invited Usama bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996 has been captured. Afghan and Coalition troops acted on intel that Gulbuddin Hikmatyar was in his compound and the Hizb-i-Islami commander and al-Qaeda ally was arrested in eastern Afghanistan today, reports are beginning to show.

The commander of the Hizb-i-Islami militia in Hafezan in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, was arrested after credible intelligence led Afghan and coalition forces to his compound, the statement said.

No shots were fired and there were no injuries reported.

Hikmatyar, the former prime minister of Afghanistan, announced jihad or holy war against what he called the US invasion of Afghanistan four and half years ago and the joint opposition of the Afghan government by Taliban and al-Qaeda in the fight against coalition forces.

Said Donald Rumsfeld of Usama bin Laden five years ago, "If you're chasing the chicken around the chicken yard and you don't have him yet and the question is, 'how close are you?' the answer is, 'it's tough to characterize because there's lots of zigs and zags.'"

If this proves accurate, one of the chickens just got snared zigging when he should have been zagging...and somewhere in Afghanistan, someone just may be $5 million richer.

This is a potentially huge development in the Afghanistan theater, possibly taking Hizb-I-Islami out of the fight.

September 10, 2006

AQ-Iraq Radio Discussion

Tom Joscelyn will be appearing today on 97.1 FM Talk at 4:15 EDT, speaking about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. (Listen live here.)

In July 2005, Tom Joscelyn and Steve Hayes wrote The Mother of All Connections, which should be of interest to readers and is worth revisiting.

There could hardly be a clearer case--of the ongoing revelations and the ongoing denial--than in the 13 points below, reproduced verbatim from a "Summary of Evidence" prepared by the U.S. government in November 2004. This unclassified document was released by the Pentagon in late March 2005. It details the case for designating an Iraqi member of al Qaeda, currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an "enemy combatant."

1. From 1987 to 1989, the detainee served as an infantryman in the Iraqi Army and received training on the mortar and rocket propelled grenades.
2. A Taliban recruiter in Baghdad convinced the detainee to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban in 1994.
3. The detainee admitted he was a member of the Taliban.
4. The detainee pledged allegiance to the supreme leader of the Taliban to help them take over all of Afghanistan.
5. The Taliban issued the detainee a Kalishnikov rifle in November 2000.
6. The detainee worked in a Taliban ammo and arms storage arsenal in Mazar-Es-Sharif organizing weapons and ammunition.
7. The detainee willingly associated with al Qaida members.
8. The detainee was a member of al Qaida.
9. An assistant to Usama Bin Ladin paid the detainee on three separate occasions between 1995 and 1997.
10. The detainee stayed at the al Farouq camp in Darwanta, Afghanistan, where he received 1,000 Rupees to continue his travels.
11. From 1997 to 1998, the detainee acted as a trusted agent for Usama Bin Ladin, executing three separate reconnaissance missions for the al Qaeda leader in Oman, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
12. In August 1998, the detainee traveled to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the Pakistan, United States and British embassies with chemical mortars.
13. Detainee was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Khudzar, Pakistan, in July 2002.
[Emphasis Added]

Europe and Immigration

Americans frustrated with their own immigration problems might find little comfort in knowing that it could be much worse, but it could be. The issue is highlighted by two recent reports by Reuters; one on the arrival of nearly 1,000 illegal immigrants to the Spanish Canary Islands in a single day, and another on a call by Libyan dictator Mu'amar Qadafi for European countries to pay African countries to help with the repatriation of illegal immigrants. France, Spain and Italy especially have been complaining for years, and with increased urgency lately, of African countries doing nothing to stem the tide. Qadafi's response, then, was simple - let's talk about a price.

There are two aspects to the problem. One, in the U.S., illegal immigration brings benefits as well as costs. There are the problems of greater social fragmentation and crime, but many illegals hold productive jobs and even pay taxes. In Europe, by contrast, it is almost entirely negative, for there are no jobs to be filled and unemployment is high among both native-born citizens and legal immigrants. Whereas most immigrants come to America from a different branch of Western civilization, and so are more easily assimilated, most immigrants to continental Europe are from Africa, and they will populate communities in France, Spain and elsewhere in which there is no work, no future and no avenue for advancement.

African nurses may make Britain's national health service run, but they are the exception.

