December 30, 2009

Israeli withdrawal from al-Ghajar - no impact

Click in image for larger view

Israel has announced that it will soon withdraw its forces from the Lebanese half of a village that is located astride the Lebanese-Syrian border. Israeli troops have occupied and administered the city since the area was seized during the Six Day War in June 1967. The northern half of the city is in Lebanon, and the southern half is in Syria adjacent to the Golan Heights.

Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year occupation. As part of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, Lebanese militias were to disarm once all foreign (read Israeli but not Syrian) forces had pulled out of the country. All of Lebanese various armed factions abided by the agreement with the notable exception of Hizballah. Hizballah maintained that Israel's continued occupation of the northern half of al-Ghajar, clearly in Lebanon, and an area nearby called the Shaba' Farms, constituted a violation of UNSCR 1559 and thus provided legal justification for the Iranian and Syrian-backed Shi'a group to maintain its militia.

The Shaba' Farms claim is ludicrous, but allows Hizballah the myth that Israeli forces are still occupying portions of Lebanon. On virtually any credible map, the Shaba' Farms are clearly part of Syria - occupied since 1967 by Israeli troops, but still part of Syria. Even the United Nations agrees that the Farms are part of Syria.

Syria claims to have ceded the Farms area to Lebanon years ago, yet no reliable documentation exists. In fact, Syrian military maps clearly show the area to be in Syria. The assertion that the area is Lebanese is a charade that allows Hizballah to claim that Israeli troops are still in Lebanon. It's Hizballah's fig leaf - see my earlier article, The Shaba' Farms - Hizballah's Fig Leaf.

The situation with the Shaba' Farms does not change with the Israeli withdrawal from al-Ghajar, but it removes one more excuse that Hizballah uses to maintain its militia. The Lebanese government recently officially authorized Hizballah to use its militia - they use the term "resistance" - against the continued "Israeli occupation" of Lebanese land. Israel should have withdrawn from the Lebanese side of al-Ghajar years ago, as I urged - Hey Israel, give Ghajar back to Lebanon.

Israel's withdrawal also brings them into compliance with UNSCR 1701 (see my earlier article UNSCR 1701 - Deferment of the Problem) which ended the fighting between Hizballah and Israeli forces in 2006. Under that agreement, Lebanese forces were to take up positions in southern Lebanon, and Hizballah was to be disarmed. Neither has happened.

Despite American and UN beliefs that Israel's withdrawal from al-Ghajar will ease tensions between Israel and Lebanon, it will have no real impact. As long as Lebanon and Syria perpetuate the myth that the Israeli-occupied Shaba' Farms are part of Lebanon and not part of Syria, Hizballah will maintain its militia.

Anyone who believes that Hizballah is going to voluntarily disarm does not understand Lebanon. Israel is making a meaningless gesture.

It's time to wake up and profile

I was asked by Basil & Spice director (and friend) Kelly Ja'don for my thoughts on profiling, in the aftermath of the Christmas terrorist incident.

Click on image to read the article
Click here to read the article at Basil & Spice.

December 28, 2009

Al-Qa'idah members - criminals or combatants?

AQAP press release

The recent case of the 23-year old Nigerian who attempted to blow up an American airliner on a flight from Europe to the United States on Christmas highlights a continuing problem that goes back at least as far as the presidency of Bill Clinton. Clinton believed that persons who conduct acts of terrorism are basically criminals and should be handled by the judicial system.

President Obama initially referred to 'Umar al-Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib as a lone extremist and an "alleged bomber." In fact - as later acknowledged by the President and his confused Secretary of Homeland Security - 'Abd al-Mutalib was trained in Yemen by al-Qa'idah. The poster above is part of a press kit released by al-Malahim, the media branch of the al-Qa'idah in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Note that al-malahim is Arabic for "fierce battles, slaughters."

My translation of the Arabic on the poster:

----The Al-Qa'idah Jihad Organization in the Arabian Peninsula
----The operation of Brother Holy Warrior
----'Umar al-Faruq al-Nijiri

The use of the honorific name 'Umar al-Faruq al-Nijiri, translated as 'Umar al-Faruq the Nigerian, is a common style among al-Qa'idah militants. Often they will use a kunya - Abu ____ is the most common - followed by a geographic designator. That is why you read about many militants with final names al-Masri (the Egyptian), al-Libi (the Libyan), al-Maghrabi (the Moroccan), etc. A good example is Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (Father of Mus'ab, of Zarqa' - a city in Jordan).

It appears that President Obama is reverting to the same Clinton policies that failed to prevent al-Qa'idah from mounting attacks on the two American embassies in Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and the World Trade Center in 2001. Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, President Bush attempted to have captured al-Qa'idah militants labeled as "unlawful combatants" with no legal rights under the Constitution, nor eligible for protection under the Geneva Conventions. This has been successfully and unfortunately challenged in U.S. courts.

The court did however agree that al-Qa'idah detainees can be tried by U.S. military tribunals, which seemed like a workable compromise. However, in its attempts to put the previous administration (and some of our intelligence officers) on trial, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to try at least four of the senior al-Qa'idah leadership in federal courts in New York City. With that decision comes the attachment of all legal rights of American citizen - right to remain silent, right to counsel, rules of evidence, etc.

The Obama Administration is treating committed enemy combatants as common criminals. The poster above belies that mistaken theory. These people are not common criminals - they are warriors. Misguided by a perverted interpretation of Islam, yes, but warriors nonetheless. They have an organization, a hierarchy, resources, plans and a fervent commitment that far exceeds criminal enterprise. Criminals have a profit motive - these mujahidin (holy warriors) have a political and religious ideology.

These photos show 'Abd al-Mutalib's underwear and the explosives hidden inside. This is not the work of a criminal - this is the work of a committed mujahid, a holy warrior, a terrorist.

'Abd al-Mutalib's underwear

PETN explosive
This amount of the explosive PETN (a major ingredient of the terrorists' preferred explosive Semtex) is more than enough to destroy an airliner in flight - it is more than used by the "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid. Fortunately, PETN requires the use of a strong detonator - the acid used by this terrorist was not sufficient to cause a detonation and only started the PETN on fire. I have lit Semtex with a match (don't ask) - it burns hotly but does not explode.

What is critical in the Clinton/Obama approach is how we can treat people like 'Abd al-Mutalib. Both Clinton and Obama are lawyers and view the world from that particular optic. Evidence, arguments, rules, procedures - and civility. None of those apply to this war in which we find ourselves.

Once we attach citizen's rights to these terrorists, we lose the ability to effectively interrogate them for useful intelligence. Does the President not believe that 'Abd al-Mutalib may be able to provide information on al-Qa'idah personalities, plans, training, capabilities, contacts, procedures, etc.? We need to extract and exploit all we information can from these captured combatants, not allow them to "lawyer up" and deny us the intelligence we need to better defend ourselves.

These militants are not criminals, they are combatants - start treating them like it. 'Abd al-Mutalib should be in an interrogation cell in Guantanamo, not a jail in Michigan.

Yemen - the new front in the war against al-Qa'idah

Yemen is emerging as the new front in the war against al-Qa'idah at the same time the Obama Administration is sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.

As President Obama himself has stated on more than one occasion, the mission of American forces in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qa'idah. The President does not appear to be reading his intelligence reports - there are virtually no al-Qa'idah militants remaining in Afghanistan. They have moved - initially to Pakistan to escape American forces in late 2001, then to Iraq in 2003 to fight American forces there, then to Saudi Arabia as Iraq became a losing proposition, and now in Yemen after Saudi security forces ruthlessly pursued them in the kingdom.

If the real aim of the U.S. war on terror is to defeat al-Qa'idah, we are sending troops to the wrong place. The bad guys are in Yemen.

The image below is illustrative of the danger posed by al-Qa'idah in Yemen. This group is organized and apparently well-funded. This is their stationery - click on the image for larger view. Here is my translation of this particular bulletin, which gives some insight into who we are fighting.

