HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

« March 2008 | Return to RapidRecon | May 2008 »

April 30, 2008

School is Cool

In an intelligence or information-driven conflict, the one with the most info doesn't win; the one who can make the most sense out of that info in the shortest time possible does. This is why having a highly educated intelligence workforce is a key element of success. Sadly, in the IC the schoolhouse paradigm still reigns supreme, as does the attitude that advanced or specialized education is only for a very select few (and then often wasted because it is not adequately employed once obtained). Courtesy of our friends at OPFOR, we find out that at the pointy end they get it.

Getting beyond the technical-military domain, what - aside from very modest logistical and nominal cost issues - prevents analysts who support military missions from joining the roster of those who take the various Service war college programs via correspondence (like many military officers do)? Why not leverage the buying power of the government and make Rosetta Stone licenses more readily available to those who can't make it to DLI? Why not convert core NDIC and Kent School content into OpenCourseWare content?

The sooner we stop treating education like a prize and not a necessity, the better off we will be.

April 29, 2008

Symposium: Losing Pakistan?

A symposium on Pakistan that I participated in has been published today at FrontPage Magazine. Other participants were Neil Doyle and Saifullah Mahsud, who recently traveled to Pakistan to speak with government and Taliban leaders. His input is particularly interesting and his work, in my view, extremely important.

A notable comment I made in conclusion can be (and is by me) applied in principle and practice in evaluation of other threats beyond al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistan. Readers may find the threat risk equation useful and perhaps even familiar.

I was one of those sounding the alarm over the past year about the risks associated with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance's aims, (at the time barely impeded) momentum, and proximity to the levers of Pakistani power, Islamabad and all or part of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Awareness began to grow here in America and people began to more clearly understand, either explicitly or implicitly, the threat risk equation. And that was the principal aim of my writing: Awareness of the threat. It's basic mathematics, not calculus.

Threat Risk = Consequences X Likelihood

The 'Consequences' of Taliban-al-Qaeda control of levers of power and thus nuclear weapons within Pakistan - either overt or in the shadows through men like Hamid Gul or Aslam Beg - remains at or near the gravest of scales. The factor of 'Likelihood' is the wildcard in the equation and remains a subjective, perception-based value. As one perceives the 'Likelihood' to increase or decrease, the overall Threat Risk greatly changes up or down based on the sheer graveness of the 'Consequences' half of the equation. This is why analyses from different sources can be all over the map on the very same day.

Right now, in my view, the Threat Risk of Taliban-al-Qaeda control of one or more Pakistani nuclear weapons appears to be relatively low - but the consequences require constant vigilance.

Thanks to Dr. Glazov and Frontpage Magazine for conducting the symposium, and for the gracious invitation.

Needing A Breather

Daily readers have noticed the absence of current DailyBriefings this week. For that I apologize, but they will return soon. There is much afoot behind the scenes with ThreatsWatch contributors and the directors at the Center for Threat Awareness. Much that has yet to make published appearance, such as a move to Washington, DC, the building of another Special Report, and various other projects as yet unpublished or unreleased.

For me personally, the candle burns at both ends as it does for so many. The key to sustaining both pace and quality - as well as an always increasing understanding on the hyper-paced security landscape - over the long haul is to recognize when batteries need recharging and do precisely that. Failure to recognize and acknowledge this early is what leads to burnout, chronic exhaustion and all the failures that accompany these unproductive conditions. So I am stepping away for the remainder of the week to catch my breath, rest and maintain.

ThreatsWatch will not necessarily be gathering dust, as other contributors will continue to post interesting items here in RapidRecon section and perhaps elsewhere. But the DailyBriefing will be directly affected by my short break. With many readers coming specifically for that regular product each morning, I wanted to explain its recent (and short-lived) static nature. As soon as Friday and no later than Monday, DB production will be back to normal, and production elsewhere enhanced.

April 28, 2008

Unmarked Border – Dangerous Border?

In the context of border security and the continuing debate over the “wall” (physical or virtual), the following story raises an interesting contrast in the ways in which the U.S. and Mexico protect their national sovereignty. In fact, the dichotomy is striking.

Recently, a California based ecologist inadvertently crossed the boundary between Mexico and the U.S. near El Centro California. How did that happen? There is no fence, and only widely spaced cement markers delineating the unmarked border. While there is no question that the mistaken identity of the ecologist and a fugitive drug runner who had been crisscrossing the border to elude capture played a role in the incident, his first person account is nothing if its not frightening, and certainly shows how the Mexican government protects its borders from encroachment.

When he encountered a Mexican border officer, he faced a vehicle-mounted machine gun and then the officer with a sidearm. According to the ecologist, this is what ensued.

"Do not move," he barked and I knew he was serious, dead serious. In addition to the officer and gunner there were two more soldiers who now followed the officer out of the vehicle. It was these two that opened the door of my SUV and began rifling through my belongings. My knowledge of Spanish is not great but the officer was saying something about my bringing drugs across the border.

Lucky for the ecologist an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had been following him, interceded on his behalf and got him released before he was arrested. It seems that the crisscrossing drug runner and the ecologist had been driving similar looking Jeeps. The DEA agent then told the ecologist just how serious of a problem he had faced.

The DEA agent confirmed my worst fears: that I would have probably lost my vehicle and belongings and been out of contact with my wife and anyone else for an unpleasant amount of time.

The moral of this story is apparent, at least to me. Especially when it comes to drug runners, the Mexican government is very serious about their border (witness the Mexican enforcement of their southern border with Guatemala). There is some data suggesting that the hard enforcement of the Mexican-Guatemala border has actually stemmed the flow of non-Mexican illegal immigrants to the U.S. Additionally, whether physical or virtual, better delineation of our border with Mexico is clearly indicated. The question of American sovereignty and the implications of the continuing “unrest” on the other side of the border remains a serious one.

As if Gas Prices Weren't High Enough

With the price of a barrel of crude oil flirting with the $120 mark and speculation that the price of a gallon of gasoline could reach $10 comes fresh news of further unrest in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region. Twin blows have forced Nigeria's petroleum production below 50% of normal output. A strike by ExxonMobil workers over working conditions and compensation has nearly shuttered all of that company's production, while a series of attacks on pipeline infrastructure by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta have severely hampered Royal Dutch Shell's production. MEND's leader, Henry Okah, is currently on trial in Nigeria for his role as commander of the terrorist organization. According to Reuters:

Rebels from Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta said on Monday an April 24 pipeline attack had shut down 350,000 barrels a day of production by Royal Dutch Shell, and a company spokesman was not available for comment. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said that attack brought to more than 500,000 barrels a day of Shell's production affected by its recent attacks. Shell said last week a previous bombing had hit 169,000 barrels a day of output.

As a huge warren of oil pipelines and other facilities dots the swamp-like Niger Delta, completely securing the assets is near impossible and little sophistication is needed to successfully destroy them. Combined with evidence that the Nigerian military is disinclined to take on MEND, this situation provides further evidence, if any more was needed, for why the United States must find alternatives to foreign petroleum. Africa has been taking on a greater importance as a source of oil for the U.S. in the hopes that it would provide a more stable and less hostile supplier than the nations of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the ability of MEND to impact world oil prices shoots huge holes in any such aspirations.

Chinese Agri-Business and Mugabe's Lost Arms

Or is it the other way around? Either way, the UK's Times Online reports that the recent arms shipment forced back from unloading to Zimbabwe exposes Robert Mugabe’s link to the Chinese firm which manufactured and shipped the weapons.

Company documents show that Poly Technologies, the manufacturer of the weapons on board the ship, is ultimately controlled by a clique from China’s preeminent military clans with close ties to the Communist party leadership and army.

Major General He Ping, the company’s chairman, is the son-in-law of Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader; its president, Wang Jun, is the son of a vice-president and a Deng ally. Its upper ranks are stuffed with military veterans and their offspring, who have greatly enriched themselves with arms sales to some of Africa’s bloodiest trouble spots.

Diplomatic sources say Mugabe forged links with the Poly Technologies management on state visits to China. Since Zimbabwe is all but bankrupt, the arms are paid for by barters of agricultural products and raw materials.

But there's another unasked question; one that struck me as the story first unfolded.

A Chinese spokeswoman tried to defuse concern by saying that the arms shipment was ordered before the post-election unrest in Zimbabwe began. That is almost certainly true - ships full of arms do not pop up off the coast unless their part of a maritime pre-positioning logistics operation.

However, China cannot claim ignorance to the affairs of Zimbabwe any more than Robert Mugabe can. And Mugabe knew he was in big trouble at the polls, feeling the pulse of the country and people he commands beneath his thumb.

Of course he ordered the arms before the election. In fact, he was almost certainly hoping the shipment would have been delivered just a couple of weeks before the An Yue Jiang finally found African shores.

In fact, if the German KfW IPEX-Bank GmbH wasn't owed so much money, Mugabe would have received his arms anyway.

But of course, unlike the Chinese Poly Technologies arms peddler, German banks prefer to do business in currency, not "barters of agricultural products and raw materials." Pesky Germans.

April 27, 2008

Afghan Commandos

Fashioning viable, technically proficient indigenous forces capable of operating independently of American arms has long been a nettlesome challenge for the US military. In Iraq, for example, it remains an incrementally improving, work-in-progress. Further east, however, in the purportedly neglected theater of Afghanistan, the US Special Forces deserve plaudits for making major in-roads with the creation of a nascent Afghan Commando force.

Writing in the Boston Globe, scribe Ann Scott Tyson reports:

Night after night, commandos in US Chinook helicopters descend into remote Afghan villages, wielding M-4 rifles as they swarm Taliban compounds. ...But though the commandos carry the best US rifles, wear night-vision goggles, and ride in armored Humvees, they are not Americans but Afghans—trained and advised by US special forces teams that are seeking to create a sustainable combat force that will ultimately replace them in Afghanistan.