Two, whereas in the United States there are concerns about individual Muslim immigrants working with terrorist groups, in several European countries - especially France and the Low Countries - there are entire communities which have become bases for radical Islam, and in which there are calls for the establishment of Islamic law. There are many "no-go" communities (for the police) in which women are threatened into wearing the veil and shops which are "unislamic" are threatened with violence, like in a town controlled by Hamas or the Taliban. Sweden recently was scandalized when the female leader of a political party - an integrated immigrant of Kurdish origin - said she had to move out of a suburb of Stockholm because of the crime and Islamist radicals. This problem will grow.

(For a primer on radical Islamism in Europe, see Claire Berlinski's Menace in Europe or Lorenzo Vidino's Al-Qaeda in Europe.)

In an op-ed this week to the French newspaper Le Figaro, Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the European Commission, discussed some of these issues, including the recent influx into the Canaries. He argued for more severe punishments for employers who hire illegals, more opening for legal immigrants, and the need to promote economic growth in Africa. This is all good, but absent any real progress toward opening European economies, there will not be opening for immigrants when even natives can't find jobs. And since illegals come without papers and refuse to admit to their country of origin, officials don't know where to send them back to. Something more imaginative will be required.

Re: Farewelly to an Ally?

As Steve noted below, the United States - and all the free world - will soon be saying goodbye to Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair. Yet it seems that he will not likely get his "farewell tour" because so many people are trying to push him out. Furthermore, the ruling Labour Party is in meltdown mode as presumed prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown has taken an incredible bruising of late. Brown's standing has slumped moderately over time with Britain's economy, but the infighting of the past couple of weeks has done him the most damage.

Reading about this in the British press fits the old cliche about onlookers to a train wreck; it is really awful, but you don't see something like this very often, so you look in amazement anyway. Here are a few stories on recent developments in this bizarre political saga:

Daily Telegraph - Psychologically Floored

Daily Telegraph - Whose in Charge? Not Tony, not Gordon.

The Guardian - Countdown to Meltdown

The Guardian - Cabinet Turns on Brown in Search of 'Alternate PM'

Daily Telegraph - Give me a Contest, Not a Coronation, says Brown

It is of course possible that the opposition Conservatives will win the next parliamentary election and maintain the alliance, as polls now show them several points ahead of Labour. But there are three caveats here. One, their new leader, David Cameron, is doing well as opposition leader, but he is untried as of yet and may be more style than substance. Two, the Tories have actually flirted with the anti-Americanism of the chattering classes at times in recent years, and have not been as stalwart as Blair on issues relating to the global war. Three, they might not win. The districts are currently drawn so that Tory votes get concentrated in rural districts, so they have to have a higher percentage of the vote to get the same number of seats. Also, Tories have been subject to years to "strategic voting" by Liberal Democrats and Labour, although that might be coming to an end. And the fact that the Tories always take a drubbing in Scotland, Wales and North Ireland means that they must not merely win a plurality England (as they did last time and lost nationally by a wide margin), but they must win in England commandingly.

Well worth paying attention to, but this is not a pretty sight for those Americans who feel strongly about our bond with Britain.

September 8, 2006

All Talk, No Sanctions

In the event any were still wondering why Iran continues to press for talks.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said that no UN sanctions will be imposed on Iran as long as talks continue on Tehran's controversial nuclear program...

"I can tell you that there will be no movement in New York (towards sanctions) as long as meetings with Mr Larijani continue," Mr Solana said... "Saturday's meeting will enable us to see if we can prepare the groundwork" for Monday's talks.

After over three years of deception (and talks, of course), not to mention the passing of a UN Security Council 'deadline,' we have progressed to the point to where we 'can prepare the groundwork' for talks?

Iran is winning. And it's not so much that they are brilliant strategists, but rather that Europe and America lack the fortitude to match the Iranian resolve. Not even for sanctions made possible by the Security Council's own resolution and defied deadline. Not exactly rocket science, ladies and gentlemen.

Perhaps next month we can invite the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini to also engage in a US speaking tour and advise the American public on a more proper foreign policy course. I am quite certain that operators are waiting now at the Foggy Bottom Visa desk.

September 7, 2006

Video of 9-11 Hijackers and bin Laden Aired

With little additional info as yet, as reported by FOX News, al-Jazeera has aired a video tape of bin Laden, Mohammed Atef and Ramzi Binalshibh greeting several of the 9-11 hijackers at unknown time before their attacks.

The video showed bin Laden sitting with his former lieutenant Mohammed Atef and Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspected planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.

Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001. Binalshibh was captured four years ago in Pakistan and is currently in U.S. custody, and this week U.S. President George W. Bush announced plans to put him on military trial.