Click on image for larger view
The Al-Qa'idah Jihad Organization of the Arabian Peninsula
Soldiers of Yemen Brigade*
Expelling the Infidels** from the Arabian Peninsula
Bulletin Number 11
Martyred Heroes Abu Dijanah al-Hadurmi and
Ahmad bin Sa'id bin 'Umar al-Mushajari
May Allah receive them in martyrdom
* literally: battalions, but used by these groups to mean brigade
** literally: polytheists

The December 25 failed attack on an airliner by a Nigerian militant appears to have a Yemen connection - it is believed that 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib was trained in Yemen. This follows two incidents earlier this year with connections to Yemen. In November, U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood. Hasan was being counseled by Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, an American of Yemeni descent now resident in Yemen. Al-Awlaki may have also been involved in the recruitment and training of 'Abd al-Mutalib as well. In July, a convert to Islam murdered an American soldier in Little Rock - that individual had received training in Yemen.

Yemen has a spotty record of dealing with terrorists. It appears that only when al-Qa'idah poses a threat to the government of 'Ali 'Abdallah Salih is any action taken against the group. Numerous detainees that have been repatriated to Yemen from the detention facility at Guantanamo have either escaped and remain at large or have rejoined the fight. Hopefully this latest incident will cause the Obama Administration to rethink its misguided policy about sending many of the Guantanamo detainees to Yemen in its haste to close the facility.

If the United States and the Obama Administration are serious about defeating al-Qa'idah, they need to focus more efforts on Yemen. The recent U.S. cruise missile strike is a good start, as are increased CIA operations in the country. As I have said before, the only way to deal with al-Qa'idah is to hunt them down and kill them. That means going after them where they are - and it's not Afghanistan. It's Yemen.

My earlier articles on Yemen:

December 22, 2009

U.S. Air Strike in Yemen - kudos to President Obama

Anyone who reads Middle East Perspectives is aware of my critical view of President Obama's policies on the nuclear issue in Iran, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think he is making some serious errors in his prosecution of the wars and his constant willingness to ignore the fact that Iran is not interested in serious negotiations that will end its quest to develop a nuclear weapon.

That said, he has made some excellent decisions about attacking al-Qa'idah wherever we find them. I wrote an earlier piece in support of the President's decision not only to continue but escalate the Bush-era drone-launched missile attacks against al-Qa'idah targets in Pakistan (
A sound Obama policy - missile strikes in Pakistan). On December 18, the President ordered air-launched cruise missile strikes against two al-Qa'idah targets in Yemen.

The strike was conducted in cooperation with the Yemeni government. This in itself is interesting. Up until just recently, the Yemeni government has had little interest in confronting al-Qa'idah, almost to the point of complicity. (See my 2008 article,
Yemen - state sponsor of terrorism?). However, once it became clear that the new influx of al-Qa'idah militants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were a threat to one of the most corrupt governments on the planet, President 'Ali 'Abdallah Salih decided that action was necessary.

The change of heart is a repeat of what happened in Saudi Arabia. Prior to 2004, the Saudi government turned a blind eye to the al-Qa'idah presence in the Kingdom - remember that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. After a few lethal jihadist attacks on foreign workers and more importantly, the Kingdom's oil infrastructure, Saudi security forces more than decimated al-Qa'idah, forcing the surviving members to flee to Yemen. Now it's Yemen's turn to take on the jihadists. Whereas Saudi security forces are very capable, Yemeni security forces are not - thus the request for American assistance.

The two targets hit by American missiles were described as a suspected al-Qa'idah training camp north of Sana' and a "location where an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned." Unfortunately, one of the intended victims, al-Qa'idah in Yemen commander Qasm al-Raymi (above), escaped. One has to wonder whether the targets were identified by Yemeni intelligence, or by U.S. intelligence. Yemeni intelligence has not been reliable, especially when it comes to al-Qa'idah. These targets are located in areas that are virtually under al-Qa'idah control and the Yemeni military is loath to operate.

The choice of weapon is also interesting. Air launched cruise missiles - like the one pictured above - are much larger and lethal than the smaller Hellfire missiles carried on CIA and USAF unmanned aerial vehicles. The smaller Hellfires were used at least once in Yemen in a CIA operation to kill al-Qa'idah leaders in late 2002. The use of the cruise missiles, normally carried by Air Force bombers, represents a welcome escalation in the war against al-Qa'idah.

These strikes are exactly what we should be doing to attack and eliminate al-Qa'idah, wherever they are. They are not in Afghanistan, nor are they likely to return there. There are remnants in Pakistan, who are being dealt with cooperatively by Pakistani forces and targeted CIA missile attacks. The remnants that were in Saudi Arabia have either fled or are being hunted down by Saudi security forces. Survivors have fewer places to run - it used to be Yemen and Somalia. If we continue to work with the Yemenis, we can deny them safe haven there, almost forcing them to relocate to Somalia.

Somalia may well be the next front on the war against al-Qa'idah. In any case, it's not Afghanistan.

December 18, 2009

Ahmadinejad - another deft move at Copenhagen?

WARNING: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THIS MAN. He has thus far out-politicked two American administrations, the United Nations and the European Union.

While in Copenhagen for the climate change conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - besides bashing the United States for all the world's ills - continued his successful strategy for dealing with the issue of his country's nuclear weapons program. Yes, a nuclear weapons program - I am not aware of anyone who seriously believes the Iranian regime's claims that their nuclear program is for the development of electric power generation capability.

As I predicted when the Iranians "agreed" in October to export their low-enriched uranium to be processed in Russia and France into fuel rods - and not by the Iranians into weapons grade fissile material - the "done deal" fell apart. There never was a deal - there was only an Iranian statement. As soon as the talks ended, the Iranian government rejected the proposal, making the parties on the other side of the table look impotent. That group consisted of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia and China) plus Germany, called the P5+1.

Making the rejection appear to be an internal Iranian government debate was a clever ruse. There are only two people that count in Iranian politics - Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmound Ahmadinejad, and in that order. Iran would not have a nuclear program without the direct involvement of these two officials. It is a key priority for them to elevate Iran to the status of a nuclear armed nation. They have no intention of abandoning that goal.

To that end, Ahmadinejad will say whatever is necessary to advance the program. Advancing the program now means staving off effective sanctions on Iran. That involves seeming to agree to talks with the P5+1 or the EU, all the while delaying the imposition of sanctions. Ahmadinejad is also trying (successfully) to cultivate a special relationship with China. China is the key to effective sanctions, and thus far the Chinese have been reluctant to abandon diplomacy (basically that is talking) in favor of action.

Just when we approach another artificial American deadline of the end of the year, and an EU artificial deadline next month, Ahmadinejad once again raised the possibility of an agreement if only the United States and the West "respect the Islamic Republic and stop making threats." It is important to note that if these conditions are met, Iran is willing to, yes, talk about an agreement. That agreement will not include exporting Iran's low-enriched uranium.

This all sounds ludicrous, but Ahmadinejad has successfully evaded effective, coordinated sanctions for years. All the while, he talks about agreements, yet there is never anything more to these agreements than an agreement to future talks.

I wonder how long the Obama administration is going to be outsmarted by this guy. Obviously, Ahmadinejad has no intention of striking an agreement that curbs his nuclear ambition, so why are we continuing this kabuki dance?

If I were president...

I would publicly state to Ahmadinejad that the United States will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. If that sounds a bit imperialistic, so be it. We cannot live with Iran in possession of nuclear weapons. Not only are we unsure of what they will do with that capability, but it is not certain they would not supply a weapon to its client terrorist groups - Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad to name a few.

Do not think this is too far-fetched. Ahmadinejad has often spoken of hastening the return of the Mahdi, the 12th imam of Shi'a Islam - in other words, Armageddon. This is not rhetoric - Ahmadinejad is a true believer, and true believers can be dangerous.

We should not underestimate this man. We should be seeking his - and Khamenei's - demise.

December 12, 2009

Date certain withdrawal - always a mistake

This death and devastation is what you get when you tell the enemy the date when you will withdraw your troops. It was a mistake in Iraq - 127 dead in one day - and it is a mistake in Afghanistan. Setting a date certain for leaving the fight is a bad idea - it almost guarantees an outcome less than victory.

This concept is not new, nor is it rocket science. It is, however, irresponsible and dangerous. Expect the scene above to continue in Iraq, and expect it to begin in about 18 months in Afghanistan.

