German Vice Chancellor acknowledges Saudi terrorism ties


Following a report by German intelligence on the threat posed by Saudi terror financing and religious propaganda networks – a report disavowed by Chancellor Merkel – Germany’s Vice Chancellor, of the junior coalition partner Social Democratic Party, offered some public thoughts.

The Telegraph (UK):

Sigmar Gabriel said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security.

“We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Mr Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.”

The allegation that Saudi Arabia has funded mosques with links to Islamist terrorism in the West is not new. But it is highly unusual for a Western leader to speak out so directly against the West’s key Arab ally.

His full statement wasn’t unqualified either…unfortunately. The Kingdom continues to get a special pass vastly misaligned with the scale of its involvement in global destabilization today.

Previously on this topic:

Oped, 10/4/14 | “Reform Islam Vs. the Billionaire Barons”
1/13/15: “German MP asks if his country’s (and party’s) leader supports salafists”

Thoughtful action, not just any action

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

“Frankie Boyle on the fallout from Paris: ‘This is the worst time for society to go on psychopathic autopilot’” – The Guardian:

In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise.

If that sounds unbearably drippy, just humour me for a second and imagine a country where the response to Paris involved an urgent debate about how to make public spaces safer and marginalised groups less vulnerable to radicalisation. Do you honestly feel safer with a debate centred around when we can turn some desert town 3,000 miles away into a sheet of glass? Of course, it’s not as if the west hasn’t learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time round, no one’s said out loud that we’re going to win.

See also:
Op-Ed | France and the West: Inconvenient Questions


Op-Ed | France and the West: Inconvenient Questions

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist.

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

January 2013: French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

Nothing can ever justify or excuse an act of terrorism against civilians. But that does not absolve us from truly comprehending the links between the foreign and military policy approaches pursued by Western governments and the reactions this generates.

The aftermath of a terrorist attack is an especially difficult time to ask difficult questions about strategy. But just as the United States has faced a lot of (justified) criticism for refusing to acknowledge the direct linkages between misguided interventions and blowback incidents, we cannot apply a different yardstick to France.

Watch for the warmongers

This is all the more critical as, in the wake of the events in Paris, there are those pundits and policymakers who are trying to let slip the dogs of war or beat the drums by defining the scourge of “radical Islam” and “homegrown terrorism” as the root of all evil.

If we should have learned one thing by now, it is that tough talk is not the same as serious, strategic policymaking. It is irresponsible to undertake foreign policies without accurately representing to the public the likely risks to them that it will create.

As we assess the future approach, we must also take account of the role that Western governments have played in creating this catastrophe.

This applies especially to all those who glibly claim that ISIS “cannot be contained; it must be defeated,” as Hillary Clinton has just done.

Such an argument conveniently overlooks the fact that it was the U.S. government that inadvertently gave rise to this movement. Its decades of invasions and unpopular interference in the region ultimately culminated in the Pandora’s box war of choice in Iraq. Out of, and in reaction to, these policies grew al Qaeda and ISIS.

The advocates of such a strategy must also explain what can possibly be accomplished by responding with yet more force in an already war-torn region.

An eye for an eye strategy, while sounding principled, makes the whole world blind to the pitfalls such an approach has been triggering.

The French example

France can actually serve as Exhibit A of the pitfalls of a more “muscular” approach. The cruel attacks in Paris are demonstrably reactive in nature.

The unfortunate reality no one wants to discuss at the moment is that France’s Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and François Hollande (2012-present) have pushed the envelope for modern France on maintaining a highly aggressive and forcible military presence in majority Muslim countries.

Not since perhaps the Algerian War has France meddled with, sent troops to or bombed so many predominantly Muslim regions in such a short span.

President Sarkozy led regime change in Libya by air campaign in 2011 at the nadir of his domestic popularity. We know what that resulted in. He did it for oil and whatever it was that Iraq War apologist Bernard-Henry Lévy promised him would transpire.

But his successor, President Hollande, went way, way farther — claiming, almost George W. Bush style, that he was fighting ‘them’ over there to protect France from terrorist attacks at home. This approach painted a much bigger target on France’s back.

