Friday, September 22, 2006

The (regional, turned) Global (,political and military) War on (the tactic of) Terror(ism)

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, different factions that were inspired by radicalized Islam developed a strike capability against "hard" and "soft" Western assets and allies. Initial Western reaction was poor and unimaginative. Short-sighted to a fault.

On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda -- one of those factions -- executed a $500,000 operation resulting in the death of almost 3,000 innocent people. No corner of the globe has been immune to Islamist terrorism. However, the organizations responsible for these attacks are not a unified movement against the West. Hezbollah and Hamas have nationalistic ideals. Al Qaeda seeks a global insurgency against American power and the oppresive regimes we have supported in the Middle East. There are radicalized Islamists in Kashmir, Africa, Europe.

These are, in fact, movements that share similar doctrines justifying (in their minds) violence. They share similar tactics. They have shared, and likely will continue to share, operational information -- skills, resources, planning.

At a strategic level, these groups are not unified. However, there is present the risk that the tactical and operational links between these groups will magnify to a strategic scale. In order to prevent this, these groups need to be addressed in different ways. This requires a break from the mindset of a "global war on terrorism".

That having been said; we have slipped into such a conflict, at least in the near term. Here are the recent developments.

The "Divine Victory" in Lebanon

This is an outstanding demonstration of politics and popular support as a tool in military conflict.

BBC News:
Hundreds of thousands of people have massed in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, to celebrate what Hezbollah militants call their victory over Israel.

The group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, appeared at the rally - his first public appearance since July.
Such a large turnout in a country of just four million would also mark a challenge to the coalition government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which includes Hezbollah but is mostly opposed to the group's Syrian and Iranian alliances.
Hundreds of thousands of people packed a lot where guerrilla leader was expected to deliver a speech about his group's weapons.

The crowd roared with cheers as Nasrallah appeared waving to the crowd, flanked by his bodyguards as an announcer said "The leader has arrived."
Israel's strategic position

The Christian Science Monitor:
But even though a calm continues to hold, Israelis say the war that started July 12 with the capture of two of its soldiers has created a much more dangerous enemy as the conflict has deepened ties between Lebanese guerrillas and Palestinian militants each with ties to Syria and Iran.

The result, Israeli analysts and military officials say, may be the further entrenchment of Hizbullah within the Palestinian territories and among militants connected to the ruling Hamas party. That could lead to future coordinated attacks on Israel more sophisticated in nature than the Palestinians have so far demonstrated.


"The connection is all the global jihad," says an Israeli political official who works closely with Israel's intelligence branch and therefore could not be named. "It doesn't matter if we call them bin Laden or [Hamas leader Khalid] Mashaal or [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. They are all working toward the same ends."
I disagree. These organizations share the same tactics and may cooperate, at times, on an operational level. They have different strategic ends. What is troubling, however, is that we -- the United States and Israel -- have allowed these organizations to unify around common goals, with common political narratives (Iraq, Palestine, jihad, etc).

JERUSALEM — Israelis would vote Prime Minister Olmert out of office if elections were held now, polls indicated yesterday, as the defiant premier defended his performance in the Lebanon war and lashed out at his critics.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Friday he will not head a government that recognizes Israel, striking a potential blow to President Mahmoud Abbas' attempts to create a national unity government.

CNN (headline): "Pakistan: U.S. threatened to bomb us back to Stone Age"

Washington Post:
The U.S. military plans no troop cuts in Afghanistan before March, as fighting intensifies against Taliban forces that have gained influence in a political and security "vacuum" in the southern part of the country, according to a senior U.S. commander.

"Our troop levels in Afghanistan will remain about steady through . . . February," said Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, who leads the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan. There are approximately 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest number since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban government.

Eikenberry said Taliban fighters and extremists have grown more numerous, organized and determined in some parts of the south and southeast, where foreign troops were limited and the Afghan government was weak.

"You do have challenges where Taliban has moved into an area you could perhaps call a vacuum, or at least very weak governance," Eikenberry said at a Pentagon news conference. "In some areas there are more Taliban extremists than there were at this point last year. And within some areas they . . . demonstrated better command-and-control and they're fighting harder."