These raids apparently began last December, and the dividends from the Afghan commando project overall have been encouraging thus far. According to Tyson’s piece, three out of an anticipated six army commando battalions (640 men per battalion) have already begun active operations. Meanwhile, American commanders have evidently credited the commando raids with the killing or capture of 30 insurgent leaders in eastern Afghanistan. Not bad for a fledgling force, even if the media usually prefers to focus on the soldiery qualities of the enemy.

Additional time and a larger sampling are certainly required before anyone pronounces the endeavor an unqualified success or failure. Obviously, the development of the Afghan commando force must continue apace if it is to demonstrate the level of operational efficacy and, equally important, sustainability to permit a draw-down of US Special Forces units. Still, the Afghanis and their Green Beret mentors appear to be off to an auspicious start, and if ultimately successful, the entire Western world will reap the benefits of a counterinsurgency force equipped with the technical know-how and linguistic and cultural sensitivity to disrupt insurgent networks in an immeasurably pivotal theater.

April 26, 2008

Complex and Fundamental Contradictions of the GWOT

When it was first disclosed, I did not believe that our government had given into the political correctness espoused by CAIR and other pro-Muslim groups to eliminate certain “offensive” words from the "policy vocabulary." The passage of a couple of days, however, confirmed it.

It was not until I returned from my border trip on Friday that I read my colleague, Marvin Hutchens’ post, To Name An Enemy which gave me insight that helped me to understand the situation a bit better.

The guidance is provided for speaking with Muslims and the media and not for official policy papers, with the theory being that the use of terms such as jihad, jihadists, and mujahideen unintentionally portrays “terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims”.

Investor’s Business Daily called it caving to Muslim pressure groups. Steve Emerson’s memo to terrorist groups whose names include the banned words easily serves as an example of the tragic irony of the decision. But it is something that Marvin wrote, that is the basis of my concerns - “When an enemy isn’t recognizable until he takes an action against us, the pressure remains entirely on us as that enemy plans and operates with the comfort of anonymity.”

Let us look at the practical matters relating to this War on Terrorism. As we examine the current state of our counterterrorism efforts, and look at the progress or lack thereof that we’ve reached since September 11th, this statement raises serious issues and underscores the problem. My concern begins, at least, with the disclosure that NYPD cops armed with submachine guns, body armor, and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling the subways. Against whom are we protecting New York City straphangers? NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly referred to them as Operation Torch teams.

"They want to hit the transit system, no question about it," Kelly said, ticking off transit attacks across the globe: Moscow and Madrid in 2004, London in 2005 and Mumbai in 2006. Locally, Shahawar Matin Siraj was convicted in May 2006 of conspiring to place an explosive device in the Herald Square subway station in 2004. His accomplice also pleaded guilty.

Well, we are in a war, are we not? But the enemy is not recognizable, and the enemy’s tactics are unpredictable. And yet, we have machine gun toting guards patrolling the subways in Manhattan. In the past, I’ve also seen armed military units surrounding the Russell Senate Office Building.

Earlier, my colleague Michael Tanji wrote about the troubles surrounding the implementation of the US-Visit Program. Aside from the issues raised by Michael of DHS wanting to divert responsibility for checking exiting passengers to the airlines, the program has had other problems. A test released in early 2007 revealed poor read rates. The US-Visit program is only one of the components of our battleplan that is problematic.

Clearly, we cannot reach consensus on the issue of border security (including the “wall”) and immigration reform. And yet, illegal immigrants flow across our border. When my friend and I returned from the Border Security Contracting Conference on Friday, I was surprised when, about 10 miles north, we approached a road block and diverted to a checkpoint. I simply didn't expect it. There were drug-sniffing dogs and armed military walking around each vehicle. One by one, drivers lowered their windows and were asked, “American citizen?” Without any hesitation or distraction we both said yes, and were passed through. I wonder though, are there “good actors” among our enemies who might just as easily acknowledge U.S. citizenship and pass through?

Our enemies are many. Their plans are pretty similar. What we call them changes little if anything, at least in my opinion. I’ll admit to being a bit confused. I do hope that the term, Global War on Terrorism” isn’t banned. I saw the smoke rising in the sky to my west, just 30 miles, that Tuesday morning. And we know who did it. Yes, we know their name.

'G' Is For Ghabra, 'J' Is For Jihad

From The Jawa Report, a bit of simple puzzle piecing.

This will probably come as a shock to no one, but since the British press won't reveal "G's" name yet give every possible hint as to his identity, here it is: G is MOHAMMED AL GHABRA.

Under U.N. Resolution 1267 and its subsequent addendums, the Security Council:

obliged all States to freeze the assets, prevent the entry into or the transit through their territories, and prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer of arms and military equipment, technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities, with regard to the individuals and entities included on the Consolidated List.
Al Ghabra and four others had challenged the British government's ability to implement the resolution's requirements without a specific act of Parliament. They won their case.

And, for whatever reason a publicly known terrorist's name was attempted to be undisclosed, this serves as yet another reminder how Western legal systems are being employed as tools of the jihadiyun to wage their war. In this instance, they are inarguably jihadists.

In more ways than one, we know their name.

Punting Immigration Security

"If we don't have US-VISIT air exit by this time next year, it will only be because the airline industry killed it," Chertoff said recently. "We have to decide who is going to win this fight. Is it going to be the airline industry, or is it going to be the people who believe we should know who leaves the country by air?"

Not for nothing, but national security is the government's job. Airlines are in business to make money not enforce immigration law. I suppose there is always nationalization . . .

Look at airline functionality, especially in smaller firms: the same person who issues you your boarding pass at one point in the airport, may check you on your flight at another point, and might also be serving you a caffeinated beverage once you're airborne. One minute she's a waitress in the sky; in a crisis she's suddenly "air crew" and the rules change dramatically. The proposed solution is to add another task to an already, stressed and schizophrenic enterprise and make them out to be the bad guys.

This is a classic case of our Uncle's inability to think creatively or originally. He who tells someone they can come into the country, and verifies that person entered the country, should be verifying that same person leaves the country. Loose sight of that last part and you're adding additional complexity and opportunities for failure. There is a solution here, it just doesn't involve punting.

April 25, 2008

To Name An Enemy

For more than six and a half years the United States has been at war with an enemy, his ideas, and his tactics. The war has unfortunately been named after his primary tactic, and now we learn that many government agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are giving guidance on the terminology used to describe the enemy.

According to the Associated Press, the guidance found in a Homeland Security report entitled "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims." includes recommendations such as:

"Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedeen' in conversation to describe the terrorists. ... Calling our enemies 'jihadis' and their movement a global 'jihad' unintentionally legitimizes their actions."

"Use the terms 'violent extremist' or 'terrorist.' Both are widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy."

On the other hand, avoid ill-defined and offensive terminology: "We are communicating with, not confronting, our audiences. Don't insult or confuse them with pejorative terms such as 'Islamo-fascism,' which are considered offensive by many Muslims."

The guidance is provided for speaking with Muslims and the media and not for official policy papers, with the theory being that the use of terms such as jihad, jihadists, and mujahideen unintentionally portrays "terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims".

Earlier today, ThreatsWatch's Michael Tanji asked about our (ThreatsWatch's members) thoughts on the policy. My emailed response, which was later suggested be shared here at ThreatsWatch, is included below.

The determination is probably grounded in sound reasoning and definitely with good intent to support the War on Terror with real war of ideas and communications clarity.

The tough part is this - the terrorists are Muslims practicing a variant of Islam that is best described as jihadism or jihadiya. It bases itself of the Qur'an and Sunna, as do the vast majority of Muslims, and like the fundamentalists, traditionalists, and political/social Islamists, it has many aspects of its tenets and aspirations properly rooted in the core of the faith. Unlike the others though, they've not only ascribed God's oneness to be that He is the one and only God, but [they've] determined that His oneness includes his sovereignty (or rather His directing that He be sovereign) over all. As if He needs them or anyone to 'limit' mans sovereign capacities in order to achieve His own. They've turned tawhid into something much broader, creating a framework of belief that requires them to 'serve' God by instituting His will and law - as opposed to simply living by it themselves. That's step one. Step two and step three require them to take not just a literal read of the Qur'an but to also believe that each 'instruction' included in it (or in the Sunna) was meant for all Muslims rather than for those it was directed to at the time of its delivery (as they believe it is eternal and uncreated).

Additionally, they have taken jihad as a pillar of their faith, rather than the normative view that it is a tool to be used by the entire ummah only (under the authority of the Prophet's successor or caliph). So with jihad is a requirement, the Qur'an as eternal, uncreated and applicable to all mankind, and God as the only legitimate sovereignty and law maker, then one must wage jihad to bring this [God's commands] about if acting in accordance with God's will - being a submitter (Muslim) to him.

Hence - jihad - jihadiya - and jihadiyun are reflective of their take on the faith, the development of their thought and practice, and more importantly on their appeal to the non-jihadists Muslim populations of the world. Calling it jihadiya and them jihadiyun doesn't strengthen their base or idly give them credence - it should in fact be used a means to show Muslims how they've altered the faith and violated the traces of reason that existed long ago.

This issue is seen as particularly complex for many, as exceedingly sensitive to some, and as hog wash to others. The reality is that our government, with the best of intentions, has thus far proven itself not capable of discerning the difference between Muslims willing to aid them and those who offer aid as a means to blur the defining characteristics of our enemies and the remainder of the Muslim world.

When an enemy isn't recognizable until he takes an action against us, the pressure remains entirely on us as that enemy plans and operates with the comfort of anonymity.