Hollande’s misadventures

The Hollande record is this: First, he invaded Mali in January 2013, after it collapsed as part of fallout from the Libya meltdown. He did so purportedly to stop terrorism and prevent the creation of a terrorism launching pad near Europe (despite Libya being much closer and truly festering).

In December 2013, he then invaded Central African Republic to ‘save’ Christians from Muslim militias that had already been disbanded. (It did not help that French troops now implicated in widespread child abuse stood by as Christian militias mutilated Muslim civilians’ corpses in front of them.)

In May 2014, Hollande announced a large, permanent rapid strike force deployment to five “Sahel-Sahara” West African nations, all of which were majority or plurality Muslim. He sent jets to bomb Iraq in September 2014. Finally, a year later in September 2015 he sent jets to bomb Syria.

It is difficult to understand Hollande’s declaration that the November 2015 Paris attacks are an “act of war” by ISIS, in view of the reality that France has already been at war with ISIS for more than a year.

Note, too, that the United States was barely involved in half of those misguided efforts.

Whether or not it can match U.S. capacity, France is no longer a junior partner or even hapless “sidekick” to the United States’ mayhem. In that sense, Hollande has gone much further than Tony Blair ever did during the Iraq War episode. Blair restrained himself to just being a sidekick.

France under Hollande has turned itself into an active cyclone by pursuing a militarized foreign policy – a strategy that may prove self-defeating. Read more

Turkey’s Erdogan demands total information awareness

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


BGN News: “Turkey’s Erdoğan asks village administrators to spy on citizens for him”

“In order to continue its operations in a determined and forceful manner, the state has to determine what is going on in every house via intelligence gathering,” Erdoğan said during a meeting on Wednesday. “Who is in which home? What is going on inside? My muhtar will calmly, and in an appropriate manner, come and notify the district governor or the police chief.”
The last time muhtars were instructed to gather intelligence for the state was during the period of martial law following the 1980 military coup, a bloody period marred by severe state repression and severe infringements of the rule of law.


US successfully kills fictional terror group’s leader a 3rd time

U.S_State_Department_photo_of_Muhsin_al-FadhliThis week the Pentagon says that earlier this month it killed Muhsin Al-Fadhli, the leader of the (purportedly real) “Khorasan Group” — alleged to be a Syrian-based outpost of al-Qaeda’s central command — in an airstrike in Syria.

There’s a big problem, though. This is at least the THIRD time, the United States has supposedly killed Muhsin Al-Fadhli in an airstrike in Syria. An International Business Times article from September 28, 2014 reported that he had just been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Syria, but also that he had been previously reported to have been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Syria.

Possibly the bigger problem, though, is that it’s still unclear the group he supposedly leads actually … exists.

Let’s look back at the puzzling framing of other articles from September 2014 about U.S. airstrikes in Syria targeting the group.

New York Times – September 20, 2014:

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year […]

There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives. It is unclear who, besides Mr. Fadhli, is part of the Khorasan group.
Ayman al-Zawahri, the head of Al Qaeda, anointed the Nusra Front as its official branch in Syria and cut ties with the Islamic State early this year after it refused to follow his orders to fight only in Iraq. Officials said that Khorasan was an offshoot of the Nusra Front.

The Washington Post – September 22, 2014:

In addition to a broader campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Monday night, the United States also pounded a little-known, but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday morning that U.S. warplanes conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

And then there was Buzzfeed’s excellent report (9/23/14) by Rosie Gray, headlined “How ‘Khorasan’ Went From Nowhere To The Biggest Threat To The U.S.” I think this one line about sums up how absurd this sudden appearance of another supposedly existential, imminent threat is:

“I knew about the group a year ago from the media but didn’t know the name or personalities until the past few days — again from the media,” said Will McCants, a terrorism analyst and fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Most of the other experts quoted either instinctively suggested this group is a huge threat (because of course they do) or said it’s borderline made-up.