Yet a more robust Taliban is still no match for U.S. and NATO troops and 76,000 Afghan security forces, Eikenberry said. "Wherever our forces go, wherever NATO forces go, increasingly wherever the ANA, the Afghan National Army, goes, then the enemy is defeated and they disappear," he said.
Musharraf is strongly defending a truce he recently signed with Taliban-linked militants in the tribal North West Frontier Province where his government has little control. Under the terms of that deal, Pakistani troops agreed to end their military campaign against fighters in North Waziristan. For their part, the militants said they would halt their attacks on Pakistani forces and stop crossing into Afghanistan to launch ambushes.

"If they're able to live up to the terms of those agreements, the border should be a much quieter region," NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, said at a Senate hearing on Thursday. "We're in the process now of observing very closely what is going on and what the effect is on the Afghani side of the border. And we'll know that within probably the next month or so."

Karzai said in a speech in New York City on Thursday that the Taliban was not gaining strength and he suggested that Pakistan's toleration of militants had helped make Afghanistan unstable.

He also said some in the region used extremists to maintain political power, referring to Musharraf.

Karzai equated cooperating with terrorists to "trying to train a snake against somebody else."

"You cannot train a snake. It will come and bite you," he said.

BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen opened fire on Sunni mosques and homes in a religiously mixed Baghdad neighborhood Friday, killing four people in an attack that drew the condemnation of Sunni leaders across the city.

In other apparent sectarian violence, police found the blindfolded and bound bodies of nine men from a Sunni tribe who had been dragged out of a wedding dinner in east Baghdad the night before by men dressed in Iraqi army uniforms, police Maj. Mahir Hamad Mussa.
Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, Sept. 21 -- U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested top aides to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in pre-dawn raids Thursday, according to Sadr officials who called the move a provocation designed to trigger a full-blown battle between the groups.

"It is obvious they want to draw the Sadr movement into a military confrontation," said Abdul Razzak al-Nedawi, a leader of the Sadr movement in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. "But we are trying our best to avoid such confrontation and find alternative ways to armed confrontation."
AP (my emphasis):
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi conflict is changing from a fight against U.S.-led coalition forces to an internal power struggle, the top U.S. general in Iraq said yesterday.

Gen. George Casey acknowledged that the security situation had become more difficult in recent months, and said Iraqi leaders must unite on key issues if progress is to be made.

"We're starting to see this conflict here transition from an insurgency against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis," Casey said in an interview with the Associated Press.

The general made the comments after a visit to northern Baghdad to talk with local officials about an operation aimed at curbing violence.

He flew from the fortified Green Zone to visit the Shaab and Azamiyah neighborhoods, where Iraqi and U.S. forces have been conducting searches as part of Operation Together Forward.

"I think the security situation is more complex and more difficult than it was in December '05," when Iraq held general elections, Casey said.

Baghdad is "critical in the overall campaign," he said. "In military parlance we would say it's the center of gravity for the country. Everybody knows that. The bad guys know it, we know it, the Iraqis know it. So we have to help the Iraqis secure their capital if they're going to go forward. And I think they're committed to doing that."
The size of the United States military

The Christian Science Monitor (my emphasis):
WASHINGTON – In recent days, US military commanders have delivered a bleak message about Iraq: The number of American troops there is not likely to be substantially reduced anytime soon.

Yet the current force may have been strained near the breaking point by frequent deployments to the region, say experts. That means in the months to come, the Pentagon could face increased pressure to expand the size of the active-duty Army, or rely even more heavily on call-ups of National Guard and Reserve units.

Recruiting more soldiers would take time. But any kind of action might be welcomed by those already in uniform, many of whom have served multiple tours of duty in the Middle East.

"As a matter of fairness, we should be trying to help these people," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 — Strains on the Army from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become so severe that Army officials say they may be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas deployments.
The Pope's speech on Islam

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI has invited ambassadors from Muslim nations to meet him on Monday in a bid to calm anger over his use of a medieval text saying their religion was spread by violence.

The pontiff will open the doors of his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, to the ambassadors and members of the Italian Islam Consulta, according to ANSA, an Italian news agency. The Islam Cosulta is a council of the various Muslim community leaders in Italy who meet periodically with Italian government officials.