April 24, 2008

DHS Pulls the Plug on P-28

As I noted, I attended a Border Security Contracting Conference at Texas A&M International University in Laredo today. One of the presenters was a representative of the Boeing SBInet Program. I asked for a comment on the media reports and then had a chance to speak one-on-one. The essentials are pretty straightforward, although there also needs to be a balance between the media reports and the company position.

As pointed out by a commenter, P-28 was a prototype system and was intended to be a "test." In fact, the towers themselves were not buried in cement for permanence (that fact was pointed out in the first post on the program back in February). The stated position was that P-28 was operational and had met objectives. One clear observation from this discussion is that P-28 was established on a timetable to meet DHS deadlines. According the SBInet representative, in at least one component area, the OEM software was not used. In other functionalities, the need for software upgrades was identified. Currently, as apparently correctly noted in the media releases, new towers are now being placed and system changes are being made. Another questioner raised the point about reported error rates exceeding the 5% target. This was refuted by the SBInet representative. One of my associates who accompanied me to the Conference and who is involved in perimeter (and border) security systems development concluded that the majority of the SBInet position was valid and that the media reports had been overly critical. At the same time, there are elements of truth in the reports. What does this mean? I'd say that one lesson is that evaluating complex technology systems from the outside is often difficult when based solely on media reports.

Original Post: In what should probably not be a surprise, the Department of Homeland Security has pulled the plug on Project 28, the stretch of the virtual security fence on the Arizona-Mexican border. At first, I figured it was a situation of getting out some of the software bugs in the prototype system, although I also commented that the whole situation looked like a political football at a time when our border security was at stake.

Yesterday it became clear that the system problems were larger and more serious than expected and the Department of Homeland Security scrapped the system because it was failing to adequately alert Border Patrol agents to illegal crossings, officials said. Among the many issues here is that only two months ago, DHS Secretary Chertoff “accepted” the completed fence from the contractor, Boeing.

I’ll be attending a Border Security Conference tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get an idea of what’s going to happen next.

VR: Good Enough for Gov't Work

It is interesting to note that the use of video games and virtual worlds are a legitimate and increasingly accepted way of learning for the good guys . . .

Given a choice between a droning classroom lecture or a videogame, the best method for teaching Generation Y was obvious. "It is clear that our new workforce is very comfortable with this approach," says Bruce Bennett, chief of the analysis-training branch at the DIA's Joint Military Intelligence Training Center.

But some continue to insist that concern over their use by the bad guys is unwarranted or somehow untoward.

Weapons Spikes and the Proximity To War

Via Beirut's Ya Libnan, there is currently a spike in weapon sales in Lebanon.

The increase in the price of firearms has also become an added concern for the people who are now buying AK-47 firearms for $600 to $1,000 compared to a year ago which ranged from $75 to $100.

Ghassan Qarhani, a former fighter [from predominantly Sunni Tripoli] familiar with the arms market says outdated arms such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers, once considered the "garbage of weapons," are gaining value. Today, RPG launchers cost $500, up from $50, he says.

And as a ThreatsWatch reader noted via e-mail, "...and it has been said that the proximity to war is measurable by the price of a weapon."

American Providence in Somalia

Somalia has been a mess of a country for years, lacking a solid, truly functioning government since 1991. After the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993, the United States largely washed its hands of the East African country, in a manner similar to American relations with Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left that country in defeat. In another similar parallel, Somalia reappeared on the radar of American policymakers in a forceful manner after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The driving motivation behind this new awareness of Somalia was the fear over failed states, that as the case of Afghanistan represented, terrorist organizations could use the operational safeguards of operating in regions of the world beyond the effective control of a government for the purposes of planning and implementation of terrorist strikes.

Since September 11, American security concerns in Somalia have focused on two overlapping priorities. The first has centered on bringing to justice three members of al-Qaeda's East African cell that were responsible for the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania back in 1998 and the attack against an Israel-owned hotel and an El Al flight in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002. These individuals are Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Abu Talha al-Sudani and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. The United States has instigated a number of precision strikes in Somalia in the hopes of eliminating the perpetrators of the previously described acts of terrorism, with at least four attempts in the past fifteen months. Most recently, a Tomahawk cruise missile strike was launched unsuccessfully against Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in the Somali town of Dobley on March 3.

On the macro level, American policy has also been to prevent the establishment of an Islamist regime in Somalia and to help stabilize the weak Transitional Federal Government that holds notional power in the country. However, the focus so far has been placed more on the prevention side of this coin, with the preference being to keep support for the Transitional Federal Government at arm's length. The general aim here is to avoid the creation of an environment that would be even more conducive as an al-Qaeda safe haven than already exists. To this end, the United States supported the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 which toppled the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist militia force that controlled the capital of Mogadishu and other areas of Somalia and could be considered a rough equivalent to the Taliban in the manner in which the group arose organically out of the chaos of a failed state and imposed religiously based law and order. Since that invasion, the Ethiopian military, with the support of troops loyal to the Transitional Federal Government and a small peacekeeping contingent from the African Union, has battled an insurgency reminiscent of Iraq in both tactics and brutality led by remnants of the Islamic Courts Union. The most militant wing of the ICU, known as al-Shabaab, was recently designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US government and has significant linkages with the wider al-Qaeda movement. Despite evidence that al-Shabaab is trending upward in its operational capacity, at least some observers think American policy in Somalia is succeeding. According to The Economist:

But it is not all gloom. Al-Qaeda's bid to make Somalia a base for its global franchise has so far failed. There are probably no more than a few dozen foreign fighters left in the country. Of the three al-Qaeda men believed to have been involved in bombing the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, one, Abu Talha al-Sudani, has been killed; another, Saleh Ali Nabhan, is said to be isolated and close to being captured or killed. A more formidable al-Qaeda man, Fazul Muhammad, may have been in Kenya several times in the past year but is no longer thought to command Somali jihadist fighters. Informants say he is on the run and that, when he has the time, he likes to watch classic Disney films.

While certainly encouraging, the nature of this kind of war means that small groups of people can cause harm on a scale wholly out of sync with their numbers. In The Economist's analysis, the surge in al-Shabaab attacks is merely a lashing out in response to its new terrorist designation by the State Department, and not symptomatic of any concrete increase in threat. Time will tell which factor is the true explanation.

As students of counterinsurgency are aware, the ultimate solution to these situations is of a political nature, not a military nature. With Ethiopia clearly wanting to withdraw its forces from Somalia, there is some hope that a political rapprochement is in the works.

Moderate Islamists and elders from the disaffected Hawiye clan, which provides the secular nationalist bit of the insurgency with most of its fighters, say they are ready to strike a deal with President Yusuf. The price of a unity government would be the departure of the hated Ethiopian troops but it is no longer a precondition. A deal must offer the Hawiye enough to keep them on board, but not so much that it alienates other clans. Finding the balance in a maelstrom of hunger and killing will be hard, but not impossible.

Notably here, The Economist claims that the Hawiye clan, one of Somalia's most prominent, of participating in the insurgency against Ethiopia purely out of secular nationalist motives. This is not the truth of the situation as the Hawiye were strong backers of the Islamic Courts Union when it was in power. Further, members of the Hawiye played prominent leadership roles within the ICU, including its commander, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

In assessing American policy on Somalia, there are clear positives as well as negatives. Al-Qaeda is still active in the region, but relative marginalization - or at least the lack of growth and significant influx - of its operatives is no small potatoes. The endurance of the Islamist insurgency is the true question, but with political considerations being what they are, American involvement in Somalia and support for the Transitional Federal Government will likely continue in a deus ex machina fashion, with the US occasionally smiting its enemies from afar when a choice opportunity arises.

Ahmadinejad, Syria and the Fear Factor

Nothing motivates a nation or regime like fear. It was raw fear which created a relatively quiet and retracting (and relatively cooperative) Iran in the wake of the American response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is also fear which Iran wields as it shepherds its Syrian ally under pressure today.

From the Jerusalem Post today, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warns Syria not to side with the Americans, as he seemingly perceives Syria buckling under enormous pressure as the public release of North Korean participation in building the destroyed Syrian nuclear plant is released. (Iran's hands are in the Syrian nuclear pot up to the elbows as well.)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a warning to Syria on Thursday not to side with the Americans.

"We must always be prepared to thwart the plans of the US in the region," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in Teheran.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Ahmadinejad said that "the Americans are on the verge of destruction" and that "anyone who sides with them will also go the same way."

This amounts to beating the sticks of rhetoric together, as Syria clearly does not perceive that "the Americans are on the verge of destruction," but rather that the Syrian regime itself must be far closer to such a finality.

Just follow the handful of related items in today's DailyBriefing, partially reproduced below.

Intel: North Korea Helped Syria Develop Nuclear Program - ABC
U.S. Sees North Korean Links to Reactor - New York Times
Accurate October Speculation: Israel's Case for Syria Strike: Apparent Spy Had Hard Evidence - ABC

Related Developments?
Israel and Syria Hint at Progress on Golan Heights Deal - New York Times
Ahmadinejad warns Syria not to side with the Americans - Jerusalem Post
IAEA Says Iran Agrees to Clarify Nuclear Activity - VOA
'Progress' made during NoKor visit by US delegation on nuclear dispute - Jerusalem Post
Report: Insurgency leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri captured? Update: Given up by Syria? - Hot Air

The question answered by observing Syrian actions is this: On any given day, does Bashar Assad fear the United States and Israel more than it fears Iran and its Hizballah foreign legion next door?

Syria is in a vice.

Hamas' Ceasefire: 'Gather Weapons and Ammo'

Few things last forever. Ceasefires are one of those things.

The Jerusalem Post reports that a Hamas representative, Ayman Taha from Gaza, said on the Saudi al-Arabiya television network that Hamas Hamas will stop the rocket fire but not arms smuggling in reference to the reported Egyptian-brokered tentative deal with Israel.

Ahead of Hamas's expected response to an Egyptian brokered ceasefire offer, the group's spokesman in Gaza, Ayman Taha, said that it was prepared for a gradual truce with Israel.

