Al Qaeda’s Challenge

Al Qaeda’s Challenge | Foreign Affairs.

The Jihadists’ War With Islamist Democrats

William McCants
WILLIAM MCCANTS is an analyst at CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies and an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of the forthcoming book Founding Gods, Inventing Nations: Conquest and Culture Myths From Antiquity to Islam [1].

A May 1st update to the print story from the September/October 2011 issue: Al Qaeda leaders often compare the outcome of their jihad to that of a harvest. One year after the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s crop seems mixed. The organization’s central leadership, operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has nearly collapsed, but its offshoots are mounting full-blown insurgencies in Somalia and Yemen. The group’s operatives have failed to carry out major strikes on U.S. or European soil, but its online supporters still excite fear among Western governments and media. And al Qaeda’s argument against democracy has lost out in Arab nations where long-ruling autocrats have fallen, but its gospel of violence continues to resonate in those countries where dictators refuse to abdicate. Yet although some al Qaeda plots have continued to succeed, the organization has hardly experienced the bounty that it long expected.

Following the assassination of bin Laden and several of his most capable operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda has largely shifted its attention away from Central and South Asia to Somalia and Yemen. In Somalia, the militant group al Shabab, engaged in a long struggle to conquer the country, formally joined al Qaeda in February to staunch recent losses at the hands of intervening armies. Although it remains unclear whether the entire organization endorsed the merger, al Qaeda can now likely count large parts of Somalia as its own. Meanwhile, in Yemen, the front group of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar al-Sharia, has exploited the country’s political turmoil to capture territory in the south. The organization quickly began providing basic services to the inhabitants of captured areas, documenting its efforts as part of a savvy public relations campaign.

With its attention focused on its insurgencies around the Gulf of Aden and its top commanders imprisoned or killed, al Qaeda has proven unable to replicate the large-scale operations that it once conducted in the United States and Europe. Weakened and disorganized, the group has turned to calling on supporters to commit lone-wolf attacks — calls that have largely gone unanswered. Those few attacks that have succeeded, such as the recent shooting spree in Toulouse, France, did kill innocent civilians, but caused nowhere near the same carnage as the Madrid train bombings or September 11th. Nevertheless, Western governments and media remain worried that the propaganda activity of al Qaeda supporters on the Internet, such as images portraying New York City as a terrorist target or the Twitter activity of al Shabab, will translate into attacks on the homeland.

Al Qaeda has also struggled to respond to the Arab Spring. In Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, Islamists have rejected al Qaeda’s model of autocratic governance through sharia law in favor of parliamentary politics. Even many of al Qaeda’s theological fellow travelers, such as the ultraconservative Salafis in Egypt, have embraced the democratic process and formed political parties to compete in elections. Al Qaeda supporters in Egypt grapple over whether to remain loyal to the organization or embrace their local Salafi religious leaders, who have endorsed the party system. Some foreign Jihadi scholars popular on the Internet, to whom these al Qaeda adherents have turned, have conceded that although party politics is an unacceptable evil, it is at least better than dictatorship. But if al Qaeda has lost the ideological battle in countries that have overthrown their tyrants, its message remains potent in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad refuses to abdicate. Seizing the opening, a number of al Qaeda supporters have migrated to Syria to fight the regime and teach their trade to rebels willing to receive it.

Tallying its harvest, al Qaeda has victories to savor. It holds territory in two weak or collapsed states; it still provokes anxiety in the United States and Europe; and its message resonates in some Muslim-majority countries undergoing violent transition. But the people of the Arab Spring, when allowed to choose their own destiny, have voted against the despotic political vision of al Qaeda. For the organization’s leadership, which spent a generation sowing the seeds of its vision in the region, this is a bitter fruit to reap.

“Al Qaeda’s Challenge” from the September/October 2011 issue:

The Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden represent a moment of both promise and peril for the global jihadist movement. On the one hand, the overthrow of secular rulers in the heartland of the Muslim world gives jihadists an unprecedented opportunity to establish the Islamic states that they have long sought. On the other hand, jihadists can no longer rally behind their most charismatic leader, bin Laden. And the jihadist flagship that he founded, al Qaeda, may lose its relevance in the Muslim world to rival Islamist groups that are prepared to run in elections and take power through politics.

The last time jihadists faced such a crossroads was at the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent collapse emboldened jihadist strategists. Convinced that they had defeated a global superpower, they plotted to overthrow secular Arab governments and replace them with Islamic states, with the goal of eventually uniting them under a single caliphate. At the same time, however, the Soviet Union’s demise opened up the Arab world to U.S. influence. Having been long constrained by the Soviet presence in the region, the United States quickly asserted itself by spearheading the coalition against the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, thus increasing its military presence in the Arab world. As a result, jihadists — and al Qaeda in particular — concluded that Washington now enjoyed virtually unchecked power in the Middle East and would use it to prevent the creation of the Islamic states they desired.

Several established Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, shared this belief with al Qaeda. But al Qaeda rejected the Brotherhood and like-minded groups because of their willingness to work within existing systems by voting for and participating in legislative bodies. Such tactics would fail to establish Islamic states, bin Laden and his comrades asserted, because they involved pragmatic political tradeoffs that would violate the principles of such future states and leave them susceptible to U.S. pressure. Only attacks on the United States, al Qaeda argued, could reduce Washington’s regional power and inspire the masses to revolt.

Two decades later, bin Laden’s long-sought revolutions in the Arab world are finally happening, and the upheaval would seem to give al Qaeda a rare opportunity to start building Islamic states. But so far at least, the revolutions have defied bin Laden’s expectations by empowering not jihadists but Islamist parliamentarians — Islamists who refuse to violently oppose U.S. hegemony in the region and who are willing to engage in parliamentary politics. In Tunisia, the Islamist Renaissance Party leads in the polls ahead of legislative elections in October. In Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party, the new faction created by the Muslim Brotherhood, is likely to gain a large number of seats in parliament in elections this fall. Should countries that have experienced more violent revolutions also hold elections, such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Islamist parliamentarians are well positioned to compete in those nations as well.

Al Qaeda and its allies will not support these Islamists unless they reject parliamentary politics and establish governments that strictly implement Islamic law and are hostile to the United States. The Islamist parliamentarians are unlikely to do either. Having suffered under one-party rule for decades and wary of rival Islamist parties, the Arab world’s Islamist parliamentarians (like their secular counterparts) will be unwilling to support such a system in the future. And although they will certainly seek to implement more conservative social laws, the Islamist parliamentarians will likely come to accept that their countries require the economic and military aid of the United States or its allies.

Unable to make progress in countries where Islamist parliamentarians hold sway, such as Egypt, al Qaeda will instead attempt to diminish Washington’s clout by attacking the United States and focus on aiding rebels in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. But even in those countries, it will need to make compromises to work with existing rebel groups, and these groups, like their fellow Islamists elsewhere, may accept some level of U.S. support should they take power. What all this means is that despite the seemingly opportune moment, al Qaeda is unlikely to make much progress toward its ultimate goal of establishing Islamic states in the Arab world.


Both al Qaeda and today’s Islamist parliamentarians are outgrowths of the Islamism that arose in the nineteenth century as a response to the colonial domination of Muslim lands. Islamists believed that Muslims’ abandonment of their faith had made them vulnerable to foreign rule. In response, they advocated for independent Muslim rulers who would fully implement Islamic law, or sharia. A large number of these Islamists adhered to Salafism, a revivalist ideology that sought to purge Islam of Western influence and supposedly improper legal innovations by returning to the religious instruction of the first generations of Muslims, or Salaf. Pan-Islamic sentiment intensified after World War I, when France and the United Kingdom created colonies out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Sunni Muslims were further outraged when the new secular government in Turkey abolished the caliphate, a largely symbolic institution that nonetheless had represented the unity of the Muslim empire under a single leader (or caliph) in the religion’s early days.

When nationalist movements succeeded in ending the direct rule of foreign powers in the Middle East, beginning when Egypt gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1922, Islamist activists sought to replace the secular laws and institutions governing the newly independent states with systems based on sharia. Perhaps the most famous of the Islamist organizations of this period was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in the 1920s. Yet when it tried to compete in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in 1942, the Egyptian government, under British pressure, forced it to withdraw. Although they failed to achieve their aims through parliamentary politics, some Brotherhood activists turned to peaceful social activism, whereas others, such as Sayyid Qutb, who was one of the group’s most prominent members, developed an ideology of violent revolution. Qutb rejected the idea of man-made legislation and held that Muslim-led governments that made their own law, as opposed to adopting sharia, were not truly Muslim. Qutb encouraged pious Muslims to rebel against such regimes; his writings have inspired generations of Sunni militants, including the founders of al Qaeda.