In the video, Bin Laden was wearing a dark robe and white head gear walking outdoors in a mountainous area. He smiled as he received several of what the tape said was several of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The al-Jazeera website has a brief article describing the tape, but as yet no apparent on-line copy. A paraphrased translation of a portion of the al-Jazeera web article headlined "Tape shows al-Qaeda leaders planning the September 11 attacks":

On the anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001 al-Jazeera has received a copy of the tape showing al-Qaeda planning the attacks, specifically showing Ramzi bin al-Shibh in a meeting with the leader of al-Qaeda - Usama bin Laden - during preparations for the attack.

Engage Syria At Your Own Peril

A column by the opinion editor of Lebanon's The Daily Star takes aim at calls from outside Lebanon to 'open a window to Syria.' The entire column is excellent, though we will cut directly to the conclusion.

But perhaps the best reason to keep isolating Syria is Lebanon. Assad's deepest desire is to re-establish Syrian hegemony over the country. One reason for this, aside from Lebanon's ability to again grant Syria regional relevance, is the United Nations' investigation of Hariri's assassination.

All the signs are that Syria will be accused of the crime, which could bring down the Assad regime. By dominating Lebanon, the Syrian president could stifle the investigation, which relies heavily on Lebanese judicial cooperation.

More generally, Assad would exploit any Western opening in order to seize power in Lebanon through his Lebanese allies, against the majority that forced a Syrian withdrawal last year. If this were to succeed, who would be the Praetorian Guard of that new order? Hizbullah. The party could, thus, preserve its autonomy, marginalize its domestic adversaries, and thrive under Syria's sympathetic eye. This factor alone explains why Syria would never accept to diminish Hizbullah's power. As Syria plots a return to Lebanon, it has no intention of harming its main ally in that venture.

This is no time to engage Syria. If anything, it is time to warn Syria that, because it sits at the nexus point of regional instability - in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and even Jordan - it had better alter its behavior, or the US may seriously think about ways of finding an alternative to Assad. This need not be done by war, of course. Yet unless the Bush administration finds credible means to force "behavior change instead of regime change" in Damascus, it might soon find that war is inevitable.

September 6, 2006

Counter-RPG Weapons System Rejected By Army

Ask any soldier on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan today and he will tell you that one of the most prevalent threats they face daily is that of RPG’s and shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons. The Israelis will surely attest to the same following operations in Lebanon against Hizballah.

Israel has developed a system (Trophy) by their defense firm RAFAEL, and Trophy has been picked up by General Dynamics for further development.

Consider a report by Lisa Myers for MSNBC: Army shuns system to combat RPGs, sent in by ThreatsWatch reader Charlie.

Trophy works by scanning all directions and automatically detecting when an RPG is launched. The system then fires an interceptor — traveling hundreds of miles a minute — that destroys the RPG safely away from the vehicle.

The Israeli military, which recently lost a number of tanks and troops to RPGs, is rushing to deploy the system.

For what it’s worth, if you appreciate that report, then consider this from Defense Tech...from back in May.

To see the tests performed, see RAFAEL's original video presentation on Trophy.

Essentially, a system that has been given a “7 or 8 rating” out of a possible 9 for readiness and effectiveness sits on the shelf un-deployed. While the MSNBC article suggests that there are primarily political and competing contractor interests dominating the decision (there most assuredly is at least a fair amount of that), perhaps other concerns are at play.

The question, considering a US$300-400k price-tag each, is more its weaknesses than its strengths. How can it be defeated?

A commenter at Defense Tech suggested simply getting inside the 10meter minimum range of Trophy.

However, while the system was tested against multiple rockets launched, one was fired as an intentional miss to test the system’s ability to discriminate threatening and non-threatening targets (which it did successfully).

But at what rate of rapid-fire succession would two (or more) RPG’s be able to defeat the system’s ability to reload?

Also, what if anything would need to be sacrificed/modified on existing equipment to make room for the Trophy system?

These appear to be addressable issues in one manner or another, in any event, and appear to the open-source naked eye to be far less problematic than waiting until 2011 for the expected RPG/missile defense system to be fielded by the Pentagon’s already-contracted developer.

Consider the following from the cited MSNBC article:

That timeline has Trophy’s supporters in the Pentagon up in arms. As one senior official put it, “We don’t really have a problem if the Army thinks it has a long-term solution with Raytheon. But what are our troops in the field supposed to do for the next five or six years?”

ThreatsWatch readers with additional input, observations or commentary are invited to continue the conversation in the Comments section in the right hand column.

September 5, 2006

Farewell To An Ally?