I don't know who the President is listening to for military advice, but I suspect that it is some political hack that has never worn a uniform or heard a shot fired in anger. I keep wondering where is General Jim Jones, the alleged national security advisor - surely he knows better. The former commandant of the Marine Corps should be telling the President that his seemingly unwavering commitment to begin the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in June of 2011 is a bad idea.

Withdrawal of troops should begin only when the mission has been accomplished. Of course, much of that depends on how you define mission accomplishment. For those of us who have worn a uniform and heard a shot fired in anger, it means victory. I used to believe that the President had trouble using the word victory, however, I am starting to believe that he has trouble with the actual concept of victory.

The President has taken the first step - he made the decision to augment American forces in Afghanistan. Personally, I question the wisdom of a counterinsurgency strategy versus counterterrorism, but in any case, he has made the decision. We can debate whether his stated goal of defeating al-Qa'idah is reasonable, given the fact that most of al-Qa'idah is no longer in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is not a threat to American interests.

Obama's acceptance speech at the Nobel ceremony was another good step. I am sure he ruffled the feathers of the pacifist Europeans - another good step. One might get the impression that the President was on the road to recovery and actually becoming the commander in chief in more than just name. Then, he fell off the wagon and reiterated his commitment to the 18-month timetable for withdrawal.

If the President continues with this policy, we are setting up Afghanistan for the type of continuing internecine violence we see now in Iraq. Al-Qa'idah in Iraq waited patiently until the more-capable American forces withdrew from the cities and turned over security duties over to Iraqi units, then began a series of attacks hoping to restart the civil war with the Shi'a majority. Thus far, they have failed, but have killed thousands of Iraqis and highlighted the fragility of the Iraqi government.

The Taliban understands the concept as well. They will wait out the Americans, just as the Afghans have waited out invaders before. At least this time, they know exactly how long they have to wait. In June 2011, this latest set of invaders will declare victory and start to return home.

Come on, General, explain to the President what a bad idea this is.

"A Night with Saddam" - a unique perspective

I don't normally endorse books - unless they favorably reference me....

I am making an exception here for two reasons. I was intimately involved in the reportage at NBC News (NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC) of Saddam's capture, subsequent trial and execution.

Who can forget The Today Show segment with Matt Lauer and I in the mock up of the spider-hole from which Saddam was pulled six years ago this weekend - December 13, 2003? (See also my recent piece,
Execution of Saddam - in hindsight a good thing.)

The other reason is that the author, Dr. Mark Green, will donate a portion of the proceeds to my favorite charity - the
Wounded Warrior Project, as well as to the Night Stalker Association and the Bay Medical Foundation. Dr. Green, before becoming a physician, commanded a rifle company in the 82nd Airborne Division. As an Army physician, he was the American medical officer who examined and spoke with Saddam Husayn that night.

The book is A Night with Saddam - A Special Ops Flight Surgeon's Interview With Saddam Hussein On The Night Of His Capture And The Missions Which Led To Their Meeting.
Read more at Dr. Green's website.

An excerpt from the book:

"There was very little interrogating going on at this late hour in the battlefield interrogation facility (BIF). Most of the intelligence people wanted Saddam to rest prior to their intense questioning. The dignitaries and senior commanders had visited him and were now gone.

About this time, around midnight, the physician assigned to the BIF left. One of the senior intelligence officers recognized me standing outside the cell speaking with the interpreters and told me that the admiral wanted a medical officer with Saddam constantly. He asked if I would go in and stay the first night with him. I said yes and gathered my thoughts. The shear excitement of the moment was balanced by the realization of the terror and evil this man had produced in his lifetime.

I grabbed a worn-out copy of the Stars and Stripes newspaper and walked into his makeshift cell to share in the first night of captivity with the captured King of Babylon."

December 11, 2009

European Union demands that Iran agree to talk???

You can't make this stuff up. Note Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani's attempt to stifle a laugh.

According to a draft statement being circulated among the member countries, the European Union proposes to establish a deadline for Iran to agree to more talks about its nuclear program. Are they serious?

Of course Iran will agree to talk - that is all they have ever truly agreed to do. The farce of an agreement in October by which Iran would export its stockpile of low-enriched uranium was merely the latest in a series of Iranian delaying tactics. As I have said repeatedly, they agree to talk - all the while enriching several kilograms of uranium each day.

Here is the EU's stern, punishing threat to Iran: agree to come back to the negotiating table by the EU meeting at the end of January, or we will "consider" supporting a sanctions protocol wanted by the United States.

Yes, that's right - they might consider doing something if the Iranians don't agree to talk. Finally, the Europeans have delivered a devastating ultimatum to the Iranians. I imagine this has sent shock waves throughout the Iranian leadership. No doubt they are having special meetings in Tehran to deal with this crisis.

I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that the Iranians will agree to have talks. Yes, they will agree to once again talk about having more talks about their nuclear program. They have always declared that their nuclear enrichment program itself was non-negotiable, but that they would agree to talk about having talks. It seems we are about to repeat this "self-licking ice cream cone" kabuki dance.

Satire aside, this is a welcome, albeit virtually meaningless gesture. The key players in the Iranian sanctions debate are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Although in recent weeks Russia has softened (but not abandones) its opposition to tough sanctions on Iran, China remains steadfast that diplomacy needs to be given more time. I don't know how much more time the Chinese have in mind, but at some point it will be too late and Iran will present the world with a fait accompli and declare that it is a nuclear-armed state.

It is important to also note the somewhat surprising position of Turkey on sanctions. They have also stated that diplomacy needs more time. In the past, Turkey was concerned about Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon and its support of terrorist groups - Turkey has been a frequent victim of Islamist terrorist attacks. That appears to have changed. Perhaps the Turks have concluded that the new American administration is not going to be able to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and is attempting to incur favor with the mullahs in Tehran. If there is a sanctions regime put in place, Turkey, with its border with Iran, will be a key player in the enforcement protocol.

Again, Iran seems to have convinced the world that be agreeing to endless talks that there may be a successful diplomatic outcome to the nuclear issue. I doubt there will be - I also doubt there will be effective sanctions. This issue is not going away soon.

December 7, 2009

Hizballah - the key power broker in Lebanon

In a vote that didn't get much attention except from those of us who follow these things fairly closely, Lebanon's newly-formed government granted the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizballah the right to maintain its militia forces, and the authority to employ them against Israel. Actually, this was a confirmation of an existing policy which authorized the army and "the resistance" (the Lebanese idiomatic term for Hizballah) to liberate what Lebanon and Syria label as the Israeli-occupied Shaba' Farms. It is fiction - the Shaba' Farms are part of Syria, Israeli occupied yes, but not part of Lebanon. See my earlier article, The Shaba' Farms - Hizballah's Fig Leaf.

This decision is in direct contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and the militia group. The resolution requires that the Lebanese government prevent the re-arming of Hizballah, and further required that Beirut deploy the useless Lebanese army to the country's southern border with Israel to keep Hizballah fighters out of the area. The resolution also expands the mandate of the grossly ineffective United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon - "interim" since its creation in 1978. Now we have almost double the foreign forces doing nothing in southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese cabinet has in effect legitimized Hizballah as a second army inside Lebanon, not unlike the current situation in Iran, where the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are a parallel - and superior - armed force to the regular Iranian military. It is useful to note that is was an IRGC unit in Syria and Lebanon that created Hizballah in 1982.

Since the end of the 2006 war and the passage of UNSCR 1701, the Syrians and Iranians have not only completely re-equipped Hizballah in quantity, but have also increased the quality of the group's arsenal. Hizballah's inventory of rockets that was largely depleted in 2006 has been replaced with larger and longer-range rockets. When there are future Hizballah attacks on Israel - and there will be future attacks - rockets will reach farther into the Jewish state, this time not only threatening Haifa, but possibly Tel Aviv as well.

The new Lebanese government has been fully co-opted by Hizballah. The new Prime Minister, Sa'ad al-Hariri, has made his deal with the devil. The new Lebanese government includes Hizballah, is very pro-Syrian, and has now thumbed its nose at the United Nations. Ironically, it was Syrian-backed assassins that killed al-Hariri's father Rafiq in February 2005 in Beirut. Now he is in bed with the very people who killed his father.