Islamists continued to focus on domestic matters until the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In a burst of pan-Islamic spirit, thousands of young Arab men flooded into Pakistan hoping to battle the Soviets. Among them was bin Laden, who recruited men, procured equipment, and raised money for the cause. His training camps in Afghanistan, and others like it, gave jihadists of all backgrounds a shared identity and mission. In doing so, they served as early incubators of global jihadism. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan nearly a decade later, the jihadists believed that they had helped defeat a superpower.

Al Qaeda, which was created in 1988, grew out of those camps. Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian Islamist who merged his organization, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al Qaeda in 2001, explained al Qaeda’s mission in 2010 as providing a “base for indoctrination, training, and incitement that gathered the capabilities of the ummah [universal Islamic community], trained them, raised their consciousness, improved their abilities, and gave them confidence in their religion and themselves.” This base, Zawahiri said, involved “large amounts of participation in jihad, bearing the worries of the ummah, and seizing the initiative in the most urgent calamities confronting the ummah.” In other words, al Qaeda envisioned itself as a revolutionary vanguard and special operations unit working to defend the Muslim world.


Al Qaeda’s early years seemed full of possibility. The collapse of the Soviet Union created new opportunities for radicals in the empire’s former client states. Islamists took control of Sudan in 1989, and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 galvanized Islamist political protests in Algeria, culminating in an Islamist victory in the country’s elections the following year. When the secular Algerian military nullified the results and retained power, it only underscored the perceived need for a committed Muslim vanguard.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait turned al Qaeda’s attention to the United States. Bin Laden offered to send al Qaeda operatives to Saudi Arabia to help protect the country from attack by Saddam. But the Saudis rejected his proposal and instead invited the U.S. military to lead an assault on Iraq from their territory. The decision insulted bin Laden and raised his fears about the growth of unchecked U.S. power in the Middle East. Bin Laden’s concerns grew the following year, when the United States deployed peacekeeping troops to Somalia soon after he had moved al Qaeda’s headquarters to Sudan — although he celebrated the U.S. withdrawal following the infamous “Black Hawk down” ambush (in which al Qaeda operatives claim to have participated). By 1993, al Qaeda members began identifying U.S. targets in East Africa, and in 1994 they sent explosives to Saudi Arabia to attack an unspecified U.S. facility.

Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996 after Islamist-controlled Sudan expelled him at Washington’s behest. He viewed his exile as further evidence that Arab Islamists could not build Islamic states until Western power in the region was diminished. In a public declaration that same year, he announced that he was turning his gaze from Africa to the Persian Gulf and urged Muslims to launch a guerrilla war against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden not only resented the Saudis for refusing his help in the Gulf War and banning him from the kingdom but also could not tolerate the continued presence of U.S. forces in the country. If jihadists inflicted enough damage on the United States, he argued, the U.S. military would withdraw from Saudi soil, a move that would allow the Islamists to confront the deviant Saudi royal family directly. Although bin Laden did not have the resources to carry out his threat, his statement infuriated the Saudi government, which instructed its clients in Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban, to restrict his activities.

But bin Laden only escalated his rhetoric against the United States. In 1998, in a joint fatwa with the leaders of other militant organizations, he called on every Muslim to murder Americans. Soon thereafter, al Qaeda made good on this threat by bombing the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden later described these attacks in his will and testament as the second of three “escalating strikes” against the United States — the first being Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and the third being 9/11 — all of which would “lead to the withdrawal [from the Middle East] of the United States and the infidel West, even if after dozens of years.”

In fact, 9/11 did not mark the logical culmination of the Lebanon and Africa bombings, as bin Laden suggested. Instead, it represented a subtle but significant shift in al Qaeda’s strategy. Before 9/11, al Qaeda had targeted U.S. citizens and institutions abroad, never attacking U.S. soil. The idea behind a mass-casualty attack against the U.S. homeland arose only after the Africa bombings. Two months before 9/11, Zawahiri, who had become al Qaeda’s second-in-command, published Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet, which offers insight into why al Qaeda decided to attack the United States within its borders. In it, he stated that al Qaeda aimed to establish an Islamic state in the Arab world:

Just as victory is not achieved for an army unless its foot soldiers occupy land, the mujahid Islamic movement will not achieve victory against the global infidel alliance unless it possesses a base in the heart of the Islamic world. Every plan and method we consider to rally and mobilize the ummah will be hanging in the air with no concrete result or tangible return unless it leads to the establishment of the caliphal state in the heart of the Islamic world.

Achieving this goal, Zawahiri explained elsewhere in the book, would require a global jihad:

It is not possible to incite a conflict for the establishment of a Muslim state if it is a regional conflict. . . . The international Jewish-Crusader alliance, led by America, will not allow any Muslim force to obtain power in any of the Muslim lands. . . . It will impose sanctions on whomever helps it, even if it does not declare war against them altogether. Therefore, to adjust to this new reality, we must prepare ourselves for a battle that is not confined to a single region but rather includes the apostate domestic enemy and the Jewish-Crusader external enemy.

To confront this insidious alliance, Zawahiri argued, al Qaeda had to first root out U.S. influence in the region, which it could best accomplish by attacking targets on U.S. soil. Zawahiri predicted that the United States would react either by waging war against Muslims worldwide or by pulling back its forces from Muslim lands. In other words, the United States would either fight or flee. A successful direct strike against U.S. centers of power, he believed, would force this choice on the United States and allow al Qaeda to overcome the obstacles preventing it from rallying the Muslim masses and ending U.S. hegemony in the Middle East: a lack of leadership, the lack of a clear enemy, and a lack of confidence among Muslims. Al Qaeda would soon test that theory on 9/11.


From an operational perspective, the 9/11 attacks succeeded far beyond bin Laden’s imagination, killing more than 3,000 civilians and unexpectedly destroying the World Trade Center. But to al Qaeda’s dismay, 9/11 did not rally Muslims to its cause. Indeed, the organization lost legitimacy when bin Laden, hoping to avoid angering his Taliban hosts, initially denied responsibility for the attacks. And when the United States retaliated against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it did so without providing the group with the kind of clear enemy — a large “Crusader” army — the militant Islamists had hoped for. The United States kept its footprint small, using overwhelming airpower and deploying special operations forces and CIA agents to work with allied tribes to depose the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s base of operations.

Although the U.S. military failed to capture bin Laden, it quickly overran the Taliban and toppled what many jihadists considered the only authentic Islamic state. Afghanistan’s fall thus represented a huge blow to al Qaeda, whose professed goal, of course, was to establish such states. The majority of al Qaeda’s Shura Council had reportedly counseled bin Laden against attacking the United States for fear of precisely this outcome.

Having failed to rally Muslims to his cause or bog down the U.S. military in a protracted ground war, bin Laden fled to Pakistan and refocused his efforts on the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had been at the forefront of bin Laden’s thoughts since 1994, and he now had the resources to launch a major offensive against the U.S. presence in the kingdom. In early 2002, he sent hundreds of jihadists to Saudi Arabia to organize attacks on U.S. military and civilian personnel in the country. After a year of preparation, bin Laden and Zawahiri impatiently launched these attacks over objections from their Saudi branch that it was not ready. The campaign was a disaster. Although al Qaeda attempted to strike only U.S. targets, it killed many Arab Muslims in the process, turning the Saudi public against the group. In one particularly disastrous example, an al Qaeda attack on a residential compound in Riyadh in November 2003 killed mainly Arabs and Muslims, many of whom were children. After a two-year battle, Saudi forces had stamped out the organization’s presence in the kingdom.