Daniel Freedman notes a 'leaked memo' that portends a 'farewell tour' next year for America's strongest ally in the War on Terror. As commentors note in the post, his domestic policies come under sharp criticism in Britain, an aspect of his political existance that goes largely unnoticed in the United States.

However, whoever fills his shoes will likely be nowhere near the reliable partner in the War on Terror that Tony Blair has been. Not even close.

Bomb Finds Another Hariri Investigator in Lebanon

(Updated) Just south of Beirut, Lebanon, Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehadeh's two-car motorcade was struck by a remote controlled bomb, killing four of his aides and bodyguards while leaving Shehadeh seriously wounded, but alive.

Four Lebanese security officers died and four others were injured in an attack south of Beirut on an investigator who was involved in the inquiry into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, police said.

Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehadeh, the officer targeted in today's attack, suffered minor injuries to his legs, a police official, who declined to be identified, said in a phone interview from Beirut. Some of the injured are in critical condition, he said. A bomb blew up as their two jeeps passed in the town of Rmeileh, police and the Interior Ministry said.

Shehadeh helped to arrest four Lebanese security officials suspected of taking part in the truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in the Lebanese capital in February 2005. Opposition politicians allege Syria had a role in Hariri's death. Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat said the ``mechanism'' in today's bomb was similar to the remote-control device that killed Hariri.

Fatfat said Shehadeh's role in the Hariri investigation was probably the motive for the attack.

"He was so involved in the Hariri assassination investigation, and in the arrest of the four security heads,'' the Lebanese minister said in an interview.

If his involvement in the Hariri investigation is the motivating factor, as appears, then the attempt on Shehadeh's life is likely Syria's answer to the Lebanese who, having endured many assassination attempts, have asked Syria, "Who is Next?"

UPDATE: Another possible motive is suggested by Fatfat in an article from the UK's Times Online

Ahmed Fatfat, the Interior Minister, told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the blast was caused by a roadside bomb loaded with nails. He said that it targeted the car normally driven by Colonel Shehade, who was traveling in the other vehicle at the time.

Mr Fatfat did not say who might have been behind the attack but said it could have been aimed at Lebanese security forces, who are deploying to south Lebanon under a UN-brokered cease-fire deal that ended a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

This by no means would clear Syrian involvement or even diminish the likelihood. Unless there are new developments brewing in the seemingly dormant Hariri probe (essentially dead on arrival since Mehlis' exit), the latter would seem a much more plausible motive.

LEBANESE UPDATE: From Lebanese sources, the focus shifts back to the Hariri Probe as the prime motivator. From the Lebanese an-Nahar newspaper (whose founder, Gebran Tueni, was assassinated for his anti-Syrian positions after Hariri's assassination):

The sources said Shehade had received threats because of his work in the Hariri probe.

Shehade's assassination attempt came two weeks before Chief U.N. investigator Serge Brammertz is due to submit his second report on the Hariri murder.

The same text appears in Lebanon's Ya Libnan with additional photos, including the wounded Shehadeh being removed from his damaged vehicle.

September 3, 2006

Less Publicized Military Units in Iraq

As a Guide to the Perplexed about the security situation in Iraq, I would like to suggest a recent paper by Cecile Zwiebach of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Confused Security Situation in Iraq: Some Less Publicized Units. One caveat I would make is that while SCIRI's Badr Brigades and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are mentioned with equal frequency, Sunni allegations of atrocities by the Shi'a militias in recent months have focused on the Mahdi Army, as SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim appears to have reined them in. It is the case, as the article notes, that the Badr Brigades were implicated in death squad activity under the last government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari when they were working out of the interior ministry.

I was gratified to read Zwiebach's reference to the "Facilities Protection Service," because I have seen this term mentioned in the Iraqi media on several occasions but have not seen it in the American media and was wondering if there was an accepted translation (unfortunately, it is often the case with Arabic terms and even living Arab persons that there is no standardized translation or transliteration). Zwiebach's translation seems reasonable; I referred to them as "security personnel... charged with protecting the various establishments" in a July 7 InBrief on Hakim. Note that the numbers of personnel given by Hakim for the FPS in the interview and in this article are about the same.

September 2, 2006

Countdown For al-Sadr

Perhaps the countdown has finally begun in earnest for the end of Muqtada al-Sadr's days. The latest sign that the Iraqi government may be preparing in earnest to bring that about is the news that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki met with the key Shi'a religious figure in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.

See: ABC News: Iraqi PM Meets With Influential Cleric

Kirk will be bringing more context with his continuing coverage of events. But this meeting today is quite noteworthy.