Syria, whose 30-year military presence in Lebanon was ended by the "Cedar Revolution" - the public demonstrations that erupted after the al-Hariri assassination, has finally regained its influence over what is called in Syrian slang al-muhafizih (the province). Its primary agents in the country are the Prime Minister and Hizballah. Nothing happens in Lebanon without the blessings of Damascus and Hizballah.

Lebanese politics are like that.

December 1, 2009

Taliban analysis of the Obama speech

President Obama revealed his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan in a prime time address tonight. This is how the Taliban's intelligence officers may have assessed his strategies.

DATE: Thu al-Hijjah 13, 1430 (December 1, 2009)
FROM: Taliban Intelligence/Qandahar
TO: Excellency Mullah Omar (Allah protect him)
SUBJ: President Obama Provides Outline for Taliban Victory in Afghanistan


1. SUMMARY: Infidel Crusader President Barack Obama outlined his new strategy for the continued occupation of our country. As with previous invaders, he has decided to increase the number of troops in the country, specifically 30,000 to be deployed to the Helmand province. He will begin the withdrawal of American forces in 18 months. Victory is within sight. Allahu akbar.

2. MAIN POINTS: Obama described his three-fold strategy:

a. A military effort to destroy the movement. The first troops of the 30,000 will be U.S. Marines in the Qandahar area. Now that we know they are coming in a month, we will be ready for them. This information is fortuitous - since Obama has told us how many of his troops are to be deployed where, we do not have to recruit an intelligence asset in the extremely corrupt Afghan forces or defense ministry to find out his intentions.

b. An augmented civil affairs effort and increased cooperation with the traitor Hamid Karzai government. This is really of no concern, as these are soft targets. After a few high-casualty attacks, the American and United Nations do-gooders will rethink their decision. This strategy is of little concern to us.

c. Increased partnership with the corrupt regime in Islamabad. This causes our beards to shake with laughter. Obama wants to work both sides of the imposed border that divides the Pushtuns? He will discover that regardless of which side of the imaginary line we are, we are all Pushtuns and true believers. Increased attacks on targets in the Punjabi and Sindh areas will sap any fervor in Pakistan for cooperation with the Americans. Attacks against our al-Qa'idah cousins in the Waziristan area will not be effective, despite the increased use of cowardly unpiloted aircraft.


a. TROOP WITHDRAWAL: Crusader leader Obama has provided a date certain when his troops will be leaving our country, another in the long line of nations and empires that have tried to subjugate Afghanistan and the Pushtun people. To our good fortune, thanks be to Allah, the infidels will be gone in 18 months.

Excellency, we suggest that you encourage the mujahidin to weather the coming storm while the infidels expend their last effort to subdue the sons of Allah. After we wait out the Americans for a mere year and a half, they too will leave our mountains and we can rebuild the Islamic state we all crave. Now that we have a date when the Crusaders will leave, we can plan accordingly. Victory in Second Jumadah 1432, almost ten years to the day after the glorious al-Qa'idah attacks on New York and Washington!

b. AL-QA'IDAH: Obama tends to confuse the efforts of the heroes of New York and Washington with ours. The mission of the initial American invasion was to defeat al-Qa'idah. That meant first defeating us. They believe they have done so, but Shaykh Usamah bin Ladin is still alive, although no longer a guest of us Taliban. He is no longer a guest, he is no longer here.

Was the goal of the operation to remove the Taliban? No, it was supposedly about al-Qa'idah. If the mission of the American effort in our country is to defeat al-Qa'idah, we do not understand Obama's orders - al-Qa'idah is no longer here. If we are not a threat to the capitalist regime in Washington, why are they going to increase their troop presence here? We question the president's logic. If he wants to fight al-Qa'idah, perhaps he should focus his efforts in Yemen or Somalia.

c. PAKISTAN: Apostate Obama spoke many times about cooperation with Pakistan, yet there seems to be little willingness on the part of the regime in Islamabad to work with the Americans. Our contacts within the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate assure us that any cooperation with the Americans - including the unpiloted aircraft attacks - is from the Punjabis and Sindhs - the Pushtuns remain in our camp.

d. CRIMES/LEGAL STATUS: In what can only be assessed as good news for the mujahidin, the apostate leader described the heroic acts of the 19 martyrs of Second Jumadah 22, 1422 (what the Crusaders call September 11, 2001) as "murder." As we had hoped, the new administration views these attacks as crimes. We assess that designation means continued access to the lenient and cumbersome American legal system for any of our captured brethren.

We recommend that all of the mujahidin be trained to request a lawyer immediately should they be detained by infidel occupiers, and invoke the right to remain silent. These protections afforded to us by the Americans will only help us to be more effective in our operations since we no longer need to fear compromise of operational information.

Obama again committed to the closure of the prison at Guantanamo. Our brothers will soon be moved to the enemy's heartland. It remains to be seen how much access they will have to other detainees, but we hope the brothers will have the opportunity to spread the Taliban and our al-Qa'idah cousins' ideology to other detainees. The jihad continues.

e. COALITION RELATIONS: Obama claimed that he had the backing of 43 nations in his fight to destroy our movement. We are puzzled by this. While there are in fact troops from other infidel countries, the bulk of the fighting is done by the Americans, British, Dutch and Polish crusader forces. The Canadians have announced they are "completing their mission" - Excellency, that is diplomatic jargon for withdrawing. Another infidel country has had its taste of Afghanistan and is going home. The Germans are virtually prohibited from combat operations. The other countries? We cannot account for Obama's claims, but if we are taking on 43 countries, where are their warriors?

f. DELIVERY: We have analyzed the American president's speeches for the last few years. He is a polished orator, but tonight he lacked the inspiring tone that is his trademark. We assess that two things worked against him - the message and the venue. Obama came to office ready to exit Iraq - what he called the war of choice - and to concentrate on Afghanistan - what he called the war of necessity. That rhetoric has shifted somewhat. Tonight the President spoke more of a cost-benefit-analysis approach to the effort in our country. He talked about what was possible based on the cost, so we need to make his country's sojourn to ours more expensive - expensive in terms of blood and treasure. As with the Inglizi (British) and Russi (Russians), if we make it too expensive, they will leave and we will recreate the true Islamic state.

The venue of the apostate's remarks was interesting - the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The leader was addressing the young men - and yes, Excellency, women - who will be the future warriors of the infidels. It was noteworthy that there was an almost somnolent atmosphere at an institution that produces the fighters of America's wars. The reception afforded the commander in chief was muted at best.

g. MISCELLANEOUS: The American apostate made other gratuitous comments about nuclear disarmament (do we have nuclear weapons, Excellency?), and his outreach to the Muslim world. We note that his "outreach" includes Hellfire missiles and more troops in our Islamic state.

4. CONCLUSION: We assess that the American president, the apostate Barack Obama, is swinging at a goat carcass much larger than his club can handle. He is trying to appease the anti-war crowd that elected him while the reality of his responsibilities is setting in. If Allah wills, Excellency, the Americans will declare "mission accomplished" in 18 months and leave our country. All we have to do is hold on for that period of time and victory is ours.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - the truly Islamic state - will resurrect, thanks be to Allah. Another invader will leave and we will progress on the path of jihad.

In the service of Allah,
Mullah Istikhbar

November 24, 2009

FBI arrests group seeking arms for "the Resistance"

This week the FBI arrested five men of Lebanese origin who are accused of trying to buy 100 Stinger shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, as well as 250 assault rifles. The men stated that the missiles would be used against helicopters and aircraft - specifically F-16 fighter jets. According to the FBI report, the men wanted the weapons shipped to Syria or Iran for use by "the Resistance." It goes on to say, "the 'Resistance' group was not further identified."

The Resistance group was unidentified? Okay, let's try Middle East Terrorism 101.

The men accused of trying to acquire the weapons are of Lebanese origin. They were attempting to acquire weapons capable of downing an F-16. Let's see - Lebanon and the F-16. Who flies F-16 aircraft over Lebanon on an almost daily basis? The Israeli air force. Who fires at the Israeli aircraft, with little effect? Hizballah. They would like to acquire a better capability.

The weapons were to be shipped to either Syria or Iran. Who are the primary weapons suppliers of Hizballah? Syria and Iran, mostly via Damascus airport and the highway into the Biqa' Valley.

What is the Arabic name for the militia associated with Hizballah? Al-muqawamah al-islamiyah. It translates to "the Islamic resistance." A simple Google search will tell you this.