"The purpose of this meeting is to relaunch dialogue with the Islamic world," a senior Vatican official said on Friday.

The Los Angeles Times:
Now Nur calls himself a reformed man. Under the watchful eye of Islamist commanders, Nur says he prays five times a day, studies the Koran and is learning to defend Somalia against foreign threats.

"Most of all," he said, "they are teaching me how to be good to other people."

Nur is one of about 3,000 former warlord militiamen sent to Islamist-run "rehabilitation camps" on the outskirts of the nation's capital. It's an ambitious resocialization program designed to wean the young fighters off drugs, instill religious values and, eventually, reverse loyalties so they can be integrated into the Muslim fundamentalist forces.

"It's a difficult job," said Mohammed Ibrahim Bilal, chairman of one of the new Islamic courts in Mogadishu. "We want to welcome them back. But they have been living with violence for 16 years."

In Washington, there is concern that increasingly Islamist Somalia could end up with a Taliban-style government and serve as a terrorist training area.
Asia Times Online:
The United States is moving closer to setting up an Africa Command to secure the rear flank of its global "war on terrorism", with eyes trained on vital oil reserves and lawless areas where terrorists have sought safe haven to regroup and strike against its interests.


Blogger Publia said...

I am happy to hear that the Pope has invited representatives from Moslem countries to visit with him. As most Christian countries are secular when it comes to government (unlike Moslem countries), their leaders won't be meeting with religious leaders. And thanks for turning off that "copy the illegible letters" feature!

1:51 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

It will be interesting to see if any show up. And, if some do show up, who will they be and how will they be treated in response?

1:59 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

It will indeed be interesting to see if leaders of Muslim nations go to chat with the Pope. Maybe Iran's president (I can't spell his name) will drop in for a meaningful discussion of human rights, nuclear proliferation and how to get Israel to recognize Iran's right to exist.

The Pope is opening himself up for a very uncomfortable session and will lose a lot of the goodwill that went his way when people thought he had pinned the Muslim's ears back.

If he sticks by his guns and the Muslim leaders come out bitching about being insulted and saying the Pope has to apologize on his knees or die, a lot of lapsed Catholics will probably go back to church.

7:39 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

At the very least, I hope to pick up my Aquinas again.

He's not going to change the message of his speech. He will try and encourage dialogue, and it's not going to go smoothely -- I think.

The New York Review of Books has a very interesting new article on Islam and Europe. I hope to blog about it this weekend or early next week. It says in part:Now every man and woman in Europe must self-evidently be free to advance such atheist or agnostic views, without fear of persecution, intimidation, or censorship. I regard it as a profound shame for Holland and Europe that we Europeans could not keep among us someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose intention was to fight for a better Holland and a better Europe. But I do not believe that she is showing the way forward for most Muslims in Europe, at least not for many years to come. A policy based on the expectation that millions of Muslims will so suddenly abandon the faith of their fathers and mothers is simply not realistic. If the message they hear from us is that the necessary condition for being European is to abandon their religion, then they will choose not to be European. For secular Europeans to demand that Muslims adopt their faith—secular humanism—would be almost as intolerant as the Islamist jihadist demand that we should adopt theirs. But, the Enlightenment fundamentalist will protest, our faith is based on reason! Well, they reply, ours is based on truth!

Sort of sounds like what Benedict was trying to get at: dialogue between secularists, Islamists and Christians.

If we are going to stop terrorism in the near-term or mid-term, we will need dialogue across a number of ideaoligcal divides.

If we have to stop terrorism with other means, it will take a very long time to drain a very large pond.

7:55 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Thanks to both of you for all your comments this week! They've been great.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

I'm all for dialog if the other party isn't covering his ears and saying naaa, naaa, naaa. Dialog implies two sides engaged in a civil discussion to resolve differences of opinion.

So far Muslims have wanted to be the on;y speaker. They have been sucessful so far because they have shouted their message while we have whispered ours.

I believe we will be seeing the decible level from our side ratchet up in the near future.

I honestly do wish the Pope could open a door for reason to pass through but given the history I think the chance is slim and none.

9:18 PM  

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