Taha told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel that the group will stop rocket fire if Israel stops its "aggression" and lifts the blockade imposed on the Strip.

Nevertheless, he said that Hamas would not stop arms smuggling or weapons development.

Hudna and ceasefires remain little more than re-arming and re-grouping pauses in Hamas' perpetual endeavor to destroy Israel. Until that goal and perspective changes, nothing will change.

And in reality, the goal of the destruction of Israel is not one owned by Hamas in that regard inasmuch as it is the goal shared by the many (Iran, Saudi groups et al) who fund, arm and train Hamas (et al) to be their surrogate pawns. Without the shared 'goal,' Hamas deserts them. And without them, Hamas collapses in ruin. Even if Hamas wanted to recognize Israel and abandon the aim of their destruction (which they don't), Hamas dares not walk away from the self-licking ice cream cone.

Hamas is the violent tail of the snake, not the head(s).

From the river to the sea. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Hamas - and their various regional lifelines - can hardly be more direct about it.

April 23, 2008

General Petraeus To CENTCOM

General David Petraeus, who commanded the 2007-2008 turnaround in Iraq and oversaw the and directed the thus far successful offensive(s) against al-Qaeda there, has been named the next Commanding General at CENTCOM, announced by Secretary of Defense Gates today. (Note: Technically, it is a recommendation still requiring Congressional confirmation, but successful blocking opposition amounting to much more than additional anti-war political grandstanding is incredibly difficult to envision.)

Gates said he expected Petraeus to make the shift in late summer or early fall. The Pentagon chief also announced that Bush will nominate Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to replace Petraeus in Baghdad.

Central Command oversees the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

"I am honored to be nominated for this position and to have an opportunity to continue to serve with America's soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians," Petraeus said in a brief statement from Baghdad.

At a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference, Gates said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other problems in the Central Command area of responsibility, demand knowledge of how to fight counterinsurgencies as well as other unconventional conflicts.

"I don't know anybody in the U.S. military better qualified to lead that effort," he said, referring to Petraeus.

Neither do we, and we agree - even cheer - the decision.

There were some internally who sought to relegate MNF-I Commanding General David Petraeus - respectfully referred to by many Iraqis as Malik Daoud (King David) - to NATO command in Brussels. It was yet another (relatively quiet) battle won by arguably the most revered American military commander in over a generation.

CENTCOM command is both logical and necessary for continuity in Iraq to sustain gains there. This importance and its recognition can be seen in the simultaneous naming of Lt. Gen. Ray Ordierno - Petraus' second in command for the duration of Petraeus' tour as MNF-I CG - as his successor in Iraq command.

April 22, 2008

Debt Impound Uncovers Chinese Arms Shipment to Zimbabwe Tinderbox

After a German bank got an impound order for a Chinese ship's Zimbabwe-bound cargo in order to settle Zimbabwe's debt owed the bank, the ships contents are learned to be an arms shipment to the Mugabe government after the contentious election and ensuing violence.

A German bank obtained a court order to impound the cargo of a Chinese ship carrying weapons for Zimbabwe as it tries to recover unpaid debts from the southern African country, officials said Tuesday.

But KfW IPEX-Bank GmbH, a subsidiary of Germany's state-owned KfW development bank, was unaware that the An Yue Jiang was carrying arms when it obtained the order from a South African court last week, spokeswoman Dela Strumpf said.

The Chinese ship has been turned away from South African and Mozambican ports in recent days as officials balked at its cargo of weapons and ammunition for Zimbabwe's government. It is now believed to be headed for Angola, possibly with a refueling stop in Namibia.

According to the BBC, China may now recall the Zimbabwe weapons, likely embarrassed yet again on the international stage ahead of hosting the Olympic games in Beijing.

Zambia's president has called on other African countries not to let the ship enter their waters, in case the arms escalate post-election tensions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the weapons were ordered last year and were "perfectly normal".

But she said the ship's owners were considering bringing the ship back.

So, just what is the An Yue Jiang carrying to Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe?

The International Transport Workers Federation says it has asked its members across Africa not to help unload the An Yue Jiang, which is reportedly carrying three million rounds of ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar rounds.

The opposition says the weapons could be used to "wage war" on its supporters ahead of a possible run-off in the presidential vote.

This is strongly denied by the government, which has accused the opposition of exaggerating claims of recent political violence.

With 3,000,000 rounds of ammunition, 1,500 RPG's, and 2,500 mortar rounds aboard, can there be any question about who effectively controls the ship? The Chinese spokeswoman suggested a private venture in saying "the ship's owners" were considering returning to China, but with a massive arms shipment, the Chinese central government and PLA are clearly the controlling interests here, regardless the chartered steerage.

China is clearly planning more international games than the coming Olympiad, and Mugabe's claims against the opposition which defeated him in the polls are as credible as Hamas peace overtures. Neither China nor Mugabe lack historical track records supporting such conclusions.

April 21, 2008

Two Sides of the COIN in Iraq Proving Grounds Theory

One of the popularly noted negative affects of the war in Iraq has been that it would be a training ground for jihadists to gain real-world terrorist experience that would enable them to return to their home countries more lethally trained. This, of course, is true for those that make it out and back to their original homes (or next stops abroad.) But, as Europe is now realizing, fewer of its own are getting in - much less making it back out - and far fewer than feared are making it back to European soil. In short, the fear was overblown and now "Europe's fears subside."

Now, as members of the cell are awaiting a verdict in their case, French and other European intelligence and law enforcement officials are adjusting their analysis. They say their fears of young would-be fighters from Europe traveling to Iraq and returning more radicalized and better trained were overblown.

The logistical challenges and expense of reaching Iraq have been one deterrent, they said, particularly since Syria has made episodic efforts to halt the use of its territory as a transit route. Compared with the thousands of European Muslims who joined the fight in Afghanistan in the 1990s through networks in Britain , the numbers of fighters going to Iraq has been extremely small, according to senior French intelligence officials.

Another factor, the officials say, is that European Muslims lacking military training and good Arabic-language skills are neither needed nor welcomed by Iraqi insurgents - unless they are willing to be involved in suicide missions.

The last point is critical - most European Muslims that could be said to ''crawl from the woodwork' to join the jihad lack the bare essentials of both language skills and prior 'military' training to be of basic utility in Iraq. Therefore, their tickets have largely been one-way.

Consider also that the vast majority of foreigners entering Iraq for the jihad have come from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Morocco (with the majority of the latter two as suicide bombers), and this leaves Europe with a relatively small gene pool of returning antagonist terrorists. This does not mean that Europe's terrorism threat has been lessened per se, but rather means that the Iraq experience is not paying the direct dividends to the terrorists in their midst as once expected and feared.

Insofar as the 'breeding ground' argument goes, it must also be considered that it is impossible to have a war zone where combatants do not gain experience. And within that equation, the calculus also applies to our own skillsets, abilities and experience levels. The mental and physical tasks of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism inherent within the Iraq war have made the forces involved - from American to British to Iraqi - incalculably more able to conduct operations. And the knowledge gained (about al-Qaeda in particular) is not locked in the mind of Corporal John Smith in Fallujah, but shared and valuable across the board throughout different agencies - at home and within Iraq.

The other side of the coin (pardoning the COIN pun) remains that Iraq has also become a counterterrorism and counterinsurgency proving ground for our own forces, services and agencies, with the experiences paying off in future theaters within this same conflict.

April 20, 2008

Water Wars on the Horizon?

Turn on the tap and water comes out. Sometimes it tastes fine, other times people filter it. But the water comes out. What if it didn’t? Looking at critical infrastructure, specifically our water supply, its security as well as its existence, is becoming a topic of interest in financial and public policy circles. Based on some views, it could also become the basis for geopolitical conflict.

Invest in water? One venture capitalist views the situation this way. With the move toward alternate fuels (like bio-fuels) and the increasing costs of oil extraction, water may well become the World’s next scarce resource.

Biofuels are enormous consumers of water, says Jim Matheson, a general partner at Flagship Ventures, a venture capital firm in Cambridge, MA. And water is not always abundant where it's most needed. "So, increasingly you're going to see water as a scarce resource. I think it's going to drive not just economics but also a lot of geopolitical dynamics. So, we're trying to find technologies that can allow us to plug into this enormous value chain."

In the same vein, the State of Pennsylvania has just announced the approval of $72 million in low-interest loans to support water infrastructure projects.

Regardless of whether you ascribe to global warming or not, it is a reality that the water resources of a number of countries, especially in drought-ridden Africa, are running short. In fact, British counter-terrorism experts are concerned about future ‘water wars’ between countries left drought-ridden by climate change. One researcher, Marc Levy at Columbia University has analyzed data to show that when rainfall is significantly below normal, the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles in the following year. An example?

As Barcelona runs out of water, Spain has been forced to consider importing water from France by boat. It is the latest example of the growing struggle for water around the world – the "water wars".

Barcelona and the surrounding region are suffering the worst drought in decades. There are several possible solutions, including diverting a river, and desalinating water. But the city looks like it will ship water from the French port of Marseilles.

Of course, as with many other topics of this variety, there are people in opposition: "People will not fight over water," says Mark Zeitoun, from the London School of Economics' Centre for Environmental Policy and Governance in the UK. "But that's not to say water shortages will not contributing to existing tensions."

In history, wars have been fought over economic issues. Conflict over increasingly scarce resources is not out of the question, and very likely warrants close attention over the next few years.

"Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”

April 19, 2008

Transparent Security Screening at JFK and LAX

From the beginning, the use of backscatter x-rays to check passengers for plastic weapons and explosives that the standard magnetometers missed has been controversial. I remember the announcement of the first full-body x-ray screening equipment in 2003, when Susan Hallowell, then the Director of the TSA Security Laboratory subjected herself to the device to prove that a hidden weapon could be identified. At that time, it was believed that passengers would object to the “invasion of privacy.”