Hizballah is not shy about it - they paint it on their equipment. This is a section of a UAV shot down over northern Israel during the war between Hizballah and Israel in 2006.

The logo is that of Hizballah - the Arabic words at the top read - "Air Force - Reconnaissance Unit." Above the English "Islamic Resistance" are the Arabic words al-muqawamah al-islamiyah fi lubnan - the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon.

Seems pretty clear to me. These guys were trying to buy antiaircraft weapons for Hizballah to shoot down Israeli aircraft. The weapons were to be delivered via Syria or Iran.

Why don't they just say that?

November 21, 2009

Perspective on Yemen's recent violence

The recent violence in Yemen, which has included a fairly substantial Saudi military cross-border operation, should not be confused with al-Qa'idah operations on the Arabian Peninsula. It is true that there are many al-Qa'idah operatives in Yemen - they have relocated to the weakly-governed country from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, the group operating on the Saudi border are not al-Qa'idah - in fact, they are radically different. Bad guys, to be sure, just not of the al-Qa'idah ilk.

These are the Huthis, named for the now-dead leader of the group, Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi. This group first appeared in 2004 when they began a series of protests against the government in Sana' for its cooperation (little as its has been) with the United States in the war on terror. Al-Huthi was killed in the initial uprising.

What is unique about the Huthis is that they are Shi'a Muslims. Most of the population of Yemen are Sunnis, as are virtually all members of al-Qa'idah. There is no apparent cooperation between the Huthis and al-Qa'idah. However, there are indications that the Huthis are being supported by another terrorist organization - the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In late October, Yemen claims to have intercepted a ship carrying Iranian weapons to the Huthis. This makes sense - the Iranians are noted for supporting Shi'a groups - Hizballah is the prime example.

It should be noted that the Huthis follow a different Shi'a tradition than the Iranians. Iranians are overwhelmingly "Twelver" Shi'a, in other words, they believe in the succession of Muhammad through 12 imams. The Huthis are Zaydis, sometimes referred to "Fiver" Shi'a since they believe in the succession of Muhammad through the first five imams. The fifth imam was Zayd ibn 'Ali (hence the descriptor "Zaydi"), the great great grandson of the prophet Muhammad - most Zaydis live in Yemen.

That said, it is plausible for the Iranians to be assisting the Huthis. Wherever there are Shi'a militants, there seems to be Iranian support. The Yemeni government has accused the Iranians of providing weapons to the group via Eritrea, as well as moving Hizballah militants from Lebanon. Last week, Iran announced that it was deploying warships to the Gulf of Aden supposedly to join in the fight against Somali pirates operating in the region. One could make the case that they are actually there to support the Huthis.

Realistically, what do the mullahs in Tehran hope to gain by supporting the Huthis in Yemen? Are they hoping to create a Shi'a state on the Arabian Peninsula? Are they hoping to overthrow the government of 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih? Perhaps they want to lessen Salih's alleged (I use that word for a reason) cooperation with the United States in the war on terror?

None of those are the primary reason for Iranian interference in Yemeni affairs. It has to do with Yemen's neighbor to the north, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia have longstanding animosity on several levels. Both nations sit astride the Persian Gulf - Saudi Arabia to the west, Iran to the east. The Iranians, who are mostly ethnic Persians, believe it is called the "Persian" Gulf for a reason. In contrast, the Arabs refer to it as the Arab Gulf, and it is written that way on maps printed in the Arab world. Most of us who have to deal with the Arabs simply refer to it as al-khalij - "The Gulf."

The Huthis have been active along the Saudi border, at times crossing into Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have reacted militarily, moving warships into the Red Sea to interdict the arms route from Eritrea. They have also conducted air strikes into northern Yemen and moved ground forces into the area. They have pledged to continue their military operations against the Huthis until the Huthis withdraw from a 10-kilometer security strip inside Yemen. At least six Saudi soldiers have been killed in the fighting.

If Iran is in fact supporting the Huthis as the Yemeni government claims, it may be trying to cause problems for Saudi Arabia. This comes at a time when the world is beginning to seriously focus on Iran's nuclear program. It may be an attempt to divert some attention from that issue, or it may be an attempt to convince Saudi Arabia not to support the American position on that issue.

Bottom line: It won't work. Many people care about the Iranian nuclear issue. Few people care about a group of Shi'a rebels in the mountains of Yemen.

November 19, 2009

Iran must be getting worried now...not

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

According to news reporting from President Obama's Asia tour, the United States and its allies are "discussing possible new penalties to bring fresh pressure on Iran" for its intransigence over its nuclear research and development program. Iranian leaders announced Wednesday that the country would not agree to export its low-enriched uranium, as it had agreed to earlier, but did stress its willingness to continue to talk about the nuclear issue.

Is anyone deducing a pattern here? The Iranians make an agreement, then renege on the agreement, then agree to more talks about an agreement. All they have really committed to do is talk. When those talks fail, they agree to talk about more talks. All the while, thousands of centrifuges continue to enrich uranium. At some point, the Iranians will have enough uranium that can be further processed into weapons grade fissile material to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Of course, they will still be willing to talk about it.

The American and West's reaction? We're going to consider and "discuss possible new penalties." They are enriching uranium in defiance of virtually the entire world, and we are talking about doing something - we don't know what exactly, but according to the President, our patience is wearing thin. The meaning of "wearing thin" is open to interpretation. Iran has been playing this delaying game for years, successfully.

President Obama is now "preparing for the next phase" if Iran does not meet Obama's year-end deadline - that must be the definition of wearing thin. Of course, the President has a problem with deadlines, so why should the Iranians take his deadline seriously? A series health care reform deadlines have been missed, and it is a foregone conclusion that the one-year deadline to close Guantanamo will be missed. So, why should the Iranians be worried?

In the President's own words, "They have been unable to get to 'yes', and so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences. Our expectation is, is that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran."

Surprisingly, this was described in the media as "tough talk." Well, they got the second words correct - talk. Obama talks - I am sorry, I mean "begun discussions" - the Iranians talk, everybody talks. Ah, but the Iranians are also continuing their nuclear program unabated. This is exactly the Iranian plan - talk, delay, talk, delay, knowing full well that there is little chance of effective sanctions.

The Iranian intelligence services have probably prepared their version of a National Intelligence Estimate assessing that an American military strike on their facilities is highly unlikely. If by some chance President Obama was to consider it, the decision would take so long that the Iranians may have a nuclear weapon by then. If the President cannot make a decision on troop levels for the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan, the Iranian intelligence services likely doubt he will be able to make one quickly on this issue.

The Iranians also have correctly assessed that their two friends on the United Nations Security Council - Russia and China - each with veto power, are not likely to agree to effective sanctions. Iran's energy sector, the primary weakness that could be exploited, is off the table. So much for the "crippling sanctions" promised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Iranians have outplayed the Obama Administration - and by that I mean the President and his Secretary of State - at every turn. Is it any wonder that the Iranians do not take their threats seriously?

November 10, 2009

Iranian intransigence and American options

I have been extremely critical of President Obama's policy toward Iran. I even called his policy feckless - and I still believe I am correct. At some point, the President is going to realize that Iran has no intention of abandoning its quest for a nuclear weapons capability, regardless of his attempts to "engage" or negotiate. It only makes him, and by extension the United States, look weak. Each time Obama or his Secretary of State makes another overture to Iran and it is soundly rejected, he looks like a beggar seeking any island of success in what has been a sea of policy failures in the region.

Okay, let's assume the President calls me on it. What are our options in dealing with Iran? They are few. Allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, or do something about it - now.

First - we need to stop appearing to be weak. We are by all measure still the pre-eminent military and economic power on the planet. (I will forgo comment on the President's economic policies.) When I recall my dealings with the Iranians over the years, I am reminded of their reaction to the Iran Airbus incident of 1988. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.

For years after that incident, Iranian officers I encountered abroad insisted to me that they believed the attack was deliberate and meant to send a message to the Iranians that the United States would not allow Iran to prevail in the Iran-Iraq War. By the time of the incident, the war had been raging for almost eight years. The United States in 1988 began "clandestinely" supporting Iraq - it was not a well-kept secret. Several of the officers confided that they were afraid of the United States. That's a good thing, and something that can be exploited.

