Ugandans recruit ex-rebels to hunt rebels

uganda-flagUganda’s government, armed and assisted by the United States with “millions of dollars of military support, namely, trucks, fuel and contracted airplanes,” is hunting down the transnational Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a cult-like group of marauding rebels that follows no borders and transfers their “resistance” to whatever government is currently least stable in central Africa. They originated in Uganda under the messianic Joseph Kony, but he’s taken them elsewhere at present (I think the southeast of the Central African Republic). With the Ugandan government back on its feet, the LRA has pretty much left the country for a few years to seek easier targets, but they’re still pillaging across the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, sometimes one or two countries away from Uganda’s border.

Now Uganda is on a mission to wipe them out or liberate its members (many of whom are child-soldiers and slaves), and they’ve hit upon the idea of recruiting former members to track the group across the jungles and swamps of central Africa, since they have the most experience following the LRA’s tricky trails. It’s somewhat of a controversial program, but it seems to be working.

Some American officials said that they had mixed feelings about the former rebels’ being involved, though they said that the decision was the Ugandans’ and that in this case, as one American officer put it, “these guys may be some of the best they got.”

The battlefield statistics seem to bear this out. In the past 18 months, American officials say, the Ugandan Army has killed or captured more than half of Mr. Kony’s men, including his finance and communications officers, as well as several other high-ranking commanders.

“And let’s be realistic,” added the American officer, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. “These ex-L.R.A. guys don’t have many skills, and it’s going to be hard for them to reintegrate.

“But one thing they are very good at,” the officer said, “is hunting human beings in the woods.”

 
Of course, the big question is what happens to these ex-rebels if the LRA is wiped out? Many were hired for this program because they lacked any marketable skills after leaving the LRA themselves, and this was something they were good at that paid well. Let’s hope the United States’ commitment doesn’t end with the elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or else the destabilization problems will just re-appear under a new rebel group.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Heavy fighting in Yemen

Just days after President Obama said he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” in Yemen or Somalia, US-supported and armed Saudi and Yemeni forces began heavily “cleansing” Yemeni villages of rebel forces.

Side note, added 11:57 PM US ET: I think cleansing is a surprising choice of words, especially since this is a Shia group with ethnotribal elements. So is Saudi Arabia admitting to ethnic cleansing? (Assuming this has been translated correctly.)

Two rebellions in rural, mountainous regions have grown in strength this year and pushed the Yemeni government’s attention away from terrorism and back to the rebellions, just when the United States expects the former to be a priority. Saudi Arabia, feeling threatened both by cross-border rebel attacks and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which has flourished in rebel-protected safe havens), launched a military offensive into Yemen in early November 2009.

Oddly, Yemen is still saying that they will not allow foreign troops into Yemen, despite the presence of Saudi Arabian troops right near Yemeni operations. The US has been sending arms and money to the Army, as well, and conducted missile strikes in mid-December on alleged al Qaeda sites. Yemen receives military training from US special forces advisers and the CIA is active in various covert or semi-cover operations there. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt was linked to Yemen, drawing renewed attention to the problem of terrorism there, Yemen had been (fairly successfully, if questionably) trying to cast the struggle against the rebels as part of the global war on terrorism, in an effort to secure funding.

Houthi rebels allege that the Yemeni Army has been bulldozing village houses to force rebels out. The central government of Yemen, which prematurely declared the war over in 2008, is insisting that they will wipe out the rebels once and for all.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Army of the Imagination?

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside. The guest contributor elected to remain anonymous.

Today, Meteor Blades of the Daily Kos wrote of the story NBC broke last night about a government report showing the lack of development of the Afghani army, despite the claims that it is becoming a successful fighting force.

Here are some of the most stunning parts of the post (these are quotes from the NBC Broadcast):

The 25-page study obtained by NBC News says senior Afghan commanders are, quote, “not at war. Many ANA leaders work short days, are often absent and place personal gain above national survival.” The report says Afghan troops simply aren’t leading the fight, but remain dependent on US forces, and show few signs of wanting to take off the training wheels. But what’s striking about the report is that it goes to the heart of President Obama’s argument about the war. When announcing the surge, the president said Afghan forces must be trained and equipped quickly, so American troops can return home. But the report’s section on the Afghan army’s personnel says, “Corruption, nepotism and untrained, unmotivated personnel make success all but impossible.”

 
Richard Engel (NBC News):

To understand the context of this: THE main mission of the United States Army, all of the different forces that are there, is to train the Afghan security forces so that American forces can ultimately leave. That is THE No. 1 priority. The reason 30,000 extra troops are going there is to try and create enough security so that an Afghan Army can be built. I was told this by numerous commanders. No. 1 priority.

This report says that that priority is facing serious, serious problems and the military knows it.

 
As the post notes, the coalition claims that 90,000 troops have been trained in Afghanistan since 2001 for the Afghan National Army (ANA), yet no one can find this army anywhere!

Perhaps the biggest problem with the realization that no army exists is because President Obama wants to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, when it was estimated that the ANA would be able to take care of the country without the US’s help. But if there really is no such army, then how can the US army fully expected to leave by 2011? The leaked report says that it “cannot take a year to fix this problem” – so if we can’t fix this problem in the time frame already established, are we destined to stay there longer than we expected automatically? What can we do to fix this problem?

The better question is why is the US increasing troops to Afghanistan in the first place, if the main reason was to help train those in the ANA, which is now shown to be essentially fictional? It seems like there is an underlying plan to delay leaving the country for as long as it can be managed. While I don’t know why, maybe one reason is just for the US to have military forces in that part of the world, somewhat similar to having a watchdog in the region. Or maybe it’s because Afghanistan shares it’s Eastern border with Pakistan, where some believe Bin Laden is hiding. Or maybe there really is a genuine interest in making sure that Afghanistan gets up onto it’s feet.