Some were uncomfortable with the technology — called "backscatter" because it scatters X-rays — while others proclaimed it "a whole lot nicer than having someone pat me down," he said.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, thinks most people will object to the technology.

"The public is willing to accept a certain amount of scrutiny at the airport, but there are clearly limits to the degree of invasion that is acceptable," Sobel said. "It's hard to understand why something this invasive is necessary."

Now, nearly five years later, and after a test period at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, this new millimeter wave scanner technology is going to be deployed at JFK and LAX. The Phoenix experience was not without contradictory reactions . One passenger with titanium implants in both shoulders and one knee said, “I’ve been all over the world; I’ve been strip-searched. This was very easy.” Others found it objectionable: “I think that is a violation of people’s personal rights. I would rather take a pat-down than go through this.”

Remembering that the use of the millimeter wave devices is reserved for people who prompt a secondary screen, the TSA says that 90% of the passengers who are separated out opt for the millimeter wave scan over a pat down.

Of course, despite the limited use of the new technology and the fact that passengers are being given a choice, the ACLU is concerned about personal privacy. I guess that’s what they have to do.

Happy Patriots Day

Courtesy of Jules Crittenden.

Patriots Day may be the least known American holiday, and the day most deserving of our recognition. Observed in Massachusetts and Maine only. Don窶冲 know it? It marks the day, April 19, 1775, on which Americans took up arms against their king, and bled, at the crack of terrible dawn.

Reacquaint yourself with history, recalling as you surrender 40% or more in various income taxes, that our fight for independence was begun over a 3% tax on tea.

April 18, 2008

Yet More Power and Clarity in Lebanon

Yesterday we noted Power and Clarity in Lebanon when Hizballah stormed a security checkpoint and sprung two arrested Hizballah members. Today, another example of yet more power and clarity.

Hizbullah partisans on Thursday attacked and kidnapped a policeman in south Beirut, in the second such development in as many days, security sources reported.
The sources said the policeman was investigating an illegal construction site in the suburb of Ghadir when he was beaten up by two local residents.

Hizbullah members drove in, kidnapped the officer and whisked him to a Hizbullah office where he was illegally interrogated by party officials on activities of the police force.

The policeman told his superiors later that Hizbullah officials set him free only because he is Shiite.

Running the show in southern Lebanon and throughout much of Beirut, Hizballah remains the most highly motivated and militarily capable armed force in the Middle East outside Israel's IDF. That Hizballah is a terrorist organization with lifelines from Tehran doesn't seem to concern many as much as perhaps it should.

The beat goes on.

April 17, 2008

Power and Clarity in Lebanon

From Lebanon's An-Nahar, a clear indication of who holds true power in Lebanon.

Hizbullah freed two detainees after they were apprehended by police for having no identity cards on them, security sources said Thursday.

They said two bearded men on two motorbikes were stopped at the security checkpoint around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Qmatiyeh village near the mountain resort town of Aley, east of Beirut.

One of the cyclists made a cell phone call and shortly afterwards about 100 Hizbullah members surrounded the security force and freed the two men, the security sources added.

They said the Hizbullah force also recovered the bikes.

Perhaps of shared interest, the latest book to arrive at the doorstep is Augustus Richard Norton's Hezbollah - A Short History. Published in 2007, but playing catch-up and is next in line after I complete Mike Yon's Moment of Truth in Iraq and Andy McCarthy's Willful Blindness: Memoir of the Jihad. Both of the latter are outstanding, and I find myself bouncing between each, chapter by chapter, unable to find the discipline to read one or the other first.

April 15, 2008

Virtual PX for Terrorists

In a pretty distressing finding, a GAO investigation has found myriad military equipment for sale on eBay and CraigsList. The undercover investigation showed dozens of prohibited military items being sold over the Internet on these sites. During the period of January 2007 to March 2008, the GAO was able to purchase numerous defense-related items that were noted as possibly being able to be used against our troops and allies. These items included:

- Two F-14 fighter jet components; the United States has retired its fleet of F-14s; only Iran is currently using them

- Night vision goggles specially made to military specifications that allow the user to identify U.S. troops at night

- Army combat uniforms; the military has prohibited the sale of uniforms to non-military personnel since January 2007, when Iraqi Insurgents used U.S. military uniforms to sneak into a base in Karbala and kill five U.S. service members

- Special "enhanced" body armor vests used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not available to the general public.

Both eBay and Craigslist executives claimed that they had safeguards in place to prevent such items from being listed on their web sites for sale. EBay says that it has more than 113 million items listed for sale at any given time and that military goods account for well under one-tenth of 1 percent of those. While some of the items were stolen (understandable), the GAO also found that a number of the items may have been originally sold off of the USG’s own liquidation website.

Previous GAO investigations have found that potentially sensitive items have been inappropriately offered for sale through the US Government's own liquidation web site, and that the Department of Defense has sold new and unused items through that site at a fraction of their value at the same time as purchasing additional units of the same items from their suppliers.

In response, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster suggested that a law be passed banning any military equipment less than 50 years old. The extent of the problem is illustrated by the following interplay between Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) and Charles Beardall, a deputy Inspector General of the Defense Department,

Shays: "Do we have a serious theft problem, or do we not even know if we have the ability to know we have a serious theft problem?"

Beardall: "I might say the latter might be more accurate."

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem here. It seems that the Internet has become a virtual PX for possible terrorists.

The Problem With Classifying Math

There is no denying the need to improve cyber security across the nation’s critical infrastructure, but as we can see below, there does not seem to be a big effort to deal with some of the fundamental issues essential to success:

There's a problem facing the Bush administration: It has $30 billion to spend over the next five to seven years to keep the U.S. safe from hackers and cyberspies. But to extend that protection to the nation's critical infrastructure--including banks, telecommunications and transportation--it needs the cooperation of the private sector.

. . . but the disconnect between the private sector and government is a familiar problem, says Howard Schmidt, a former Air Force and DHS official who has also held jobs at eBay and Microsoft. "When I was working with a corporation, I would hear from the government about a new attack pattern, and because it was classified, I wouldn't be able to share it with my IT people," he says. "It's a very real problem."

Corporations are not strangers to information protection, which puts the burden of "responsibility to provide" squarely on the shoulders of the government. It is not that certain targets do not need the protection of classification, but no serious computer network defensive effort of any scale – especially one that is nation-wide – can rely on anything but layered, networked defenses. Hindering the sharing of information that might defend the nation is tantamount to having no program at all.

Ayatollah Rising? Iran, Iraq, Sadr and Qom

So what exactly is Iran's plan for Muqtada al-Sadr? He has been effectively supplanted from any military command by the Iranians, and has been spending his time 'in study' in Qom, Iran. Here's an interesting consideration for a long-range project for Iran: Ayatollah Al-Sadr?

Two notable alumni of Qom’s centers of Islamic learning are the Ayatollah Khomeini, who spent ten years there, and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese jihad terrorist group Hizballah. Al-Sadr, while he is son of one Grand Ayatollah and son-in-law of another, is a seminary dropout and hardly a scholar of Islam. Now it appears that he has gone to Qom to resume his Islamic studies and eventually to emerge as an Ayatollah himself. An Ayatollah al-Sadr would have enough stature to be able to sideline al-Sistani, and would well-positioned -- especially given his illustrious pedigree -- to become the leader of Shi’ite Iraq after al-Sistani’s death, or even to shunt him aside before his death. And if al-Sadr was involved (as many have charged) in the April 2003 murder of a rival, the prominent Iraqi Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei, he may not hesitate to accelerate al-Sistani’s passing -- once he has the requisite religious credentials.

That won’t be for another five years at the earliest. However, the fact that al-Sadr has gone to study at Qom indicates that he has every intention of remaining a player on the Iraqi political scene for the foreseeable future -- and at age 35, he could be on that scene for decades to come. His overall agenda he made clear in the Al-Jazeera interview: “Another important goal is to make society religious, rather than secular. People keep talking about an ‘Islamic government’ and so on. What is more important is to make society, not just the government, Islamic.”

Is Muqtada al-Sadr studying in Qom in order to position himself to become the Khomeini of a theocratic, Shi’ite Iraq? It’s a possibility that cannot be dismissed -- and one that, if it comes to pass, would establish a Shi’ite Arab client state of Iran, inalterably hostile to the United States, in the heart of the Middle East.

Two things support this conclusion from an Iranian perspective: It gets him out of the way now, and it might just pay off handsomely in the future. It's a good question from Robert Spencer. Consider also Brendan Koerner's How Do You Become an Ayatollah? at Slate.

If this comes to pass we will rue the day, recalling how in 2004 we had the Mahdi Army largely defeated and Sadr completely cornered, yet he was permitted to slither back into his base of power.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced Wednesday his militia would leave the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, following a threat by the Iraqi government to "liberate" the holy site. In a letter issued by al-Sadr's office in Baghdad and read to the Iraqi National Conference, the cleric said he agreed to demands made Tuesday night by a delegation from the conference that he and his forces leave the mosque, disband his Mehdi Army and "enter into the mainstream political process."

Ah yes, the "mainstream political process." That worked out well. Might work out swimmingly for the Iranians if they can pull it off and successfully wedge the Nintendo Imam into the religious mainstream as a 're-educated' Ayatollah. Stranger things have come to pass, but not many. It would be a prime example of when bloodlines eclipse brainwaves.

Sadrists' Retribution: Sistani Aides Escape Assassination

The Jerusalem Post reports that two top aides to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have narrowly escaped separate assassination attempts, one in Basra and the other in Kut.

According to police, Sheik Ali al-Fudhaili was seriously wounded in one attack and his driver was killed when gunmen ambushed their vehicle in Basra.