Second, tell the Iranians clearly where we stand. State unequivocally that the United States will not allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. It's that simple - they need to know we are serious. Explain that if they continue on their current path, if they continue to enrich uranium and develop technologies that have only nuclear weapons applications, the United States will act. We have already shown extraordinary patience, but that patience has run out. It is time for the Iranians to realize they are dealing with a superpower. Say it and mean it.

Third, back up your words. Direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare contingency plans for possible operations against Iran. Do this with the same publicity that you are usuing in deliberating and determining a course of action - which is long overdue - in Afghanistan. You maintain that the "all options" are still on the table - that includes the military option.

Make sure the Iranians understand that you know you are the commander in chief of capable extremely military forces. Hint, no, don't hint, be very clear - while there may be a perception that American is busy with two wars, those wars primarily involve ground troops. A military blow to Iran will come from the air and sea. That doesn't give away any secrets, it simply reflects common sense.

It would not hurt to start a modest buildup of military assets in the area - that means U.S. Navy carrier groups and combatants, and U.S. Air Force land-based aviation assets. Move enough missile-carriers and bomb-droppers to create a credible threat to the Iranian nuclear program. There may be some doubt that the Israeli air force can mount enough of an attack at the extreme combat radius of their aircraft in mostly hostile airspace. There should be no doubt that American air power does not suffer from the same limitations - that air power also includes a host of very accurate standoff weapons.

The window of opportunity for Iran to modify its behavior should be closing. The United States, in conjunction with allies if possible, or alone if necessary, should be prepared to do what has to be done. Make a nice speech - you're really good at that - but make sure you get the message across.

After diplomacy is exhausted - it appears to me that it is going nowhere - and the military option be the last resort, we should be prepared for the inevitable Iranian response. The Iranians will no doubt mobilize their terrorist proxies, most notably Hizballah in Lebanon and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. They may attempt to attack American military ships and bases in the Middle East. In the extreme, they may even launch some sort of missile strike against Israel.

We must be very reticent about this - if we start it, we should be prepared to finish it. Many Iranians and possibly many Israelis will die.

The bottom line: if we are serious about denying the Iranians a nuclear weapons capability, we need to be committed to that position. Otherwise, stop posturing, admit another policy failure and start planning for dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran.

November 9, 2009

Mr. Obama, about your Iran policy - can you spell f-e-c-k-l-e-s-s?

Feckless: adjective ineffective; incompetent; futile

That pretty sums up the present Iran policy of the Obama Administration. I hate to keep harping on this - it seems that most of my writings and comments of late deal with this subject. Either the President is persistent or he just doesn't get it, but his policy of "engaging" Iran has proven to be ineffective, incompetent and futile, yes, feckless.

The latest indication that they - by "they" I mean the President and equally inept Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - don't get it came today. Faced with an outright Iranian rejection of an American-supported plan by which Iran would export most of its enriched uranium for processing into proliferation-safe fuel rods, the Administration announced that it wanted to "give some space to Iran to work through this. It's a tough issue for them, quite obviously, and we're hoping for an early positive answer from the Iranians."

An early positive answer from the Iranians? Mr. Obama, how many times do you have to be told no before you understand that you are being manipualted by the Iranians? They agree, then backpedal, then agree to talk about more talks, then send signals that they hope they can still reach a deal, and offer to talk about more talks. All you have gotten out of the Iranians is an offer to talk about talks. You have gotten not one concrete concession from Tehran.

On the other hand, the Iranians have played you like a cheap 'ud (lute). They have been able to lure you into one-on-one talks in Iraq that went nowhere - Iran still provides money, weapons and training to Shi'a militias that have American blood on their hands. Not only are they supporting the Iraqi militias, they are now funneling improvised explosive device components to the Taliban in Afghanistan - more American blood on their hands.

Now the Iranians threaten to try three young American hikers on espionage charges. I guess "engaging" hasn't really helped that aspect of our relationship, has it?

What else have they gained from your naivete? By sponsoring the enriched uranium export agreement, you have legitimized their nuclear research program. You even agreed to more one-on-one talks, further legitimizing the regime. When demands that Iran stop enriching uranium were ignored, rather than successfully orchestrating the imposition of economic sanctions, you have given them more time, over and over. Of course, they have offered to talk. I guess to you, that is the same as "engaging."

Now you are willing to give the Iranians until the end of the year to agree to the export arrangement. Why? They have had months, even years to accommodate the demands of the West about their nuclear ambition - they have chosen not to. They repeatedly ignore the United Nations and various coalitions of nations, each time agreeing to more talks. While they are playing you and delaying any resolution of the nuclear issue, they continue to enrich uranium and conduct research into weapons design and development.

Mr. President, it's time to do something other than let the Iranians agree to talk. That is not progress, nor is it success, well not for you - it is a huge success for Iranian foreign policy.

"Engaging" is not working. Continuing it in the face of repeated failures makes you look weak, yes, even feckless.

November 6, 2009

Any remaining doubts about Iran's nuclear intentions?

Events of the past few weeks should quiet any remaining skeptics about Iran's true ambitions for its nuclear research and development program. While many of these events taken individually may not be the "smoking gun" that Iran's apologists (IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei/Muhammad al-Barada'i comes to mind) demand, when taken in the aggregate leave little doubt as to what they are attempting to accomplish.

Although Iran insists that its uranium enrichment efforts are to provide fuel for the Tehran research reactor and eventually for an electric power generation capability, the program is much too large, dispersed and protected in hardened facilities for a "peaceful" program. The electric power generation argument fails in light of the simple fact that Iran wastes more energy from the gas flares on its oil wells than all the electricty its combined nuclear facilities could ever produce.

The latest, and probably most damning information to Iran's pretense of a peaceful nuclear program came this last week. Surprisingly, it came from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an agency notoriously ineffective on the Iranian nuclear issue and usually reluctant to find anyone in violation of international nuclear agreements. The IAEA announced that it had acquired information that Iranian scientists may have tested an advanced (even by Western standards) nuclear warhead design based on what is called "two-point implosion."

This technology, closely guarded by the United States and the United Kingdom, is cutting-edge and allows the production of warheads small enough to fit on existing Iranian missiles. The Iranians admit researching this technology. There is no peaceful use for this technology - it is only used to produce thermonuclear weapons.

I suspect that the Iranians have made this rather substantial leap forward by buying the technology, most likely from Pakistani nuclear engineer 'Abd al-Qadir Khan. Khan confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear weapons technology secrets from Pakistan's successful program to Libya, North Korea and Iran. There are also reports of Russian weapons experts involved in Iran as well. Given the status of Russia's economy, this is not out of the question.

On November 7, Iranian senior lawmakers rejected the "deal to disarm Iran" supposedly agreed to on October 1, touted by the American Administration as the breakthrough and vindication that its engagement policy towards Iran has been successful. Under the "deal," Iran was to export its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it would be made into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor. Iran initially agreed, then pressed for a modification whereby it could just buy fuel rods and keep its low-enriched uranium, or slow down the export of the material. Now it has rejected exporting any of its enriched uranium. Delay, delay, delay - all the while continuing to enrich uranium. Call me skeptical, but could "the deal" possibly be in jeopardy? It's not going to happen.

Since the deal was announced on October 1, Iran has continued to enrich uranium at at least one facility, producing as much as 10 pounds of low-enriched uranium every day. Every day that the Iranians are successful in delaying effective sanctions, they are that much closer to producing the amount of material required to develop a weapon.

Is anyone still buying the claim that this is a peaceful program to generate electricity? I mean other than the myopic U.S. intelligence community that has yet to repudiate it ludicrous 2007 assessment that Iran has halted its attempts to develop nuclear weapons....

Wake up! They're building the bomb!

November 5, 2009

Iran - thankfully no 3:00am phone calls

President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (above), not to mention a host of special envoys, have yet to show any progress on any issue in the Middle East. Remember the campaign rhetoric - "Who do you want to answer the phone at 3:00am when there is a crisis in the Middle East?" Thankfully, there has not been such a call - yet. Neither the President nor his Secretary of State seems up to the task, regardless of the spin coming out of the White House and Foggy Bottom.