Yet al Qaeda’s targeting miscalculations were not the only reason for its failure in Saudi Arabia. Despite a series of spectacular attacks, the organization could not compete for attention with the battle in Iraq. The U.S. invasion of that country in 2003 inflamed Muslim opinion worldwide and had finally given jihadists the clear battle they craved. Bin Laden and Zawahiri seized the opportunity to recover from their strategic blunders in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and to spark an all-consuming battle between the United States and the Islamic world. They hoped that this struggle would rally Muslims to al Qaeda’s cause and, most important, bleed the United States of its resources. As U.S. casualties mounted in Iraq, al Qaeda strategists began citing the lessons of Vietnam and quoting the U.S. historian Paul Kennedy on the consequences of “imperial overstretch.” By the end of 2004, bin Laden had begun publicly referring to al Qaeda’s “war of attrition” against the United States.

Al Qaeda hoped that Iraq would be the first Islamic state to rise after the loss of Afghanistan. In a 2005 letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a leader of the Iraqi insurgency who eventually joined al Qaeda and formed the subsidiary group al Qaeda in Iraq, Zawahiri asserted that victory would come when “a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world. . . . The center would be in the Levant and Egypt.” Zawahiri argued that to expel the United States and establish an Islamic state, jihadists needed “popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries.” Zawahiri told Zarqawi that gaining this support would be easier while U.S. forces continued to occupy Iraq. But to preserve their legitimacy after a U.S. retreat, Zawahiri said, jihadists would need to avoid alienating the public through sectarianism or gratuitous violence. They had to cooperate with Muslims of all ideological and theological stripes as long as they shared the desire for a state dedicated to sharia. Zawahiri warned Zarqawi that if he declared an Islamic state before al Qaeda had built an effective coalition of Muslim groups and garnered popular approval in Iraq, the state would fail and the jihadists’ secular and Islamist opponents would take power.

Zarqawi’s followers did not heed Zawahiri’s advice. Al Qaeda in Iraq declared the founding of an Islamic state soon after Zarqawi was killed in an air strike in 2006, and, as Zawahiri had warned, the group ended up alienating more moderate Sunnis through its brutal implementation of Islamic law and its relentless assault on Iraq’s Shiites. It also lost many of its allies in the insurgency by demanding their obedience and then targeting them and their constituencies if they refused to cooperate. Additionally, the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq’s so-called Islamic state controlled so little territory earned the scorn of fellow Sunni militants in Iraq and abroad. Al Qaeda had botched its first real attempt at state building. Even if it had followed Zawahiri’s counsel, however, al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as the larger organization, would have faced a new threat on the horizon: Islamist parties with the desire and know-how to enter the political system.


Whereas al Qaeda’s brutal, sectarian tactics turned the Iraqi populace against it, the Sunni forces willing to engage in parliamentary politics gained the most power. Chief among them was the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Iraqi Islamic Party dominates Sunni politics in Iraq today and regularly supplies one of the country’s two vice presidents.

The jihadists, of course, reject this success. Zawahiri has been particularly critical of Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh, a one-time member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership council who is now an independent candidate for president in Egypt. Abou el-Fatouh stated before the Arab revolutions that the Brotherhood would respect the results of any popular election in Egypt and remain in loyal opposition should its opponents win. This idea was anathema to Zawahiri, who argued that a government’s legitimacy derives not from the ballot box but from its enforcement of Islamic law. “Any government established on the basis of a constitution that is secular, atheist, or contradictory to Islam cannot be a respected government because it is un-Islamic and not according to sharia,” he wrote in a revision of Knights published in 2010. “It is unacceptable that a leader in the Brotherhood evinces respect for such a government, even if it comes about through fair elections.”

To be clear, Zawahiri does not oppose all elections; for example, he supports elections for the rulers of Islamic states and for representatives on leadership councils, which would ensure that these governments implemented Islamic law properly. But he opposes any system in which elections empower legislators to make laws of their own choosing. In the second edition of Knights, Zawahiri outlined al Qaeda’s vision for the proper Islamic state:

We demand . . . the government of the rightly guiding caliphate, which is established on the basis of the sovereignty of sharia and not on the whims of the majority. Its ummah chooses its rulers. . . . If they deviate, the ummah brings them to account and removes them. The ummah participates in producing that government’s decisions and determining its direction. . . . [The caliphal state] commands the right and forbids the wrong and engages in jihad to liberate Muslim lands and to free all humanity from all oppression and ignorance.

Bin Laden agreed with Zawahiri’s take on elections, stating in January 2009 that once foreign influence and local tyrants have been removed from Islamic countries, true Muslims can elect their own presidents. And like Zawahiri, bin Laden argued that elections should not create parliaments that allow Muslims and non-Muslims to collaborate on making laws.

Although al Qaeda’s leaders concurred on elections, they differed on the utility of using nonviolent protest to achieve Islamist goals. In bin Laden’s January 2009 remarks, he claimed that demonstrations without weapons are useless. This contradicted a statement made by Zawahiri a week earlier, in which he called on Egyptian Muslims to go on strike in protest of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Now that Zawahiri has replaced bin Laden as the leader of al Qaeda, his openness to nonviolent tactics may help the organization navigate the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. Even so, his hostility toward parliamentary politics cedes the real levers of power to the Islamist parliamentarians.


Al Qaeda now stands at a precipice. The Arab Spring and the success of Islamist parliamentarians throughout the Middle East have challenged its core vision just as the group has lost its founder. Al Qaeda has also lost access to bin Laden’s personal connections in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf, which had long provided it with resources and protection. Bin Laden’s death has deprived al Qaeda of its most media-savvy icon; and most important, al Qaeda has lost its commander in chief. The raid that killed bin Laden revealed that he had not been reduced to a figurehead, as many Western analysts had suspected; he had continued to direct the operations of al Qaeda and its franchises. Yet the documents seized from bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, reveal how weak al Qaeda had become even under his ongoing leadership. Correspondence found in the raid shows bin Laden and his lieutenants lamenting al Qaeda’s lack of funds and the constant casualties from U.S. drone strikes. These papers have made the organization even more vulnerable by exposing its general command structure, putting al Qaeda’s leadership at greater risk of extinction than ever before.

Al Qaeda has elected Zawahiri as its new chief, at least for now. But the transition will not be seamless. Some members of al Qaeda’s old guard feel little loyalty to Zawahiri, whom they view as a relative newcomer. Al Qaeda’s members from the Persian Gulf, for their part, may feel alienated by having an Egyptian at their helm, especially if Zawahiri chooses another Egyptian as his deputy.

Despite these potential sources of friction, al Qaeda is not likely to split under Zawahiri’s reign. Its senior leadership will still want to unite jihadist groups under its banner, and its franchises will have little reason to relinquish the recognition and resources that come with al Qaeda affiliation. Yet those affiliates cannot offer al Qaeda’s senior commanders shelter. Indeed, should Pakistan become too dangerous a refuge for the organization’s leaders, they will find themselves with few other options. The Islamic governments that previously protected and assisted al Qaeda, such as those in Afghanistan and Sudan in the 1990s, either no longer exist or are inhospitable (although Somalia might become a candidate if the militant group al Shabab consolidates its hold there).

In the midst of grappling with all these challenges, al Qaeda must also decide how to respond to the uprisings in the Arab world. Thus far, its leaders have indicated that they want to support Islamist insurgents in unstable revolutionary countries and lay the groundwork for the creation of Islamic states once the existing regimes have fallen, similar to what they attempted in Iraq. But al Qaeda’s true strategic dilemma lies in Egypt and Tunisia. In these countries, local tyrants have been ousted, but parliamentary elections will be held soon, and the United States remains influential.

The outcome in Egypt is particularly personal for Zawahiri, who began his fight to depose the Egyptian government as a teenager. Zawahiri also understands that Egypt, given its geostrategic importance and its status as the leading Arab nation, is the grand prize in the contest between al Qaeda and the United States. In his recent six-part message to the Egyptian people and in his eulogy for bin Laden, Zawahiri suggested that absent outside interference, the Egyptians and the Tunisians would establish Islamic states that would be hostile to Western interests. But the United States, he said, will likely work to ensure that friendly political forces, including secularists and moderate Islamists, win Egypt’s upcoming elections. And even if the Islamists succeed in establishing an Islamic state there, Zawahiri argued, the United States will retain enough leverage to keep it in line. To prevent such an outcome, Zawahiri called on Islamist activists in Egypt and Tunisia to start a popular (presumably nonviolent) campaign to implement sharia as the sole source of legislation and to pressure the transitional governments to end their cooperation with Washington.