Gunmen also fired on the car of Habib Salman al-Khatib in the Shi'ite city of Kut. Al-Khatib was not injured but one of his guards was wounded, police said.

For context, last week Muqtada al-Sadr's top aide and director of Najaf operations Riyadh al-Nouri was assassinated in that city, which is also home to Sistani.

Italian Victory Colors: No Red, No Green

Michael Ledeen weighs in on the Italian elections over at The Corner on National Review Online, and as he puts it, "it's a landslide." Stalwart American ally Silvio Berlusconi's 'Popolo della liberta' party has swept away both houses (Chamber and Senate.) But the 'big news' is the new absence of extreme left Reds and Greens, now relegated to adorn the Italian flag but not its government.

The big news is that the Communists are gone, for the first time since the end of the Second World War. Really gone. They didn't win a single seat in either chamber. A lot of famous faces will vanish from Parliament, and it is even possible, although unlikely, that some of the comrades will be forced to join the working class. The Greens are also gone. In fact, there are only six parties in the new Parliament, suggesting that Italy's well on the road to a two-party political system instead of the dreadful proportional electoral model that has destroyed virtually every country where it's been applied. If that happens, a lot of the credit goes to Veltroni, who created a real center-left party and refused to admit the old Left.

And for those who make habits of marking trends, Michael's next paragraph is an important one to digest.

Tomorrow's papers will pretend that this didn't happen, and warn that Berlusconi's allies in the Northern League are mercurial and dangerous, and that his majority isn't as stable as it looks. But it is. And there's an even more annoying feature to these elections, as seen by the chattering classes: Berlusconi is an outspoken, even passionate admirer of George W. Bush and the United States of America. Reminds one of the elections that brought Sarkozy to the Elysee, doesn't it? Best to keep that quiet, or somebody might notice that hatred of America doesn't seem to affect the voters in Italy, France or Germany.

Shhhh. . . . Don't tell anyone Europe doesn't hate us as much as we Americans may perceive. It's a secret.

[For instance, in a poll that clearly asked people beyond the city limits of Paris and Rome, Europeans recently cited China (35%) as a greater threat than Uncle Sam (29%). Perhaps proof that there is hope for Europe beyond the dependent client city/states of Paris, Rome, London, et al. If you follow European news organizations and their reporting, I'll wager you'd have never predicted that one.]

April 12, 2008

Iran, Neocons and Owning A War

Over at The Tank on National Review Online, I responded to a Friday piece by Pat Buchanan in which he posits that all the ducks are lined up for a "Neocons' War with Iran."

Buchanan acknowledges that we are fighting Iran's proxies in Iraq (that we have Iranian Quds Force commanders in custody is perhaps then a minor point) and cites Petraeus's Congressional report fairly extensively to illustrate. Yet, if we respond to force with force, it is somehow the "Neocons' War with Iran." Iran's quest to kill us has little place in his logic, which I find somewhat incomprehensible. I challenged, in part, with the following.

I feel compelled to restate that fully 10% of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have come and continue to come at the hands of the EFP armor-piercing roadside bomb that Iran designed, manufactures, and supplies.

Iranians seek us out and kill us on the battlefield. Whether they do this with their army, with proxies, or with Peter Pan - I fail to see how that matters. Our dead brothers are our dead brothers. Yet there is no Iranian war.

If, however, we dare to retaliate by reducing the Iranian cross-border terror camps to dust, is a "Neocons' War" suddenly materializing out of a vacuum? Does America - or more specifically President George W. Bush - instantly become the wild aggressor? How on Earth does one possibly navigate that leap of logic?

Buchanan is not alone in alluding to Iran as a potential victim of American aggression. The Australian has run a story in which President Bush's vow to protect American forces from Iranian death merchants as a "threat" to Tehran.

That so many steadfastly refuse to publicly acknowledge a war that has been prosecuted by Iran as an Iranian war is not surprising. It is borne of the cheap impetus of political opposition, which is self defeating. It doesn't (and won't) matter who is President. It hasn't for thirty years and it will not suddenly matter in less than one. Iran will kill us and Iraqis so long as we continue to afford it the 'proxy' buffer between acts of war and their consequences.

This is not a defense of 'neocons.' I am not one - however one defines it. I did not 'come to conservatism' from somewhere else. But more importantly, my political views (and those of others) simply don't matter. But if "The Neocons" get it and correctly ascribe responsibility to those who kill our men on the ground, the entire body politic would serve America well by paying little attention to who has identified the aggressor(s) and focusing much more on how and why it is either so or not so.

Until we figure this out, we will forever be ascribing responsibility to each other internally while our intelligent enemies kill us sans accountability. This is how we will lose this war against the jihadyun - be they Sunni or Shi'a, Arab or Persian, European or American. We are our own worst enemy. They know it. We feed it.

April 11, 2008

Airline Safety - A Cascading Effect

Over the last week thousands of passengers have been inconvenienced by the over 3000 flight cancellations by American Airlines and others like Delta Air Lines, Alaska and Midwest airlines.

Just a month ago, I posted an entry titled Airline Safety Compromised that discussed the issue of the FAA looking the other way regarding the failure of Southwest Airlines to properly inspect the fuselages of some of their air fleet. Despite the fact that the American Airlines maintenance issue relates to bundled wiring in the wheel wells, and not fuselage cracks, the "dots" are pretty obvious. Still, some people don't see the connections and are trying to understand why American (and the other airlines) voluntarily cancelled so many flights and took the enormous financial losses (like one of the local radio talk show hosts in town). It seems pretty clear that in response to the Congressional oversight and attention following the FAA/Southwest Airlines incident, that the airlines decided to err on the side of caution and follow FAA requirements to the letter, and the FAA took hardline positions with maintenance issues. This relationship, that of the initial whistle blowing on the FAA looking other way regarding Southwest Airlines' and its maintenance issues, and the recent maintenance groundings for Delta, United and then American Airlines is here.

American was but the latest of several airlines to undertake sudden safety checks the past few weeks. First came Southwest, which wasted no time grounding more than 40 planes to make emergency inspections after FAA whistleblowers said safety inspectors hadn't done their job. And thousands of customers of Southwest -- generally credited with top-notch service -- contended with scores of canceled flights. Suddenly, other airlines, including Delta and United, came forward to announce new safety checks and canceled flights.

In my opinion, this is a great example of a cascading interdependency of one infrastructure incident creating "downstream," related incidents. One could conclude that the lax oversight by the FAA of Southwest Airlines led to the inconveniencing of thousands of passengers. However, maybe now safety and inspections of the air fleets will return to being the paramount concern.

Al-Qaeda's North African Folly

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a new set of demands on April 7 for the release of the two Austrian tourists, Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber, the terrorist group kidnapped in Tunisia back in February. The specifics of the kidnapping were detailed previously at ThreatsWatch and can be viewed here.

AQIM's Internet posting was placed after the passage of a deadline given by the group for action by the Austrian government. In the statement, Al-Qaeda's North African wing absolved itself of blame for any harm to come to the couple, instead pointing the finger at the lack of compliance from the Austrian government. Though details are sketchy, reports suggest that the two Austrian civilians are being held captive in Mali, near its border with Algeria. The communique outlined two demands: the withdrawal of the Austrian military contingent from Afghanistan (only two Austrian soldiers are involved in NATO's mission there) and the release of two Austrian Muslims, Mohammed Mahmoud and his wife, who are being held in an Austrian prison after convictions on making terrorist threats against Austria and Germany.

As this hostage situation has evolved, it's become evident that these members of AQIM are perhaps grasping at straws amid two previously passed deadlines and shifting demands, which previously included the release of captured jihadists in Tunisia. Some form of strategic rationale can normally be gleaned from terrorist actions. The actions here appear to have less rationale in any grand strategic outcome desired in Afghanistan than in simple monetary gains the abductors seek through ransom. The sliding scale of unmet - and adjusted - demands support such a conclusion.

April 10, 2008

Mullah FM, Taliban 'Back in Swat'

According to Pakistan's Daily Times, Mullah "FM" Fazlullah and his band of Taliban are back in Swat agency in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Armed supporters of rebel cleric Maulana Fazlullah reappeared in the Matta tehsil of Swat and were seen marching on the roads on Wednesday.

According to locals, commanders Iqbal Hussain and Ikramuddin led the armed militants — numbering between 40 and 45. The local Taliban marched in the Shakar Darra area, which is 500 metres from the Baryam checkpost. Neither the security personnel at the checkpost, nor the area police officials posed any resistance to the show of strength. Locals said that the militants were travelling to the Pisho Dherai area.

Meanwhile, sources in the area said that the local Taliban have completed renovations on the madrassa in Imam Dheri that had once served as headquarters for Fazlullah. They said that the Taliban would offer their Friday prayers in the mosque from which Fazlullah had broadcast his illegal FM radio station.

Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General Kiyani had launched major operations to clear Taliban from the relatively small Swat Valley. The Swat Valley is one of the most breath-takingly beautiful landscapes on Earth and the stark contrast of violence brought by al-Qaeda and the Taliban is no small irony.

April 9, 2008

Cyber Security Cycle

It seems that the only time cyber security is discussed by national security leadership is either at the start or end of an administration; periods of time when you have no idea how things will play out and when you can't do anything, respectively.

In a keynote address at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned that the damage caused by a large-scale cyberattack might result in consequences comparable to the Sept. 11, 2001 . . . "We have to look not only at threats that have materialized in the past," said Chertoff. "We have to consider the threats that may materialize in the future. ... We know that a successful large-scale cyberattack against our country would have very wide-reaching consequences."

The remedy is a "Manhattan Project" -like effort that will give us a quantum leap forward in security and capability. If this sounds familiar its because similar proposals have been made - at least twice in two previous administrations - to no practical end.