The most serious and urgent issue is the situation with Iran. President Obama, true to his campaign pledges, has made numerous appeals to the Islamic Republic, including allowing a few one-on-one meetings between Iranian and American officials.

In every instance, the Iranians have successfully outmaneuvered the Obama administration. Iran continues its nuclear program (no one really believes it is for electric power), continues to support numerous terrorist groups and continues to oppress its own citizenry who dare speak out against the regime.

Despite being rebuffed at every attempt, the President still hopes to "engage" Iran. When is he going to get the message that they do not want to talk seriously to the United States? In the words of Iran's Supreme Leader just a few days ago, "We do not want any negotiation, the result of which is predetermined by the United States. Every time they have a smile on their face, they are hiding a dagger behind their back. They are telling us to negotiate, but alongside the negotiation there is a threat...."

At some point, hopefully in the not too distant future, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are going to come to the realization that talking to the current regime in Tehran is useless. The Iranian leadership is not going to fore-go its quest to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, nor is it likely to cease its support for terrorist groups, most notably Hizballah and Hamas. Despite United Nations resolutions, Iran has completely rearmed Hizballah after the group's 2006 war with Israel. It continues to ship weapons to the group - a vessel from Iran loaded with 320 tons of munitions was seized off the coast of Israel this week. The weapons are said to have been destined for a Syrian port for final shipment to Hizballah. In Gaza, Iran has supplied rockets to Hamas that can reach all the way to Tel Aviv.

Likewise, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force continues to provide money, weapons and training not only to Shi'a militias in Iraq, but now also to the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the President seeks to "engage" Iran, the Iranians are killing our troops by proxy.

Thus far, all of the Administration's efforts toward Iran have failed. The Iranians see his repeated attempts to engage them as a sign of weakness and capitulation to their demands. Not only American attempts not worked, the President and Secretary have failed to gain international support for effective sanctions.

Mr. President, your policy toward Iran is not working. If you insist on talking to them, then change the rhetoric. Stop the diplo-speak and be clear. Start with, "We will not allow you to develop a nuclear weapon." Small words, easy to understand. If they still want to talk after that, continue with, "Stop supporting groups that are killing American troops, or we'll start killing yours. We're actually quite good at that."

It can't be any less effective than what you're doing now.

October 31, 2009

Iran - continuing to play the West

Iran continues to effectively conduct its foreign policy, often at the expense of American foreign policy. In the last few months, the Iranians have virtually halted the West's efforts to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, have consistently delayed the imposition of sanctions, and in their last horse-trading have succeeded in getting a one-on-one meeting between Iranian and American officials. By having the United States back a plan whereby Iran would export 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium for further processing in Russia and France, Tehran has legitimized its uranium enrichment program.

Once the Iranians achieved that de facto legitimacy, they immediately began the process to renege on the deal. It's typical of the Iranians - agree, then reconsider and ask for changes to the terms, then agree to talk about the need for more talks. While this diplomatic charade goes on, the centrifuges at Natanz, and soon Qom, continue to spin. When the Iranians talk again, it will be about how much enriched uranium they should consider exporting, not whether or not they should be enriching uranium in the first place. The have in effect gained that right.

The Iranians have been very effective in manipulating the West, and now embarrassing President Obama, whether he knows it or not. For all of the overtures made to Iran by the Obama Administration since it took office in January, there has been virtually no progress. Let's look at what Iran is doing right now:

- continues to process uranium
- continues to defy the United Nations and Western powers
- continues to strengthen its relationship with Russia and China - which almost certainly takes meaningful international sanctions off the table
- continues to provide money, weapons and training not only to the Shi'a militias in Iraq but now to elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan
- continues to repress any political dissent in the country
- continues to hold three young American hikers for a minor trespassing incident

The Iranians are masters at playing the West. When they agreed to the uranium export proposal, they had no intention of giving up their enriched uranium. Almost immediately after the agreement was made public, "senior Iranian lawmakers" back in Tehran voiced opposition to the idea and countered that they should not export their uranium for further processing, but instead demanded that the West sell them fuel for the research reactor - I called this "Having their (yellow) cake and eating it too."

The much publicized internal Iranian debate is a sham. There is only one voice that counts in Iran and it belongs to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He will make the decision about what Iran will do despite the support or objection of so-called senior Iranian lawmakers. That debate is for show - the Iranians intend to keep their uranium and continue to demand that the West send them even more. If it wasn't so serious, it would be almost comical.

In the last blast of rhetoric from the Iranians, they proposed that the United States and Iran continue to expand their one-on-one dialog, a key goal of the regime in Tehran. This ill-advised dialogue only legitimizes the regime and its nuclear ambitions. The Iranians even went so far as to offer to have Americans present at their nuclear facilities. Clever - the presence of Americans at what may become targets of Israeli military strikes complicates planning in Tel Aviv.

In response to the Iranian stalling and demands to purchase uranium, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waffled, saying she would "let this process play out." She further said that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany "are all united and showing resolve in responding to the Iranian response and seeking clarifications. We are working to determine exactly what they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response or whether it's the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up."

Huh? I thought the Iranians were masters of rhetoric, but Mrs. Clinton has also succeeded in using a lot of words to say nothing. Is she serious? The IAEA is worthless - just take the Iranian issue as an example. The permanent members of the Security Council are united? Has she heard the Russian and Chinese statements opposing sanctions on Iran?

While the President and his Secretary of State "let the process play out," Iran continues to effectively pursue its foreign policy objectives virtually unhampered by Washington. Does "play out" mean the announcement that they have a nuclear weapon?

October 29, 2009

Execution of Saddam - in hindsight a good thing

According to a new book by Saddam Husayn's lead lawyer Khalil al-Dulaymi, the deposed Iraqi president was planning an escape attempt in 2006. The plan called for Saddam loyalists and other Sunni militants to mount coordinated attacks on American and Iraqi facilities, and eventually overpower the guard force at the detention facility at Camp Cropper and free Saddam.

Camp Cropper was one of the primary U.S. Army facilities in Iraq, located near Baghdad International Airport. The facility was used to house high-value detainees, including many former senior Ba'th Party officials. The security around this facility was probably unsurpassed anywhere in the country. The thought that the insurgents would be able to free Saddam Husayn is ludicrous.

In most cases, I am not a fan of the death penalty. I also believe that there are unique situations in which execution is not only advisable, but essential. The execution of Saddam Husayn was one of those unique cases where the execution, as I look back, was in fact a good thing.

Why do I say that? Saddam Husayn was more that just a deposed dictator convicted of war crimes. Saddam was, and remains, a symbol to his supporters, mostly die-hard Ba'th Party members. The remnants of the Ba'th have been active in the violence directed at Iraqi, American and coalition forces.

Are there still Saddam Husayn supporters? Look at this poster (below) in the city of Tikrit, near to Saddam's hometown of 'Awjah and the center of his support base. There was an AP caption labeling this a "vandalized poster of Saddam." The use of the descriptor "vandalized" has a negative connotation, giving the impression that this was an anti-Saddam gesture. In actuality, the Arabic graffiti spray painted on the poster reads, "Long live Saddam and the Ba'th [party]." This is a pro-Saddam gesture, exactly the opposite of the reporting.

As long as Saddam remained alive - even in a maximum security facility guarded by American troops - there was always the hope that somehow his escape might be possible. In this case, it made sense to quash that hope. Likewise, moving him out of the country would not remove that hope that there was the possibility of his return. There still may be Ba'thi resistance, but Saddam will never again lead the Ba'th Party.

All in all, executing Saddam was a good thing. I don't see another solution.

October 27, 2009

Mr. President, make a decision already

Mr. Obama, you must make a decision about the strategy and troop levels in Afghanistan. You must do it now, not in a week, not in ten days, not in a month, but now. American troops are involved in combat operations now - they need to know the plan. Your vacillation, apparent confusion and delays only serve to embolden the enemy and are likely the direct cause of the recent spike in American and coalition casualties. Over 50 American troops have been killed thus far this month. Is there a coherent strategy anywhere in our future?

I understand - and fully support - a review of our strategy in Afghanistan. Obviously what we have been doing has not worked. We have been there for eight years - the situation is still unresolved and our purpose for being there is still undefined. I thought you had stated a policy in March - a counterinsurgency aimed at the defeat of al-Qa'idah. You fired the commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan and gave the mission to General Stan McChrystal. You tasked him to tell you what he needed to get it done.