Yet Zawahiri’s attempt to sway local Islamists is unlikely to succeed. Although some Islamists in the two countries rhetorically support al Qaeda, many, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are now organizing for their countries’ upcoming elections — that is, they are becoming Islamist parliamentarians. Even Egyptian Salafists, who share Zawahiri’s distaste for parliamentary politics, are forming their own political parties. Most ominous for Zawahiri’s agenda, the Egyptian Islamist organization al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), parts of which were once allied with al Qaeda, has forsworn violence and recently announced that it was creating a political party to compete in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Al Qaeda, then, is losing sway even among its natural allies.

This dynamic limits Zawahiri’s options. For fear of alienating the Egyptian people, he is not likely to end his efforts to reach out to Egypt’s Islamist parliamentarians or to break with them by calling for attacks in the country before the elections. Instead, he will continue urging the Islamists to advocate for sharia and to try to limit U.S. influence.

In the meantime, Zawahiri will continue trying to attack the United States and continue exploiting less stable postrevolutionary countries, such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which may prove more susceptible to al Qaeda’s influence. Yet to operate in these countries, al Qaeda will need to subordinate its political agenda to those of the insurgents there or risk destroying itself, as Zarqawi’s group did in Iraq. If those insurgents take power, they will likely refuse to offer al Qaeda safe haven for fear of alienating the United States or its allies in the region.

Thanks to the continued predominance of the United States and the growing appeal of Islamist parliamentarians in the Muslim world, even supporters of al Qaeda now doubt that it will be able to replace existing regimes with Islamic states anytime soon. In a recent joint statement, several jihadist online forums expressed concern that if Muammar al-Qaddafi is defeated in Libya, the Islamists there will participate in U.S.-backed elections, ending any chance of establishing a true Islamic state.

As a result of all these forces, al Qaeda is no longer the vanguard of the Islamist movement in the Arab world. Having defined the terms of Islamist politics for the last decade by raising fears about Islamic political parties and giving Arab rulers a pretext to limit their activity or shut them down, al Qaeda’s goal of removing those rulers is now being fulfilled by others who are unlikely to share its political vision. Should these revolutions fail and al Qaeda survives, it will be ready to reclaim the mantle of Islamist resistance. But for now, the forces best positioned to capitalize on the Arab Spring are the Islamist parliamentarians, who, unlike al Qaeda, are willing and able to engage in the messy business of politics.

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44 thoughts on “Al Qaeda’s Challenge

  1. Rise of the Drone: Long-Distance War Hallmark of Obama’s Post-9/11 Strategy
    By Judson Berger
    Published September 11, 2011 |

    President Obama, to limited success, has tried to dismantle the most controversial counterterror tools of the Bush administration. But along the way, he’s rapidly built up one of those tools into the hallmark of America’s anti-Al Qaeda machine.

    In a little under three years, Obama has established himself as the drone president. Though he put a halt to harsh interrogations, overhauled the military commissions, and made baby steps toward shutting down Guantanamo Bay, his war on terror a decade after 9/11 is defined by a program every bit as dicey for America’s image.

    In the simplest terms, the drone program is war by remote control. Military or CIA officers in one hemisphere can extinguish a militant in another hemisphere without ever entering a war zone. The appeal is apparent — low cost, low risk, high return. And its reach is ever-expanding, wiping out scores of terror leaders and operatives around the world but at great expense to U.S. reputation in host countries.

    As U.S. forces prepare for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the drone program is expected to stay — leaving Obama with the question of whether this will become the face of U.S. foreign policy.

    Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the drone program, is not alone in saying that’s already the case in Pakistan.

    “There are rap songs. They’re mentioned in sit-coms. They’re just sort of everywhere. It’s this image of all the United States does is drones,” he said.

    As a consequence, the downside of drones is starting to flare. The highly secretive and deadly program fuels already-deep suspicion and paranoia in Pakistan. Officials say the program is incalculably valuable, but some say the U.S. could be in danger of over-relying on it.

    “It’s an effective strategy, but to a point,” said Daniel Green, a Navy reserve officer and former State Department adviser who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Aside from the diplomatic drawback, Bush administration attorney John Yoo said the current administration is losing valuable intelligence by killing terror leaders as opposed to capturing them.

    “It’s very satisfying but we lose all the intelligence those guys had,” he told Fox News. Yoo chalked up the current approach to Obama’s aversion to dealing with the tricky issues of detention and interrogation.

    The drone program has evolved significantly over the past decade.

    After the Sept. 11 attacks, the military’s version of the program was incorporated into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — there, the drones were just one aspect of those wars, far less important than the presence of U.S. military and diplomatic corps. But in Pakistan and elsewhere, the secretive, CIA-run offshoot has become, as ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta stated in 2009, “the only game in town.”

    Perhaps realizing this, the Bush administration started to ramp up the program in 2008. That year, there were 33 strikes in Pakistan, according to an organization that tracks drone attacks.

    By 2010, Obama had nearly quadrupled the number of strikes, eliminating hundreds of militants in the untamed tribal areas of Pakistan.

    Over the past few years, the United States has gotten really good at this. In 2008, the strikes were less precise. According to numbers kept by the New America Foundation, roughly half of those killed were militants — though such figures are in dispute, and a separate tally kept by The Long War Journal showed about 90 percent of those killed were Taliban or Al Qaeda affiliated.

    But in 2010, militants accounted for at least 95 percent of those killed, both studies showed. That level of accuracy has been sustained so far this year.

    The latest major drone takedown occurred last month, when a strike killed Al Qaeda No. 2 Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. That was after Usama bin Laden was taken out in a non-drone Navy SEALs raid on his Pakistan compound.

    Former CIA Director Michael Hayden hails the program as a success. He told Fox News it is killing Al Qaeda leadership faster than they can be replaced, and downplayed the diplomatic complications.

    “An awful lot of the senior Al Qaeda leadership has been killed in the tribal region since July of 2008. I think we can also all agree that has created some tension between ourselves and the

    Pakistani government. It would be wrong to judge that that and that alone has created those tensions. Those tensions have many other sources. And I, for one, believe that the success in taking senior Al Qaeda leadership off the battlefield more than outweighs whatever complications it creates for the broader American-Pakistani relationship,” Hayden said.

    With confidence in the program growing, it is expanding into other countries. What was believed to be the first drone strike in Somalia was reported in June. The CIA is also looking to expand into Yemen. According to an account kept by Zenko, there were three or four strikes in Yemen this year.

    Zenko said that in Pakistan they’re an effective tool, considering the U.S. does not have a ground army there and Pakistani forces have not done enough to target militants. However, he said, “If it is the only game in town, it’s not going to work long-term.”

    Though he predicted the program would expand through North Africa, he said the U.S. cannot “collapse” terror networks with drone strikes alone.

    He and Green said the U.S. still needs to work more with the governments and people of those countries.

    “It’s got to be part of a holistic strategy,” said Green, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    That doesn’t mean a ground war. Green, who was at the Pentagon on 9/11, said the State Department and USAID need more resources to send into these countries. More of an effort should be made, he said, to install diplomatic personnel in places like Yemen and Somalia long-term, so they can build a relationship with the people there. More of a focus on training foreign military would also help.

    The Obama administration’s latest counterterrorism strategy, unveiled in June, indicates the military and CIA will not be holding back on use of force. The strategy reiterated that the goal is to defeat Al Qaeda “wherever it takes root,” and use “the full range of our foreign policy tools” to the protect the homeland.

    Fox News’ Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

    Read more:



    By Bernard Lewis
    From Foreign Affairs, November / December 1998

    Summary: A little-noticed declaration of jihad by Usama bin Ladin in an Arabic newspaper underscores the Islamist’s main grievance: infidel U.S. troops in Arabia.

    On February 23, 1998, Al-Quds al-Arabi, an Arabic newspaper published in London, printed the full text of a “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.” According to the paper, the statement was faxed to them under the signatures of Usama bin Ladin, the Saudi financier blamed by the United States for masterminding the August bombings of its embassies in East Africa, and the leaders of militant Islamist groups in Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The statement – a magnificent piece of eloquent, at times even poetic Arabic prose — reveals a version of history that most Westerners will find unfamiliar. Bin Ladin’s grievances are not quite what many would expect.

    The declaration begins with an exordium quoting the more militant passages in the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, then continues:

    “Since God laid down the Arabian peninsula, created its desert, and surrounded it with its seas, no calamity has ever befallen it like these Crusader hosts that have spread in it like locusts, crowding its soil, eating its fruits, and destroying its verdure; and this at a time when the nations contend against the Muslims like diners jostling around a bowl of food.”