Such proposals, along with high-hope, day-late efforts like hiring Rod Beckstrom to run the National Cyber Security Center are indicative of how senior officials truly view cyber security. In a world of finite resources you can't do everything, but in an age of information leadership should be seriously preparing for information age threats. Recycling talking points isn't going to help stop the digitally-triggered 9/11, but it most certainly will help facilitate it.

April 7, 2008

Thinking About the Unthinkable

New from Iraq, often a tactics proving ground, is more than disturbing:

The gunmen had set up a fake checkpoint and stopped two buses in the village of al-Jirin full of students returning to classes after a weekend break. One of the buses escaped, police said, but male students from the other bus were loaded onto trucks and taken away.
A number of data points of a similar nature have been documented in the US, though not to this extreme. Note the concern and sentiment when an event associated with children that isn't terrorism occurs. Are we prepared – not militarily, but emotionally and politically – in case something more horrific happens in the US? How do you start such a conversation and how do you stop the end-result from being a multi-layered travesty?

Keeping Secrets Secret

The need for a more effective counterintelligence force has never been greater, and despite some foolish but understandable mistakes there is nothing inherently wrong with an organization of this nature.

Of course in a town where perception is more important than reality, some would have you believe that propaganda victories are sufficient to bring down such a capability. A critical question that no one seems to be asking: how many major intelligence organizations have been shuttered . . . ever?

Where what-used-to-be-CIFA might end up is less significant than the fact that its people and missions should continue to keep secrets secret.

Knowledge Before Spin: Understanding Iraq-Iran Dynamic Before Petraeus' Address

We hope that readers will consider today's Center for Threat Awareness symposium on Iraq and Iran, where the assembled panel of distinguished experts discuss Iraq's conflict with Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and, by natural extension, Sadr's Iranian masters and their ongoing war with America.

CTA Symposium: Iraq v. Mahdi Army

We thank Ralph Peters, Dr. Michael Ledeen, and Bill Roggio for their insights and continued hard work. We also would like to thank participants Mohammed and Omar Fadhil for contributing and sharing an Iraqi perspective - so vital yet so often overlooked.

Below, find some notable quotes from the various participants made within the Iraq v. Mahdi Army CTA symposium published today as a PrincipalAnalysis.

Ralph Peters - "One of the most frequently cited maxims in the [Army-Marine Counterinsurgency manual] is T.E. Lawrence's conclusion that it's better for our local allies to do things imperfectly themselves than for us to do things perfectly for them. Well, that's exactly what happened. The Iraqi security forces went for it. They got a bloody nose, but got the best of the fistfight."

Mohammed Fadhil - "Perhaps the biggest mistake in the battle, which did not end with victory in spite of the courage exhibited in the decision to engage the enemy, was Maliki's decision to personally lead the battle as the commander in chief of armed forces."

Omar Fadhil - "[A]lthough it looked like the SIIC and Da'wa spearheaded the political part of the campaign, the decision as a whole reflects the desire of the moderate powers to neutralize the threat posed by Sadr's militia in order to create an environment where politics can be practiced in the closest possible manner to 'fair play'."

Dr. Michael Ledeen - "We are on the verge of defeating and humiliating Iran in Iraq. The Iranian people sense this. I wish we would say it in just those terms, instead of pretending to believe that "international pressure" will eventually bring about a change in the behavior of the regime. That won't work. We're in a great position right now."

Bill Roggio - "This should come as no surprise to anyone following Iranian activities inside Iraq. Iran is fighting a thinly veiled, undeclared war against both the Iraqi people and the United States."

CTA - "Yet [the Iranians] continue to operate training camps and from them funnel into Iraq trained operators, weapons and cash along with other means of supporting attacks against the Iraqi government and Coalition forces. Are these not acts of war?"

Ralph Peters - "I have to say that I'm pleased with the overall quality of this discussion and appreciate the insights offered by all the participants. I only wish more Americans were exposed to exchanges at this level of rationality."

We hope that readers will read the full context of the above quotes and share the CTA Symposium: Iraq v. Mahdi Army with others, ahead of General Petraeus' address to Congress tomorrow.

April 4, 2008

The Problem with Undocumented Immigrant Workers

Just the other day I offered a post discussing the DHS wanting to implement new rules governing businesses that hired illegal immigrants and providing for their firing when the attempt to match their names with a Social Security number came back negative.

In what is likely to be a series of objections, business owners and labor leaders in Houston now argue that implementation of this rule could create a severe shortage of workers in the region. Apparently, the 250,000 undocumented workers in the region contribute $27 billion to the local economy.

Jeff Moseley, president and chief executive officer of the partnership, told the Houston Chronicle, "We're getting a strong contribution from this work force to our economy and the consequence of removing 1 of 10 workers would be extremely chilling to our economy - it would take us down to our knees."

To fight the implementation of the stronger no match requirements, a lobbying group called Americans for Immigration Reform has been created and plans to raise $15-20 million to finance their efforts.

So, now, the issue begins to come to the surface. As the Department of Homeland Security attempts to take steps to limit the terrorism potential of illegal (or undocumented) immigrants by requiring that their identities actually exist in the Social Security data base, a city the size of Houston, knowing that a quarter of a million illegal immigrants work there, will lobby to prevent imposition of the "no-match" rule, and thus argue to compromise National Security for economic impact. On the one hand, you have the substantial economic development contribution. On the other hand, you have the evolution of immigration policy and its relationship to protecting our Nation from terrorism. It is a dilemma, but its hard to not come out in favor of National Security.

Kiyani's Order of the Albatross Award

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Pakistani Army Chief of Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, has been selected for the United States Army Command and General Staff College’s International Hall of Fame, which honors the distinguished service of American allies' military leaders.

The move is well-intended and certainly well-deserved. But one must conclude that its timing is altogether not very well thought out. The latest elections in Pakistan represent its political decision to rush to move away from American cooperation and influence. And with Musharraf's depiction domestically as an American 'lackey,' an American military honor for his military replacement as Chief of Staff may be an honor intended for a good man, but within Pakistan it is more akin to an American albatross. Don't expect the accompanying plaque to be prominently displayed in Gen. Kiyani's office or to appear in the background of media interviews.

India's The Acorn says of the move, "These Americans are crazy." And Registan describes the award as a foolish move with All the Subtlety of a Lead Pipe to the Face. And, well, considering the current political dynamic in Pakistan, it certainly does neither General Kiyani nor American interests there any favors, no matter the honorable intentions.

April 3, 2008

Al-Shabaab on the Move in Somalia

Members of the Islamist organization al-Shabaab briefly captured Adaado, a town in central Somalia, on April 3. The raid saw at least 17 casualties before being beaten back by Somali government units. al-Shabaab is composed of the most extreme remnants of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that previously dominated Somalia before the Ethiopian-led and American-backed invasion in December 2006. This insurgent group has since engaged in a long running campaign of terrorism and guerrilla attacks against Ethiopian troops and the Somali Transitional Federal Government. Ominously, al-Shabaab's operations of late are creeping upward on the scale of complexity in asymmetric warfare, moving closer to more sophisticated attacks including the holding of territory. According to one report:

Previously, ICU remnants staged intermittent attacks across Somalia, including launching grenades in Mogadishu. But recently, the Islamist fighters have become more brazen, carrying out attacks in daylight and seizing control of towns in southern and central Somalia. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Adaado is the eighth town seized by the Islamist fighters in recent weeks.

The government of the United States took concrete action against al-Shabaab in March by adding the group to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. al-Shabaab, which translates along the lines of "the youth," is also known as the Mujahedeen Youth Movement. From State's release:

The consequences of these designations include a prohibition against the provision of material support or resources to al-Shabaab and blocking of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons. Secretary Rice took this action in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury. Designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to renounce terrorism.

Al-Shabaab, headed by Aden Hashi Ayro, an al-Qaeda trainee, has moved beyond a purely indigenous Somali movement through its attraction of fighters from the wider Islamic world. Much of its senior leadership also has al-Qaeda connections. Sheikh Muktar Robow, an al-Shabaab leader, apparently welcomes State's designation. As he said to the BBC:

"Al-Shabab feels honoured to be included on the list. We are good Muslims and the Americans are infidels. We are on the right path," he said.

Classifying al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization, with the attendant prohibitions, is a respectable first step against the group, but far from any panacea. Concerned observers will be watching developments in Somalia to see if al-Shabaab is capable of moving from something of an acceptable nuisance to an existential threat against Somalia's flailing government.

April 2, 2008

Our Military Is A Bargain

James Carafano properly frames the Right Way to View US Defense Costs. And he does so with a remarkable economy of words.

"Smart" weapons and battlefield medical advances, to take two examples, cost more in real dollars. But they dramatically reduce the cost in lives - civilian and military. Our all-volunteer force also is better educated and better trained than yesteryear's conscript forces.

What's more, the US economy of previous decades can't begin to compare with today's. It cost almost 50 percent of gross domestic product to fight World War II. The Korean War consumed about 14 percent of GDP, Vietnam about 9 percent. Even with supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the president's defense budget is about 4 percent of GDP.

It's a short column as it is, and excerpting more would defeat the purpose of linking it. But his concluding paragraph simply nails it.

Our military is a bargain, especially given its global responsibilities. Over the long term, looking at defense spending as a share of GDP is an appropriate way to measure the true cost of keeping America safe, free and prosperous.

Please do read it all. It won't take long, a real bang for your chronological buck.

Urban Vulnerability to Terror – A Different Look

There has been an ongoing debate among politicians and practitioners about the apportionment of funding for urban security to combat terrorism. Not unexpectedly, those from the targets of September 11th, New York City and Washington DC, argue that their cities remain at the highest threat. Perhaps that is so. Contrary arguments have come from many smaller areas, some in rural sections of the country claiming that remotely located chemical plants represented significant targets. Similarly, I am aware of one Appalachian location in which a system of dams, if breached by a terrorist attack might impact a number of larger cities down stream.