General McChrystal, regarded as one of the best counterinsurgency operators in the American armed forces, told you he needed 40,000 additional U.S. troops to accomplish the mission. That was probably not the answer you were hoping to hear. Now rather than give the general the resources needed to accomplish the mission you directed, you have decided to take a breather and re-assess the strategy. One wonders if the mission is dictating the resource allocation, or if the resources you are willing to commit now dictate the strategy. I assume the mission remains the same. In any case, the troops are not taking a break while you decide what the strategy will be.

The definition of the mission raises some serious questions that you might consider. Your goals, if I heard you correctly in March, are based on the assumption that al-Qa'idah is still present in Afghanistan, and that presence constitutes a threat to the United States. While you are re-assessing the strategy, you might want to also re-read your intelligence community reports that clearly indicate that except for maybe a few holdouts, al-Qa'idah has moved on to Pakistan and points beyond.

After the mass exodus to Pakistan in late 2001 and early 2002 following their defeat at Tora Bora, many al-Qa'idah fighters moved on to carry on the fight in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That didn't work out too well for them - eventually U.S. forces in Iraq and Saudi security forces in the kingdom decimated al-Qa'idah's ranks. The remnants appear to have moved on to places like Yemen and Somalia. Wherever they are, it is not Afghanistan.

So, Mr. President, just who is the enemy you are seeking to defeat? The Taliban? While the Taliban are a threat to the Afghan government and are now major supporters of the narco-economy of the country, they hardly represent a threat to the security of the United States. The thought that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would re-create an al-Qa'idah threat to the United States is a stretch as well. Most of the al-Qa'idah leadership has been killed, captured or marginalized. Their communications, finances and organization are in disarray. Remaining fighters in Pakistan are under pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency's missile strikes and Pakistan Army offensives in the Waziristan area. You could probably prevent al-Qa'idah from returning to Afghanistan by warning the Taliban (or whoever might emerge as the power in Kabul) that if al-Qa'idah returns, so does massive American air power.

In any case, Mr. President, now is the time to fish or cut bait - you have had more than ample time to make up your mind. You can conduct the counterinsurgency you ordered, or you can re-direct the strategy to that of counter-terrorism. Either will keep America secure, but you have to make a decision. The Taliban, al-Qa'idah and any other groups that wish us ill need to know that you can make a decision and then order the appropriate action to execute it.

Until you make that decision, there will likely be increased attacks on American troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban wants you to re-focus your efforts on a counter-terrorism strategy aimed at al-Qa'idah in the region - that includes Pakistan - rather than on a counterinsurgency beefing up American troop presence in Afghanistan. While that is a reason in itself to not to go with a change in strategy, the bottom line remains that the Taliban is not the real enemy.

Either way, Mr. President, make a decision. Our troops deserve clear direction and adequate resources. Do it now.

October 23, 2009

Iran: Having their (yellow) cake and eating it too

You can't make this stuff up.

After three days of talks - something in which Iran excels - the Iranians have thrown another wrench into the nuclear program talks between the Islamic Republic and the West, specifically the United States, Russia and France.

Just a few weeks ago, the Iranians claimed to be open to an arrangement whereby much of its enriched uranium would be exported to Russia and France for reprocessing into reactor fuel for their medical reactor in Tehran. On the surface, that appeared to diffuse one of the major issues between Iran and the West - Iran's continued enrichment of uranium.

This week's talks were held supposedly to continue work on that arrangement. However, yesterday and today there were conflicting and confusing signals from Tehran. It appears that the senior Iranian leadership now has reservations about the arrangement. We may be back to square one. I say "we" because although the West may be back to square one, the Iranians are continuing unimpeded in its nuclear research and development program - the centrifuges at Natanz and possibly the previously undeclared site near Qom continue to spin. While Iran and the West talk, uranium enrichment goes on - in fact, it has never slowed.

To complicate matters further, the Iranians proposed that instead of exporting most of its enriched uranium for reprocessing by the French into reactor fuel, that the West sell them the fuel for the small reactor. Their statement sounds a bit menacing. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is waiting for a constructive and confidence building response to the clear proposal of buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor," and warning the West to "refrain from past mistakes in violating agreements and make efforts to win the trust of the Iranian nation."

You have to almost admire the Iranians for their audacity. Basically what they are saying is, "Not only do we not want to send our enriched uranium to you to be processed into fuel for our reactor, we want you to sell us the fuel so we can keep our uranium and continue to enrich it for our own purposes (I say for nuclear weapons development), in essence, having our (yellow) cake and eating it too."

Do the Iranians think the West is that gullible? Evidently. Then again, what has the West done to disavow the Iranians of that notion? Nothing. The West has been threatening to impose sanctions for years. It has not happened, and the Iranians know full well that is not likely going to happen.

The Iranians have cleverly made oil export and refined product import deals with China. They also have convinced Russia to continue a close military hardware and nuclear power technology purchase agreement. Since both Russia and China are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - meaning they each have veto power - the Iranian leadership has assessed (correctly in my view) that meaningful sanctions are not a threat. To make that point, the Russians reiterated their intention to continue "military-technical cooperation" with Iran. That probably means delivery of advanced surface-to-air missile systems in the not-too-distant future.

I expect there will be recriminations tossed back and forth about Iran's initial indications that it would agree to export its enriched uranium and its subsequent proposal to just buy fuel and keep its uranium. Then there will be a proposal to meet and have more talks - all the while, their program continues.

This is typical of what we have come to expect from the Iranians. Continue to enrich uranium, agree to talk.

October 20, 2009

Afghanistan Election Runoff

Dr Abdullah Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to a runoff presidential election in the wake of convincing evidence that as many as one quarter of the votes cast for him in the recent election were fraudulent. He really had no choice.

The perception of such wide ranging corruption - even in one of the most corrupt places on the planet - did not sit well with many international observers, not to mention with many Americans, who have over 65,000 of their troops in the country. The specter of such fraud and corruption plays into the hands of those who are attempting to draw parallels between U.S involvement in Afghanistan with that of another corrupt government 40 years ago, that being in South Vietnam.

This election has far reaching implications for the future of Afghanistan. As long as there is no final outcome, the Obama Administration cites that as a reason to delay the President's strategy determination. meanwhile, battles go on - American troops are fighting and dying. The Taliban is attemptinf to take advantage of the indecision in Kabul and more importantly, Washington. Not only does the Afghan government appear to have no direction or commitment, neither does the American administration.

Both candidates are true Afghan patriots, even though one may be temporarily tainted by what we in the West consider corruption. We need to be very careful about focusing on Afghan culture and processes through a Western optic. Corruption and payoffs are a way of life - it always has been and from my observations, probably always will be.

Both Karzai and Abdullah opposed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and both were intimately involved in the American-supported operation to remove the Taliban after September 11, 2001. Abdullah's credentials may be a bit stronger than Karzai's but both were involved.

There is an ethnic factor to consider as well. Karzai is a Pashtun from an influential Kandahar family. Abdullah has always been considered a Tajik, although during the campaign he chose to reveal that his father had been a Pashtun. In any case, he was raised in the Panjshir valley, the Tajik heartland. Since only a quarter to one third of the population (there has never been a census), his declaration of Pashtun heritage is understandable. It will be difficult, but not impossible to overcome Pashtun solidarity.

Another overlooked but important factor may transcend the ethnic issue. This election runoff will be a referendum on the future structure of the Afghan government. Karzai prefers to continue the status quo with a presidential system - after all, he is the incumbent and likes the power concentrated in the executive.

Abdullah has stated a preference for a parliamentary system with a prime minister as head of government. To do this, he would need to convene a loya jirga and change the constitution, but it is possible.

I tend to favor Abdullah. He seems to be more above the corruption that has permeated the Karzai administration, and might have a broader power base throughout the country. That will be important as the improving Afghan security forces attempt to exert their control over the entire country. Of course, this control will come at the expense of the warlords. They might feel better dealing with Abdullah - he appeals to a wider audience.

In any case, the fact that there are elections in Afghanistan is a good thing. It will happen - there is no need for our president to wait for the results before he decides what our strategy will be. Make a decision and give the country a chance. If we wait too long, it may be a moot point.