Then, on November 14, 2014, the LA Times reported more airstrikes — officially undertaken against “Khorasan,” but which seemed to hit an awful lot of major Nusra Front facilities. And one big issue leapt out:

Many opposition activists in Syria and elsewhere doubt the existence of Khorasan, contending that the targets being attacked are actually Al Nusra Front strongholds. Last week, as Centcom announced the second round of strikes on Khorasan positions, opposition activists said warplanes had hit the headquarters of Al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, another hard-line rebel group with Al Qaeda links.

To recap all of this: The purported organization only came into public knowledge hours before it was first attacked by the U.S. military in September, and locals say it does not exist and is solely a made-up front for unofficially targeting the popular and very real and very large Nusra Front of al-Qaeda in Syria, while suggesting some sort of distinction between the internationalist and Syria-facing segments of Qaeda’s presence in the country that isn’t really there.

(Nusra Front, incidentally, is now openly coordinating closely with and even commanding the U.S.-backed and outmatched “Free Syrian Army.”)

And our leaders, public officials, and media outlets are — by and large — just rolling along with this fairly transparent and repeatedly invalidated fiction.

Back to this week’s news. Here’s a “interesting” assessment of the supposed assassination of the supposed group’s supposed leader:

“A seasoned, knowledgeable and dangerous terrorist who actively sought to harm the United States and its allies has been taken off the battlefield for good,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, noting that al-Fadhli will not be easily replaced.

Except, I suppose, if he replaces himself with himself if he’s still not dead.

Op-Ed | India’s Zero Dark Thirty Moment

The following op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist.

After the raid into Myanmar: Beware of boundless missions, India.

Indian Paratroopers on parade. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Indian Paratroopers on parade. (Credit: Wikimedia)

This week, India’s military staged a covert operation into neighboring Myanmar (Burma) to target two camps of ethnic separatist militants. The action was taken in order to eliminate the source of recent unprovoked attacks that killed 30 Indian troops near the border.

Assertive or jingoistic Indians are happy that the military action had shades of the U.S. Seal Team Six raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan to kill Bin Laden. The broadly enthusiastic public reaction in India seemed to be almost comparable.

In U.S. style, Indian Air Force drones monitored the operation, which lasted 13 hours and involved helicopters dropping in special forces commandos. To avoid detection, they crawled along the ground a significant distance toward two camps, which they destroyed along with dozens of combatants. India reportedly suffered no casualties.

India’s government elected not to notify Myanmar’s government until the operation was nearly complete. On paper, the two countries have a mutual security agreement. This is meant to allow for coordination on cross-border defensive operations precisely like this one.

Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted for a unilateral approach. It is in line with a more muscular and assertive approach, to differentiate his defense posture for India from what is generally seen, depending on one’s political leanings, as the more timid (or circumspect) mode of his predecessor in such matters.

India as a major military power

Myanmar aside, the Indian government – once again led by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – has also escalated military responses to incidents in disputed Kashmir.

At first blush, this looks like a revival of the tit-for-tat antagonism that led India and Pakistan to war in 1999. And India has also worried about rebels in Myanmar for some time. But there is a difference: today, India has a much larger role on the global security stage than ever before.

India has become the world’s top-ranking purchaser of major arms by volume. India imported 15% of arms sold worldwide from 2010-2014 – the largest buyer by a wide margin.

Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Affairs Minister recently hailed rescue operations by India’s military in Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. It’s an important point of prestige, as Ms. Swaraj explained: “India’s image has emerged out to be a strong nation in one year so much that even the developed nations like Germany, France and even US sought our assistance…”

The Myanmar operation suggests India is no longer solely focused on rivalries with Pakistan or China and envisions a broader role for itself. One minister announced: “This is a message to neighbors who harbor terrorists,” a category in which he included countries as far afield as Iraq and Yemen. The military echoed this warning to “perpetrators of terror wherever they are.”

US as a poor model for India

Countries like India have long been very opposed to a muscular, borderless and unilateral U.S. military path. Given these recent policy shifts and rhetoric from India’s current government, it would seem some Indian policymakers are actually now keen to emulate that model.