A recently published study, yielded surprising results, including finding Boise, the capital of Idaho in the top 10 most vulnerable cities in the country, and the only Western city in that group. The study funded by the Department of Homeland Security was based on a unique (actually complex) mathematical calculation. The study, which originally appeared in the December Journal of Risk Analysis, factors not only the risk of terrorist attacks, but also social demographics, natural hazards (floods, wildfires, earthquakes, extreme weather, etc.) and infrastructure vulnerability (roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, dams, skyscrapers, etc.). The result is an index of an area’s vulnerability to hazards. This is often referred to as an “all hazards” approach to emergency response.

Within an “all hazards” framework, the vulnerability of an urban area’s social systems and built environment exists independent of an adverse event. Thus, we can understand the underlying characteristics that contribute to such vulnerability and then relate these characteristics to likely impacts, be they from natural, technological, or human-induced threats such as terrorism.

While the statistical basis and analytical method is beyond my skill set, its clear that an “all hazards” approach to city or regional vulnerability provides sometimes unexpected results. For reference, a good example of an all hazards regional group is found in the Maryland All Hazards Consortium.

So, why is Boise, Idaho in the top 10 most vulnerable U.S. cities (according to this study)?

Boise, it seems, faces high risk from extreme events such as wildfires or failure of a large dam upstream, Piegorsch said. Seventeen miles northeast of Boise, Lucky Peak Dam extends 2,340 feet long and 340 feet high. The 12-mile-long reservoir behind it stores 300,000 acre-feet of water.

As with any other attempt to do statistical and predictability analysis of an unknown event, there are critics, including those who question whether this type of information should be public. However, Henry Willis who is a researcher at the Rand Corporation and a co-author of a study on terrorism risk modeling commented that “Studying vulnerability is an important part of understanding risk.” He also called the study "a novel way of thinking about the vulnerability of cities."

"They developed a measure of vulnerability that goes beyond what people have used in the past," he said. "The study suggests they have some ability to predict where events with catastrophic consequences will occur. The question is, are they measuring the right components? Have they identified the full set of components, and what are they missing?"

Clearly, risk is higher is areas of denser population. However, examination of the list might surprise some people. For example, Knoxville Tennessee, a city with a population of less than 200,000 is on the list (while the larger MSA has nearly 650,000 people, it is probably on the list because of its proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory). Certainly, for a study of risk vulnerability to be truly relevent, it also needs to be flexible to reflect changes in an area’s risk profile. As a simple example, of the five cities now under consideration as a location for the new DHS National Bio Agro Defense Facility, only two are on the current list.

Kagan & Kagan On Basra Knowns and Unknowns

There appear to be two dominant - and polarized - views on the recent clash between the Maliki government in Iraq and Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM or the Mahdi Army). One train of thought has Muqtada al-Sadr (and/or Iran) emerging victorious, while the other has Sadr (and/or iran) taking a major hit in a strategic defeat.

What was the impetus for the fight? Who took both the physical and perceived hits? Whose strategic landscape has been altered? To what ends? These are all important questions ot dissect and assemble answers to. But before any definitive answers can be suggested, we need to take in the knowns and unknowns.

To this end, Fred Kagan and Kimberly Kagan have put together 'the short list' on The Basra Business: What we know and what we don't. It is today's required reading; brief, bulleted and to the point.

MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.

What We Know:
• The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.

• The Sadrists and Special Groups failed to set Iraq alight despite their efforts--Iraqi forces kept the Five Cities area (Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, and Kut) under control with very little Coalition assistance; Iraqi and Coalition forces kept Baghdad under control.

• Sadr never moved to return to Iraq, ordered his forces to stop fighting without achieving anything, and further demonstrated his dependence on (and control by) Iran.

Be sure to read all of The Basra Business: What we know and what we don't. It's as excellent as it is important.

Surge the Bulldogs

Nile Gardiner at the Heritage Foundation writes on the Battle for Basra and logically concludes that Britain Should Launch a Troop Surge in Iraq. Of course, he's as correct as he is aware that this is simply not going to happen.

After all, the initial reaction is to quip that Britain is no - dare one say it - France. Sarkozy has ordered 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO mission there. But before anyone gets too carried away with the 'New France,' the old France reminded that while it may not have the presidency, it has not gone anywhere either. For as Sarkozy has indeed ordered French troops into Afghanistan, French political opposition to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has theforced Sarkozy to deploy the French troops into quieter Afghan areas in the east rather than where they are most needed, in support of the Canadians fighting around Kandahar and Helmand in the south.

April 1, 2008

'Hamas's Insults': Very Poor NYT Headline, Excellent Story

Regardless that I soon after found the article to be quite excellent, the following New York Times headline had me picking myself up off the floor.

In Gaza, Hamas’s Insults to Jews Complicate Peace

Never mind the barrages of Qassams and Katushyas peppering Israeli towns, or the dead and wounded they leave behind. The name calling is getting in the way of peace. Rhetoric is important, of course. But the headline just struck me as hilarious sans much historical coverage context at the NYT.

At least the Palestinians have not resorted to the new global war cry of cartoon depictions. It could, after all, be worse.

Amusement at the headline aside, the story is actually excellent. Please do read it. It looks at the pervasiveness of Hamas' message and its drumbeat effects on public perception in Gaza, especially among children in their formative years.

Hamas’s grip on Gaza matters, but what may matter more in the long run is its control over propaganda and education there, breeding longer-term problems for Israel, and for peace. No matter what Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agree upon, there is concern here that the attitudes being instilled will make a sustainable peace extremely difficult.

“If you take a sample on Friday, you’re bound to hear incitement against the Jews in the prayers and the imam’s sermon,” said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University here. “He uses verses from the Koran to say how the Jews were the enemies of the prophet and didn’t keep their promises to the prophet 1,400 years ago.”

Mr. Abusada is a Muslim and political independent. “You have young people, and everyone has to listen to the imam whether you believe him or not,” he said. “By saying the same thing over and over, you find a lot of people believing it, especially when he cites the Koran or hadith,” the sayings of the prophet.

I'd have simply chosen another headline. Very different.

UPDATE: But then again, there's nothing quite like demanding charity form those you kill. "Gazans Dying Because of Israeli Delays." Even more cheers for the New York Times today when considering that AP report.

Lobbyist or Honest Broker?

It is a given that we need to collect intelligence on our enemies and those who support them. You may not agree on a particular strategy that is being employed to perform this task, but at the risk of putting words into the mouths of others, you cannot seriously argue that the man assigned the responsibility for this particular mission should not be a vigorous advocate for the task at hand.

Casting DNI McConnell as a shill for a hated administration is helpful politically, but it conveniently ignores the fact that every appointee is obliged to champion the policies of the appointer. Anyone who can't stomach the job is obliged to resign.

Since he has done nothing his entire adult life but serve his country as an intelligence professional, and has been neck deep in this business for 29 years (something that no member of congress can come close to claiming), is it not more likely that he is an honest broker and by definition less inclined to bend in the political wind?

Either way he leaves his overseers scratching their heads, which says more about the latter than the former if you ask me.

Ceasefires In Iraq Go Through Iran's Quds Force

It should not go unnoticed that Iranian Quds Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani issued the cease-fire to the Mahdi Army.

The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.

There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.

If Muqtada al-Sadr held the power he is attributed in major media reports circulating pervasively, the ceasefire would not have required Iran's Quds Force commander's co-signature like a father on his son's first car loan.

When US commanders discuss arms shipments from Iran to Iraqi groups they are often dismissed or even derided (along with their Commander in Chief) for trying to engineer a war with Iran. Perhaps Iraqi lawmakers actually asking Iran to stop the weapons shipments will resonate among those who roll their eyes at US commanders on the subject.

If you're not familiar with him, perhaps readers would like to meet Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani. His Quds Force was believed to have "attempted to provide both explosives and upwards of $900,000 to [now dead former commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq] Abu Musab Zarqawi, with the intention of him carrying out attacks on U.S. and European embassies and commercial centers in five Gulf states." _Al-Sharq al-Awsat _ reported in May 2004 that then-Iranian president Khatami pulled the plug on the operation when he learned of it for fear only of the violent American retaliation that would ensue.

Such Dangerous Liaisons between Iran and al-Qaeda for major operations are too widely dismissed by analysts because of the theological and political differences between Shi'a Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda. The true 'dangerous liaisons' are those between said analysts and this critically flawed logic of irreconcilable differences and pervasive dislike and distrust among terrorist groups and state sponsors who share a common enemy.

You may recall that Quds Force operators killed a US soldier in a kidnapping operation, after which they executed the four kidnapped US soldiers on the side of a road outside Karbala, Iraq.

We've cited Bill Roggio in our DailyBriefings regarding the recent conflict between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army. And it is worth noting that Bill reminds again Monday in also noting the important McClatchy report that "[t]he Iraqi military, for its part, is moving more forces to Basra. The Mahdi Army has taken significant casualties in Baghdad, Basra, and the greater South after seven days of fighting."

However, Vali Nasr, the author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, said in an interview that "Al-Sadr achieved what he wanted. He stood his ground, made his point and showed he has the real power in the south, not his rivals." Muqtada al-Sadr's Shi'a rivals in the south are the Badr Brigades of ISCI and Fadhila, which controls the governorship of al-Basra province and holds sway over much of the critical oil operations there.

That said, we interpret that if anyone "got what he wanted" among the bad actors, it was General Suleimani and Iran, not Sadr, whose usefulness to the Iranians no longer extends much farther than his father's name. At the same time, it cannot be discounted that the Mahdi Army uprising from Baghdad all the way to Basra was combated by the Iraqi Army and security forces with limited assistance from Coalition forces - and not the other way around.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
    [Listen Here]
    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

Special Reports

Recent Features