"If the government does not do its duty in imposing security and order to the people and protecting them, it will give a chance to other powers to do this duty and this a very dangerous matter," al-Sistani's office quoted him as saying.

"Imposing security" means, among other things, silencing al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army and "those other powers" are Iraq's Sunnis. Eliminating Muqtada al-Sadr and silencing the Mahdi Army would be a serious blow not only to them, but also to their Iranian paymasters.

These words from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani are profoundly important.

Looming Pakistan Push?

Things are heating up in Afghanistan, and if the Asia Times has it right, it may well be leading to US troops finally crossing over into Pakistan in pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaeda attackers slinking back into the Waziristan region.

The Americans are pointing directly at the two Waziristans as the primary conduit for the suicide bombers who are currently playing havoc with the US-NATO-led war machine in Afghanistan, and a safe haven for enemy combatants. The US now has come up with a plan to confront the strategic arm of the Taliban based on the Pakistani side of the border.

The anti-US forces, meanwhile, are taking countermeasures, and the Pakistani government is trying to find a safe position for itself between the antagonists.

Negotiations have begun to finalize new rules for dealing with the tribal region. Last month Pakistani Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ehsan Saleem Hayat attended the conference of the Tripartite Commission (representing Afghanistan, Pakistan and the forces of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in Kabul, and General John Abizaid of US Centcom (Central Command) has traveled to Pakistan to finalize a blueprint.

Sources say the Americans are set on a plan of hot pursuit of enemy combatants across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and they want a clear demarcation of the Pakistani tribal areas that have long been volatile and which they say should be part of the Afghanistan front in the "war on terror".

Pakistan wants to errect a fence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the Waziristan region. The US dismisses this as ineffectual. The Taliban in Waziristan clearly prefer to see a fence rather than the business end of an approaching US military unit.

The gathering presaged the future setup in the Waziristans. The mujahideen will remain in the background and the non-militant face of leadership, in the form of local tribal elders, the JUI-F and religious leaders, will be visible. This will enable the Pakistani authorities to justify their proposal to fence the Durand Line rather than allow US-led forces a free hand in the tribal areas.

Going further to note an Arab presence still, with fresh foreign graduates from local madrassas attending a large Waziristan meeting where "fire and blood were in the air as momentous events loomed," Syed Saleem Shahzad noted the development of the Taliban's planned Hizballistan Defense.

Meanwhile the "guests" - foreign anti-US fighters including Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens - who are living in North Waziristan have had their own command structures dismantled and been asked to join the central mujahideen force of commander Gul Badar, or simply to scatter into ordinary tribal society.

Certainly, there is no overt connection between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Pakistani Taliban, yet the new setup in the Waziristans clearly echoes that in Lebanon, where Hezbollah hides itself behind many thick curtains while remaining in a position of power. It was precisely this setup that enabled Lebanon to defend its territorial integrity and political interests during the recent Israeli invasion.

Neither the US nor Islamabad knows the strength of the Pakistani Taliban in the mountain fastnesses of the two Waziristans. Pakistan has offered a general amnesty for all previously wanted people, and military checkpoints are manned only at three or four points on the borders of the region. The Taliban, meanwhile, call the shots everywhere.

Such was the situation until Wednesday, when the two Waziristans embarked on a new phase in which US military campaigns seem unavoidable. Cognizant of developments and intent on saving turbans, beards and throats, thick curtains have been drawn.

September 1, 2006

Syrian Fox to Guard Hizballah Henhouse

There are few analogies that more accurately describe the news that, while in Damascus, Kofi Annan accepted and conveyed Bashar Assad's promise to enforce the UN ban on arms shipments to Hizballah.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had promised to enforce an arms embargo on Hizbollah under a U.N. resolution that halted Israel's war with the Lebanese group.

"While stating Syrian objections to the presence of foreign forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border, the president committed to me that Syria will take all necessary measures to implement in full paragraph 15 of the resolution," Annan added, referring to a provision that bans illegal arms shipments to Lebanon.

Paragraph 15 of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (PDF) that calls for ceasefire conditions between Hizballah and Israel reads:

15. Decides further that all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft:

(a) The sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories; and

(b) The provision to any entity or individual in Lebanon of any technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items listed in subparagraph (a) above;

except that these prohibitions shall not apply to arms, related material, training or assistance authorized by the Government of Lebanon or by UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11;

No really. Assad promised.

It is murmured the Israelis laughed off an Annan request during his recent visit for a written note that he could deliver to Iran promising that Israel will not attack them.

Annan's Next stop: Tehran.

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