    The statement goes on to talk of the need to understand the situation and act to rectify it. The facts, it says, are known to everyone and fall under three main headings:

    “First — For more than seven years the United States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples.

    Though some in the past have disputed the true nature of this occupation, the people of Arabia in their entirety have now recognized it. There is no better proof of this than the continuing American aggression against the Iraqi people, launched from Arabia despite its rulers, who all oppose the use of their territories for this purpose but are subjugated.

    Second — Despite the immense destruc tion inflicted on the Iraqi people at the hands of the Crusader-Jewish alliance and in spite of the appalling number of dead, exceeding a million, the Americans nevertheless, in spite of all this, are trying once more to repeat this dreadful slaughter.

    It seems that the long blockade following after a fierce war, the dismemberment and the destruction are not enough for them. So they come again today to destroy what remains of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbours.

    Third — While the purposes of the Americans in these wars are religious and economic, they also serve the petty state of the Jews, to divert attention from their occupation of Jerusalem and their killing of Muslims in it.

    There is no better proof of all this than their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest of the neighboring Arab states, and their attempt to dismember all the states of the region, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Sudan, into petty states, whose division and weakness would ensure the survival of Israel and the continuation of the calamitous Crusader occupation of the lands of Arabia.”

    These crimes, the statement declares, amount to “a clear declaration of war by the Americans against God, his Prophet, and the Muslims.” In such a situation, the declaration says, the ulema — authorities on theology and Islamic law, or sharia — throughout the centuries unanimously ruled that when enemies attack the Muslim lands, jihad becomes every Muslim’s personal duty.

    In the technical language of the ulema, religious duties may be collective, to be discharged by the community as a whole, or personal, incumbent on every individual Muslim. In an offensive war, the religious duty of jihad is collective and may be discharged by volunteers and professionals. When the Muslim community is defending itself, however, jihad becomes an individual obligation.

    After quoting various Muslim authorities, the signatories then proceed to the final and most important part of their declaration, the fatwa, or ruling. It holds that:

    “To kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country where this is possible, until the Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and the Haram Mosque [in Mecca] are freed from their grip and until their armies, shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim.”

    After citing some further relevant Quranic verses, the document continues:

    “By God’s leave, we call on every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward to obey God’s command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can. Likewise we call on the Muslim ulema and leaders and youth and soldiers to launch attacks against the armies of the American devils and against those who are allied with them from among the helpers of Satan.”

    The declaration and fatwa conclude with a series of further quotations from Muslim scripture.


    Bin Ladin’s view of the Gulf War as American aggression against Iraq may seem a little odd, but it is widely — though by no means universally — accepted in the Islamic world. For holy warriors of any faith, the faithful are always right and the infidels always wrong, whoever the protagonists and whatever the circumstances of their encounter.

    The three areas of grievance listed in the declaration — Arabia, Iraq, and Jerusalem — will be familiar to observers of the Middle Eastern scene. What may be less familiar is the sequence and emphasis. For Muslims, as we in the West sometimes tend to forget but those familiar with Islamic history and literature know, the holy land par excellence is Arabia — Mecca, where the Prophet was born; Medina, where he established the first Muslim state; and the Hijaz, whose people were the first to rally to the new faith and become its standard-bearers. Muhammad lived and died in Arabia, as did the Rashidun caliphs, his immediate successors at the head of the Islamic community. Thereafter, except for a brief interlude in Syria, the center of the Islamic world and the scene of its major achievements was Iraq, the seat of the caliphate for half a millennium. For Muslims, no piece of land once added to the realm of Islam can ever be finally renounced, but none compares in significance with Arabia and Iraq.

    Of these two, Arabia is by far the more important. The classical Arabic historians tell us that in the year 20 after the hijra (Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina), corresponding to 641 of the Christian calendar, the Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from Arabia to fulfill an injunction the Prophet uttered on his deathbed: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” The people in question were the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar in the north and the Christians of Najran in the south. Both were ancient and deep-rooted communities, Arab in their speech, culture, and way of life, differing from their neighbors only in their faith.

    The saying attributed to the Prophet was impugned by some earlier Islamic authorities. But it was generally accepted as authentic, and Umar put it into effect. The expulsion of religious minorities is extremely rare in Islamic history — unlike medieval Christendom, where evictions of Jews and (after the reconquest of Spain) Muslims were normal and frequent.

    Compared with European expulsions, Umar’s decree was both limited and compassionate. It did not include southern and southeastern Arabia, which were not seen as part of Islam’s holy land. And unlike the Jews and Muslims driven out of Spain and other European countries to find what refuge they could elsewhere, the Jews and Christians of Arabia were resettled on lands assigned to them — the Jews in Syria, the Christians in Iraq. The process was also gradual rather than sudden, and there are reports of Jews and Christians remaining in Khaybar and Najran for some time after Umar’s edict.

    But the decree was final and irreversible, and from then until now the holy land of the Hijaz has been forbidden territory for non-Muslims. According to the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence, accepted by both the Saudis and the declaration’s signatories, for a non-Muslim even to set foot on the sacred soil is a major offense. In the rest of the kingdom, non-Muslims, while admitted as temporary visitors, were not permitted to establish residence or practice their religion.

    The history of the Crusades provides a vivid example of the relative importance of Arabia and other places in Islamic perceptions. The Crusaders’ capture of Jerusalem in 1099 was a triumph for Christendom and a disaster for the city’s Jews. But to judge by the Arabic historiography
    of the period, it aroused scant interest in the region. Appeals for help by local Muslims to Damascus and Baghdad went unanswered, and the newly established Crusader principalities from Antioch to Jerusalem soon fitted into the game of Levantine politics, with cross-religious alliances forming a pattern of rivalries between and among Muslim and Christian princes.

    The great counter-Crusade that ultimately drove the Crusaders into the sea did not begin until almost a century later. Its immediate cause was the activities of a freebooting Crusader leader, Reynald of Chatillon, who held the fortress of Kerak, in southern Jordan, between 1176 and 1187 and used it to launch a series of raids against Muslim caravans and commerce in the adjoining regions, including the Hijaz. Historians of the Crusades are probably right in saying that Reynald’s motive was primarily economic — the desire for loot. But Muslims saw his campaigns as a provocation, a challenge directed against Islam’s holy places. In 1182, violating an agreement between the Crusader king of Jerusalem and the Muslim leader Saladin, Reynald attacked and looted Muslim caravans, including one of pilgrims bound for Mecca. Even more heinous, from a Muslim point of view, was his threat to Arabia and a memorable buccaneering expedition in the Red Sea, featuring attacks on Muslim shipping and the Hijaz ports that served Mecca and Medina. Outraged, Saladin proclaimed a jihad against the Crusaders.

    Even in Christian Europe, Saladin was justly celebrated and admired for his chivalrous and generous treatment of his defeated enemies. His magnanimity did not extend to Reynald of Chatillon. The great Arab historian Ibn al-Athir wrote, “Twice, [Saladin said,] I had made a vow to kill him if I had him in my hands; once when he tried to march on Mecca and Medina, and again when he treacherously captured the caravan.” After Saladin’s triumph, when many of the Crusader princes and chieftains were taken captive, he separated Reynald of Chatillon from the rest and beheaded him with his own hands.

    After the success of the jihad and the recapture of Jerusalem, Saladin and his successors seem to have lost interest in the city. In 1229, one of them even ceded Jerusalem to the Emperor Frederick II as part of a general compromise agreement between the Muslim ruler and the Crusaders. Jerusalem was retaken in 1244 after the Crusaders tried to make it a purely Christian city, then eventually became a minor provincial town.

    Widespread interest in Jerusalem was reawakened only in the nineteenth century, first by the European powers’ quarrels over custody of the Christian holy places and then by new waves of Jewish immigration after 1882.

    In Arabia, however, the next perceived infidel threat came in the eighteenth century with the consolidation of European power in South Asia and the reappearance of Christian ships off the shores of Arabia. The resulting sense of outrage was at least one of the elements in the religious revival inspired in Arabia by the puritanical Wahhabi movement and led by the House of Saud, the founders of the modern Saudi state.