“Might makes right” is the mantra of those activists. However, in the long run, even the U.S. military elite has found these unending little operations exhausting.

And this approach ultimately does little to change realities on the ground. As the United States has found out to its great frustration, such strikes only have a very momentary effect – however politically popular they may be.

At best, they are much like the (futile) effort of decapitating a hydra: the more you chop it off, the more (and faster) other heads of the hydra grow in. At worst, over-reach becomes one’s own death by a thousand cuts.

It is one thing to have a powerful and professional military. It is another to use it wisely. Beware of boundless missions, India.

After ISIS attack: Rise of the Tunisian Army?

Flag-of-TunisiaAfter an ISIS terrorist attack in Tunisia’s capital left 23 dead, Tunisia’s new government announced the deployment of the Tunisian Army to protect major population centers. Reuters:

“After a meeting with the armed forces, the president has decided large cities will be secured by the army,” the president’s office said in a statement.

Middle East Monitor:

[…] the decision comes after a cabinet meeting with the three armies and the High Security Council attended by President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Essid stressed that the Tunisian authorities were working to prevent the re-occurrence of similar terrorist operations, noting “that any other terrorist operation will have very serious consequences for the country”.

The prime minister pointed out that the army and security agencies are equipped with everything they need to defend the country and cooperate with their allies. A deal to purchase eight US made Black Hawk helicopters is being concluded and the helicopters are expected to arrive in Tunisia during the second half of this year, Essid said.

It’s a very unusual move to deploy the Tunisian Army domestically, in contrast with peer nations across North Africa and the Middle East. Keeping the Army on the border or in the barracks was a core (self-preservation) principle of modern Tunisia’s founder, Habib Bourguiba, and has been maintained to present day. Badra Gaaloul wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about this atypical trend back in November 2011, less than a year into the Arab Spring:

The political and social prominence that the military has assumed over the last year [2011] is unprecedented in Tunisia’s history. Unlike Egypt or Algeria—where the military beds with both politician and businessman and seeks the protection of its own economic interests—the Tunisian counterpart lacks political experience, as former regimes have deliberately kept it far away from the political sphere. This strategy dates to 1962, when the military fell out of favor with the first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba, after a Lazhar Chraiti’s attempted coup. After the imprisonment or execution of key officers, Bourguiba restricted the army’s power through institutional mechanisms; in 1968, he gave the paramilitary National Guard (technically a civilian force) oversight over the army—and this arrangement has generated a long-standing antagonism ever since.

Zein El Abidine Ben Ali followed Bourguiba’s footsteps. His crackdown on the military was the harshest in its history. Ben Ali (himself from a military background) focused on preemptively weakening the army and monopolizing power by marginalizing the military establishment: in 1991, he accused a group of officers of plotting a coup. The officers maintained that the charges against them were fabricated to discourage others from thinking about a rise to political power through the military. Officers accused of involvement or belonged to Islamist groups were imprisoned, placed under house arrest, or forced into early retirement. Between 1991 and 2011, the total number of personnel was reduced to about 40,000. Ben Ali reduced the ministry of defense’s budget, delayed promotions, and introduced a compulsory retirement for often the most competent officers. The military’s role was strictly defined as defending the country, contributing to economic development, dealing with natural disasters, and taking part in UN-led global peacekeeping efforts.

Although the Tunisian Army took center stage again very briefly during the late 2010 Tunisian Revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, the Army restricted its role to protecting voting sites from attacks and filling in for police until the latter returned to their jobs. The police and internal security forces were spooked by the initial uprising, which began as a protest against chronic abuses by police that have fostered a climate of mass resentment and terrorist sympathizing for many years in Tunisia.

It seems likely that the huge gap between public support for the non-meddlesome Tunisian Army and public hatred for the abusive police and security forces may have encouraged the decision to involve the Army more heavily in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Tunis. However, the longer the Army finds itself in the role of a police force and domestic counterterrorism force, the likelier it becomes that it loses credibility and support. Moreover, it may come to be seen as bearing shared responsibility with the Old Guard leadership of the new coalition government for any crackdown that is probably about to happen.