Whatever the reason, the discovery that the ANA doesn’t actually exist certainly doesn’t help the Obama Administration at this crucial point, as it tries to convince the world that it’s doing the right thing by increasing troops there.

US ignoring Saudi link again

Serious news about the “trust-fund terrorist” and the attempted Christmas Day bombing (NYT):

[…] the Saudi arm of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attempted attack and said it was in retaliation for recent American-backed attacks on its members in Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant Islamist Web sites.

In a statement issued on jihadist forums, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasts the success of the “Nigerian brother” in breaking through security barriers and of its own explosives technology, SITE reported, blaming a technical fault for the low-power detonation. The group has mounted attacks within Yemen and Saudi Arabia and in 2004, captured and beheaded a 49-year-old American engineer working in Riyadh, Paul M. Johnson Jr.

Government terror experts said the Qaeda claim was apparently legitimate.

 
This announcement comes on the heels of rising rhetoric and news attention to terrorists based in Yemen. President Obama himself today implied that the US would be increasing military action in Yemen in response to this attack:

We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

 
We already have the CIA and special forces involved there. We conducted cruise missile strikes there ourselves, and we helped the Yemeni army’s attacks on terrorists. So this new bombing attempt looks like it will set in motion even more involvement.

However, this raises a more serious question about our priorities. Obama lists Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. But what about Saudi Arabia? Osama bin Laden and many of the leaders in and financiers of al Qaeda hail from Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. These connections have long been known. Now the Saudi Arabian branch of al Qaeda (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is claiming responsibility for planning and nearly executing a large bombing in the US. Another attack plan, another Saudi link. At what point do we stop trying to solve everything with airstrikes on disorganized countries with much lower oil exports, which the group claims was the motivation here specifically, and face the facts that our oil-rich “ally” is a serious threat to our security?

Yes, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a merger of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia) includes Yemen in its sphere of operations, but they’re primarily aimed at bringing down the Saudi monarchy, so that’s their big target and Yemen is just a base of operations. However, we’ve entangled ourselves by aiding Yemen and the Saudi regime, and thus we’ve drawn the terrorists’ attention back onto the United States. I can see how there’s an argument that we don’t want Salafist radicals to seize control of the Arabian Peninsula… but it still seems like we’re just in it for the oil, which is why we continue to prop up an unjust, undemocratic, unpopular regime in Saudi Arabia, rather than pressuring the government to make reforms that would undercut the radicals. Basically, we’re taking the most expensive and most dangerous route on dealing with radicalism in the Middle East by ignoring the Saudi problem. Bombing more of Yemen will just make things worse and won’t get to the root of the problem.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

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Lieberman wants US into Yemen

Yesterday I did a post on Yemen and terrorism, and I filled it with many links to recent news stories about that topic, which had been heating up even before the failed Christmas Day airline bomber (nicknamed the “trust fund bomber” because of his affluent background) was connected to Yemen. What I wrote yesterday was

The Yemen connection, however, is most interesting to me because of how much news there has been regarding terrorist and rebel activities in Yemen over the past few months.

 
What I was thinking, but decided not to write, was that this connection and all the news about Yemeni terrorists really interested me because I wondered how soon some hawk in the US government would start demanding war with Yemen. I chose not to write it because it sounded like a conspiracy theory to me. Well, it didn’t take even a day for me to realize I wasn’t being unreasonable, even if the people making that case are being unreasonable.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), chair of the Homeland Security committee in the United States Senate, and always a super-hawk who wants to bomb anything that moves, has announced his support for direct, pre-emptive action in Yemen. Somehow, he is under the impression that this would prevent us being bogged down in a war there like we are in Afghanistan… I beg to differ, but that’s actually almost beside the point when you consider that the US is already providing logistical support to the Yemeni government against terrorists and has admitted to launching two recent cruise missile strikes in Yemen.

Lieberman also seems not to have noticed the longstanding Yemeni connection to terrorism until the past few weeks because he cited this attempted bombing and the Fort Hood attacks as justification enough for pre-emptive US action now. I wonder if he remembers that the USS Cole was bombed in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000? Incidentally, he also cited his position as deriving from a comment by someone in the administration, which is really odd since that person should have been able to tell him about the cruise missile strikes. However, as usual, Lieberman wants to take things that much farther and get the US more openly involved on the ground. I’m not sure how he thinks that will prevent war, since that’s kind of the definition of it.

Military force and enmeshing the US in foreign conflict zones are not the solutions to everything, no matter how excited and powerful they make Joe feel. I’m tempted to label the senator “Joe the Bomber,” but the reference is almost fading out of the political landscape fortunately.

UPDATE @ 10:30 PM: Actually, it sounds like he was even later to this parade than I’d realized myself:

In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.

A year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country, according a former top agency official. At the same time, some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, senior military officers said.

The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.

 
However, he does seem to have been paying attention to the covert operations there, according to the article. So this makes it sound more like he’s just warmongering as usual and seizing on the new incidents to expand US operations in Yemen.

Unfortunately, I am now thinking that the writing is on the wall for serious US involvement there. Which is what I was really worrying about with yesterday’s post.

UPDATE II @ 5:40 PM on 12/28:
See also my new post, “US ignoring Saudi link again,” now that Saudi-based al Qaeda operatives have claimed responsibility for this attempted bombing.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.