    During the period of Anglo-French domination of the Middle East, the imperial powers ruled Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Sudan. They nibbled at the fringes of Arabia, in Aden and the trucial sheikhdoms of the Gulf, but were wise enough to have no military and minimal political involvement in the affairs of the peninsula.

    Oil made that level of involvement totally inadequate, and a growing Western presence, predominantly American, began to transform every aspect of Arabian life. The Red Sea port of Jiddah had long served as a kind of religious quarantine area in which foreign diplomatic, consular, and commercial representatives were allowed to live. The discovery and exploitation of oil — and the consequent growth of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from small oasis town to major metropolis — brought a considerable influx of foreigners. Their presence, still seen by many as a desecration, planted the seeds for a growing mood of resentment.

    As long as this foreign involvement was exclusively economic, and as long as the rewards were more than adequate to soothe every grievance, the alien presence could be borne. But in recent years both have changed. With the fall in oil prices and the rise in population and expenditure, the rewards are no longer adequate and the grievances have become more numerous and more vocal. Nor is the involvement limited to economic activities. The revolution in Iran and the wars of Saddam Hussein have added political and military dimensions to the foreign involvement and have lent some plausibility to the increasingly heard cries of “imperialism.”

    Where their holy land is involved, many Muslims tend to define the struggle — and sometimes also the enemy — in religious terms, seeing the American troops sent to free Kuwait and save Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein as infidel invaders and occupiers. This perception is heightened by America’s unquestioned primacy among the powers of the infidel world.


    To most Americans, the declaration is a travesty, a gross distortion of the nature and purpose of the American presence in Arabia. They should also know that for many — perhaps most — Muslims, the declaration is an equally grotesque travesty of the nature of Islam and even of its doctrine of jihad. The Quran speaks of peace as well as of war. The hundreds of thousands of traditions and sayings attributed with varying reliability to the Prophet, interpreted in various ways by the ulema, offer a wide range of guidance. The militant and violent interpretation is one among many. The standard juristic treatises on sharia normally contain a chapter on jihad, understood in the military sense as regular warfare against infidels and apostates. But these treatises prescribe correct behavior and respect for the rules of war in such matters as the opening and termination of hostilities and the treatment of noncombatants and prisoners, not to speak of diplomatic envoys. The jurists also discuss — and sometimes differ on — the actual conduct of war. Some permit, some restrict, and some disapprove of the use of mangonels, poisoned arrows, and the poisoning of enemy water supplies — the missile and chemical warfare of the Middle Ages — out of concern for the indiscriminate casualties that these weapons inflict. At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.

    Nevertheless, some Muslims are ready to approve, and a few of them to apply, the declaration’s extreme interpretation of their religion. Terrorism requires only a few. Obviously, the West must defend itself by whatever means will be effective. But in devising strategies to fight the terrorists, it would surely be useful to understand the forces that drive them.

    Bernard Lewis is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern
    Studies at Princeton University. His books include The Arabs in History, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, and, most recently, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years.

    Copyright 1998 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. All rights reserved.


  3. U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Haqqani Commander, but Not Group

    By REUTERS; 29 Sep 2011

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions on individuals it said were linked to militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but stopped short of declaring the Haqqani network, blamed for recent attacks on American targets, a terrorist group.

    “These financiers and facilitators provide the fuel for the Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda to realize their violent aspirations,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.

    As a result of the action, U.S. companies and individuals are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the targeted individuals and any assets they hold under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, Treasury said.

    Yet the move is unlikely to dispel the mounting pressure the Obama administration faces to place the Haqqani group, whose attacks threaten to become a major obstacle to U.S. hopes for withdrawing smoothly from Afghanistan, on the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations.

    That symbolic move would create further ripples at a moment when U.S.-Pakistani ties are severely strained following an accusation from the top U.S. military officer of Pakistani support for a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

    The Obama administration is seeking to smooth things over after the remarks from Admiral Mike Mullen triggered a war of words with the key ally even as it pushes Pakistan to crack down on militants fueling violence in Afghanistan.

    On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was close to a decision on whether it would declare the Haqqani group a terrorist organization.

    Lawmakers such as Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have urged Clinton to put the Haqqani network on the terrorism blacklist, saying there was no question it met the standard for inclusion.

    The group of individuals designated on Thursday includes Afghan-born Abdul Aziz Abbasin, described by the Treasury Department described as a “key commander” who the Haqqani leadership had appointed a leader in one volatile area of in Afghanistan.

    “Abbasin commands a group of Taliban fighters and has assisted in running a training camp for foreign fighters in Paktika Province, and also has been involved in ambushing supply vehicles of Afghan government forces and the transport of weapons to Afghanistan,” Treasury said.

    Also targeted was Afghan-born Haiji Faizullah Khan Noorzai, who Treasury said was a prominent Taliban financier, and his brother, Haiji Malik Noorzai, a Pakistan-based businessman.

    The two have invested “millions of dollars in various businesses for the Taliban,” Treasury said.

    It also named Abdur Rehman, a Pakistani who Treasury described as Taliban facilitator and fund-raiser, and Afghan Fazal Rahim, who Treasury said was a financial facilitator for al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

    (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jackie Frank)


  4. How the Haqqani Network is Expanding From Waziristan

    The Pakistani-Based Militant Group Needs a War In Afghanistan to Survive

    Michael Semple
    September 23, 2011; Foreign Affairs

    Summary: The network of militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas are playing an increasingly destabilizing role in NATO’s possible negotiations with the Taliban.

    MICHAEL SEMPLE, who has been working in Afghanistan for more than two decades, is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

    The recent spate of spectacular attacks in Kabul reveals as much about the struggle for supremacy within the Af-Pak insurgency itself as it does about the war between the insurgents and NATO. In the span of a single week, Afghans witnessed, first, the closing down of the center of the capital during a 20-hour siege on the U.S. Embassy, and then, exactly a week later, this past Tuesday, a political assassination: a suicide bomber packed his turban full of explosives and killed the chief of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan.

    Taliban spokesmen claimed responsibility for the Rabbani killing on Tuesday, but the group firmly denied any involvement on Wednesday. Investigations into Rabbani’s death now need to establish exactly who tasked the suicide bomber; if the Quetta-based Afghan Taliban in fact assassinated one of the group’s main interlocutors, the movement cannot seriously expect to move forward as a key player in a political process. Another possible scenario exists: one in which regional spoilers who want to sustain the armed struggle are acting on their own. If the operation was run from the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan, as some are now suggesting, the Rabbani assassination may be an operation on which the Quetta-based Taliban leadership simply was not briefed.

    Think back to the attack on the embassy in Kabul. Immediately following the siege, nearly everyone pointed at the so-called Haqqani network, since the tactics used mirrored those of their previous exploits, such as the June attack on the Hotel Intercontinental and the August assault on the British Council. Yesterday, even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that the Pakistani intelligence services, or the ISI, were involved. But blaming the Haqqani network is like using a kind of militancy shorthand, as the much-used moniker fails to capture the complex nature of the politico-military organization that is expanding its scope, network, and political aspirations from a base in North Waziristan.

    In fact, understanding militancy in Waziristan, especially if it served as the origin of the Rabbani assassination, is vital to charting a course for NATO’s possible negotiations with the Taliban, and is unavoidable in any discussion of extricating NATO from South Asia.

    Over the last two years the Haqqanis have developed what amounts to a special forces capability.

    Here are the basics. Jalaluddin Haqqani was one of the leading Pashtun commanders of the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. From the Zadran tribe, he is one of the few major commanders who made his peace with the Taliban, serving its government in the 1990s as a border affairs minister. The sons of the now aging Jalaluddin front the organization. Although the eldest son, Khalifa Seraj, is meant to be the senior decision-maker, his younger brother, Badruddin, is probably the family member most closely involved in the embassy siege and seems to be more active and accessible. In part, the brothers draw upon fighters from the Zadran tribe in the border provinces who were loyal to Jalaluddin during the 1980s. But the Haqqanis’ lethal effectiveness derives from the wide range of Pakistani tribal fighters at their disposal. In effect, they have an unlimited supply of men for small-arms ambushes and attacks on NATO posts and administrative centers.

    What is new here, and key to understanding the attack on the embassy (and perhaps even the Rabbani assassination), is that over the last two years the Haqqanis have developed what amounts to a special forces capability. They have built up intelligence-gathering networks and infiltrated government institutions in Kabul and the surrounding provinces. With the help of al Qaeda and Central Asian fighters, foreign militants in Waziristan have developed advanced combat training and technology for roadside bombs. The Haqqanis draw on this expertise without actually controlling the groups who deliver it. Rather than the Haqqani Network, it would be more appropriate to call this the Waziristan Militant Complex.

    Even if they outsource some of their special operations, the Haqqanis feverishly guard the one part of their operation they consider far too valuable to let out of their control: propaganda. Young fighters take combat video courses in the North Waziristan capital of Miran Shah and then accompany their comrades on attacks to collect footage. The Haqqani video editors then splice the bloody footage with B-roll snatched from satellite channels and YouTube. The result is a library of slick jihadi videos, glorifying the fighters and martyrs, stressing the precise and devastating nature of their attacks, and lampooning the Afghan government. Some even include credits claiming to be made by the “Cultural Committee of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The Waziristan militants are projecting themselves as chiefs of the Islamic Emirate brand, which is important because they are trying to sideline, at least in the eyes of those watching, their Afghan jihadist counterparts.

    Attacks such as the embassy siege speak volumes about the nature of the broader Af-Pak insurgency. The Haqqanis are boosting their political influence by taking center stage in the war. Granted, the Kandaharis in southern Afghanistan have launched their share of spectacular attacks — such as the Sarposa prison break and the coordinated Fedayeen attacks in Kandahar City — but in terms of impact on the public consciousness, the Haqqanis simply overshadow anything their counterparts in Kandahar have been able to pull off. Most significantly, there is no evidence that the Taliban’s chief military commander, Qayyum Zakir, has anything to do with the planning and execution of this ongoing string of Waziristan-Kabul attacks. Traditionally, the Haqqani brothers have always been careful to stress that they are under the authority of Mullah Omar and the Taliban Movement. But the embassy assault suggests that that is changing.

    For the moment, the war goes on, and, despite U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s assertion that the embassy siege was “not a big deal,” the fact is undeniable that Kabul remains as vulnerable as ever, as shown by the Rabbani assassination. Meanwhile, a more serious complication is coming into clear view. The Rabbani assassination notwithstanding, there is still a chance that the Taliban’s Kandahari leadership in the south will, in the coming months, opt for a political process and negotiations. And despite their claims of allegiance, the Waziristan militants are positioning themselves as separate players in NATO’s Afghanistan endgame.

    If the Waziristan Militant Complex was, in fact, responsible for the Rabbani assassination, in an effort to spoil a possible political process, it is a starting pushback against the Kandahari Taliban leadership. Even within Waziristan there is a question of who runs each of the operations. Despite their origins as a marginalized border tribe, the Haqqani brothers may now be eyeing a future role on the Afghan national stage. The Haqqanis’ backers in Pakistan will have to make their own decision about whether they are going to take part in a negotiated reconciliation, or if, as Washington has suggested, they will ramp up their proxy war inside Afghanistan.

    The bottom line is that the militants in Waziristan depend on the jihad for their survival and thus have to oppose any settlement. After all, if there’s no war in Afghanistan, they have no reason for being. But what does that mean for the future? At a minimum, NATO will have to deal with Waziristan separately from any deal made with the official Taliban leadership. As a corollary, in trying to make sense of Taliban intentions — which is a difficult enough task in its own right — it would be wise to regard the attacks coming out of Waziristan as a separate and distinct matter. Because as a negotiated settlement unfolds, the Waziristan Militant Complex will almost certainly be back again to sabotage it, with more spectacular attacks and the videos that always follow.


  5. Mullen Takes on the ISI

    Will Sharp Words Be Backed by Deeds?
    September 24, 2011; Foreign Affairs

    Aqil Shah
    AQIL SHAH is an expert on Pakistan’s civil-military relations and regional security dynamics in South Asia based at the Harvard Society of Fellows

    The killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who led the High Peace Council, illustrates [1] all too well the tremendous obstacles to a meaningful reconciliation among Afghanistan’s various factions. Before his death on September 20 at the hands of a man who claimed to be an emissary of the Quetta Shura, Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, had been in charge of reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents. His appointment had apparently been meant as a way to pull the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance into the peace process. The jury is still out on exactly who ordered the killing — the Taliban first claimed and then denied involvement — but its implications are clear. Rabbani’s assassination, the latest in a systematic campaign of targeted killings of high-profile anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, has increased the chance that tensions among the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, and other Islamist Pashtun groups could devolve into all-out war.

    The beneficiary of this uncertainty is the region’s primary spoiler: the Pakistani military. Although its generals have received billions of dollars in U.S. aid since 9/11 to combat terrorism, they have consistently done everything in their power to bolster it. They selectively cooperate with the United States, apprehending al Qaeda militants and fighting the Pakistani Taliban insurgents — which also threaten the Pakistani military — while sheltering and supporting other radical extremists, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which spearhead the deadly cross-border insurgency in Afghanistan.

    The United States has had hard evidence of the Inter-Service Intelligence’s double game for some time. For example, the George W. Bush administration reportedly intercepted communications between the ISI and Haqqani operatives who perpetrated the 2006 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. But in this and several other cases, the United States chose to look the other way, because it needed ISI cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. In addition, the United States continues to rely on Pakistan’s land routes to supply its troops in Afghanistan.

    It took a direct terrorist hit on the U.S. mission in Kabul for Washington to read the riot act to Pakistan’s generals. In the most direct and daring official U.S. indictment of the Pakistani military to date, Admiral Michael Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States had “credible evidence” that the September 10 truck bombing of a U.S. military base in Wardak province and the September 13 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul were carried out by the Haqqani network with the ISI’s active collusion.

    If Mullen is right, the ISI is extending its Afghan proxy war against India to target the United States. The reckless escalation is likely intended to demonstrate to Washington that nothing is off-limits to Pakistan’s Afghan surrogates, and it may even be designed to push Washington to rethink its involvement in helping India expand its presence in Kabul. Pakistan’s military believes, somewhat plausibly, that India has used U.S. military cover to increase its intelligence assets on Pakistan’s western border, which would allow New Delhi to foment insurgency in Pakistan’s resource-rich province of Baluchistan. The generals are also alarmed by New Delhi’s deployment into Afghanistan of its mountain-trained Indo-Tibetan police force, mainly to protect the personnel of the semi-military Border Roads Organization (BRO), which has a role in developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure. One project is a strategic highway linking Afghanistan to the Iranian port of Chabahar, which will reduce the landlocked country’s dependence on Pakistani land routes.

    The ISI-led attack also conveys the agency’s intent and capacity to use insurgents to spoil any peace process that excludes Pakistan. The country no doubt has a legitimate stake in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan to its west, and it, along with other regional states, should be part of any reconciliation process. But its military covets a seat at the head table in any peace negotiation so that it can veto any outcome that threatens its expansive national security interests in the region. Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns, which are much less likely than more secular Pashtuns to make irredentist claims on Pakistan’s own Pashtun regions, or bow to Indian influence. The military’s worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Northern Alliance, which it fears would permit New Delhi to continue activities that are hostile to Pakistan even after the United States leaves the region.

    But in the process of pursuing strategic depth, the military has run Pakistan into the ground. As Mullen rightly noted, exporting violent extremism has eroded the country’s external credibility, undermined its internal coherence, and threatened its economic future. But for Pakistan’s overfed, unrestrained, and irresponsible generals, it seems that the perceived benefits of nurturing violent extremist groups are still much higher than the costs. And indeed, in real terms, those costs have been much lower than they might have been. The United States has typically appeased the Pakistani military when it should have held it accountable. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, for example, the Obama administration certified to Congress in March that Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies were earnestly combating terrorism and refraining from political meddling — two key conditions attached to U.S. security aid to Pakistan under the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. The administration rewarded bad behavior and got more of the same.

    As Obama mulls over future policy options in Pakistan, he will find no easy answers. Still, neither the White House nor Congress should abandon Pakistani and Afghan civilians by letting the Pakistani military (literally) get away with murder. As I argued in “Time to Get Serious with Pakistan [2],” as difficult as it might be to conceive of a long-term U.S. engagement with Pakistan right now, extremists are less likely to find easy refuge in a globally integrated, democratic, and prosperous Pakistan. Moreover, the stronger Pakistan’s democratic institutions become, the less room the Pakistani military and the ISI will have to maneuver — even if that change is slow and incremental. Hence, the United States should provide Pakistanis with more economic and trade-related opportunities and help strengthen Pakistan’s civilian political institutions by meaningfully engaging them.

    Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate recently decided to link all aid to Pakistan — including civilian economic assistance — to the Pakistani military’s cooperation against militant groups. Rather than imposing blanket aid cutoffs, the United States should consistently identify and publicly chastise the Pakistani military for its support of terrorists, routinely enforce security aid conditionality, and credibly threaten the military’s high command with targeted sanctions if it continues to pursue reckless policies that undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts and imperil nuclear-armed Pakistan’s own stability. Otherwise, Mullen’s recent tough talk is sound and fury, signifying nothing.


  6. US announces sanctions on ‘Haqqani men’

    Targeted five individuals accused of being “financiers and facilitators” for Taliban, Haqqani group and al-Qaeda.

    Al Jazeera: Last Modified: 29 Sep 2011 18:22

    The US treasury department has announced new sanctions on five individuals it said are linked to “the most dangerous terrorist organisations operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

    As a result of the action, US companies and individuals are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the targeted individuals and any assets they hold under US jurisdiction are frozen.

    “These financiers and facilitators provide the fuel for the Taliban, Haqqani network and al-Qaeda to realise their violent aspirations,” David Cohen, treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement on Thursday.

    The group includes Abdul Aziz Abbasin, who the treasury department described as a “key commander in the Haqqani Network”, which is headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani and accused of a series of brazen attacks, such as the major offensive on key military and diplomatic targets in Kabul in mid-September.

    “Abbasin commands a group of Taliban fighters and has assisted in running a training camp for foreign fighters in Paktika Province, and also has been involved in ambushing supply vehicles of Afghan government forces and the transport of weapons to Afghanistan,” the treasury department statement said.

    Also targeted was Haiji Faizullah Khan Noorzai, who the statement said was a prominent Taliban financier, and his brother, Haiji Malik Noorzai, a Pakistan-based businessman.

    The two have invested “millions of dollars in various businesses for the Taliban”.

    The treasury department also designated Abdur Rehman, who the US treasury department described as Taliban facilitator and fundraiser, and Fazal Rahim, who it said was a financial facilitator for al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

    The sanctions announcement came as Pakistan’s intelligence chief denied, in a statement to the Reuters news agency, the US accusations that the country supports the Haqqani group.

    “There are other intelligence networks supporting groups who operate inside Afghanistan,” Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha said.

    “We have never paid a penny or provided even a single bullet to the Haqqani network.”

    The denial followed a rare meeting of Pakistan’s many political parties in Islamabad earlier on Thursday.

    Recent comments by US officials have suggested that the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate maintains links with the Haqqani network.

    During his remarks to the US Senate Arms Services Committee on September 22, Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the US joint chiefs of staff, accused the Haqqani network of being a “veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Agency”.

    Source: Al Jazeera and agencies


  7. Top Haqqani commander captured in Afghanistan

    Afghan and NATO forces arrest Haji Mali Khan in Paktia province as president talks of disengaging with the Taliban.

    Al Jazeera: Last Modified: 01 Oct 2011 15:28

    NATO-led forces have captured Haji Mali Khan, a senior commander for the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, during an operation in eastern Paktia province earlier in the week.

    Khan is “the uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani … one of the highest ranking members of the Haqqani network and a revered elder of the Haqqani clan,” the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement on Saturday.

    The Haqqani network, which attacked the US emabssy in Kabul earlier this month, is based on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

    Admiral Mike Mullen, the US joint chiefs of staff, recently accused the group of being a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency- a charge that Islamabad denies.

    NATO said Khan had managed bases and operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and moved forces across the border for attacks, as well as transferring funds and sourcing supplies.

    The statement called him “the senior Haqqani commander in Afghanistan”.

    Khan was captured on Tuesday in Jani Khel district of Paktia province along with his deputy and bodyguard, in an operation by Afghan and foreign forces, NATO said.

    He was heavily armed but “submitted … without incident or resistance,” the NATO statement said. It did not detail how the NATO forces had identified Khan.

    Peace talks

    Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, said that he is rethinking the peace process following three years of failed talks with the Taliban.

    In a statement on Saturday, Karzai alluded to shifting his government’s peace-negotiating strategy from dealing directly with the Taliban to holding talks with Pakistan.

    “I do not have any other answer except to say the other side of the peace talks must be Pakistan, because I cannot find Mullah Mohammed Omar, I cannot find the Taliban Shura, a messenger came from them and killed and there is no reaction from them,” said Karzai. “Who else is there to talk to except Pakistan?”

    A year ago, Karzai established a peace council and appointed former-president Burhanuddin Rabbani to lead talks with the Taliban.

    Rabbani was killed two weeks ago by a suicide bomber posing as a messenger from the Taliban.

    ‘Peace with who?’

    At a meeting with Afghanistan’s political elite on Friday, leaders discussed the future of peace talks with the Taliban, questioned whether the insurgents were able to seek a political settlement and blamed Pakistan for fomenting instability.

    The meeting included legislative chairmen, cabinet ministers, former mujahideen commanders and Karzai’s two vice-presidents, a statement from the Presidential Palace said.

    IN Video

    Former Afghan president assasinated in Kabul

    The assembled Afghan elite took a swipe at neighboring Pakistan, according to the statement, saying it was clear the Taliban leadership was not independent enough to make its own decisions about how it conducted the war, and suggested talks with Islamabad instead.

    “During our three-year efforts for peace, the Taliban has martyred our religious ulema [leaders], tribal elders, women, children, old and young,” Karzai’s office quoted the assembled “mujahideen leaders, national figures and politicians” as saying.

    “By killing Rabbani, they showed they are not able to take decisions. Now, the question is [should we seek] peace with who, with which people?”

    Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, does not believe that the strategy will work.

    “Pakistan is not able to resolve their problem,” he said. “How are the Pakistanis able to solve the problem of Afghanistan?”

    Implicating Pakistan

    Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said on Saturday that it had handed Pakistan evidence that the Taliban’s leadership plotted Rabbani’s assasination on Pakistani soil.

    The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said that the killing was was plotted in an upmarket suburb of the Pakistani city of Quetta.

    The Taliban leadership council is known as the Quetta Shura, and is believed to be based in that city, although the insurgent group says it operates only from Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the existence of any Taliban shura in Quetta.

    “A confession from those we detained in regard to Rabbani’s assassination shows a direct involvement of the Quetta Shura,” NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said, adding that one of those arrested was a key player in the plot to kill Rabbani.

    “[He] provided evidence and documents which we have submitted to the Pakistan Embassy. Based on mutual cooperation and diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan is obliged to take action,” he told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

    He said a commission had been set up to investigate the killing, and further details would be given soon.

    From CNN


  8. Somali militants in key port ‘attacked by US drones’
    BBC; 25 September 11 10:43 GMT

    The United States has launched a series of attacks by unmanned drones on the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, local residents say.

    At least three targets were hit around Kismayo, the southern port which is under the control of the militants.

    One reconnaissance drone is reported to have crashed.

    Meanwhile, there have been clashes between Somali government troops and the militants in the Gedo region, further north.

    Residents of Kismayo say there were explosions around the city, with at least three targets being hit.

    It is reported that al-Shabab are patrolling the streets, preventing locals from using the hospital, which is treating their wounded.

    Kismayo is a key asset for the militants, allowing supplies to reach areas under their control and providing taxes for their operations.

    In the Gedo region, there has been fighting around the town of Garbahare between al-Shabaab and government troops backed by local militia.

    A local MP, Mahmood Sayid, told the BBC that 120,000 people had fled to the town to escape the famine, but that there was nothing to give them.

    Deaths are being recorded every day, he said.


  9. Fighting Erupts on Somalia’s Border With Kenya

    September 30, 2011; NYT

    NAIROBI, Kenya — Intense fighting erupted along the Kenya-Somalia border on Friday as the Shabab militant group tried to take back a slice of strategic territory from militias allied with the Somali government. At the same time, Shabab fighters are breaking up camps for victims of Somalia’s famine, sending tens of thousands of starving people straight back into drought-stricken areas.

    The Shabab militants say they will provide enough food to tide people over until the next harvest, expected around January, and some of the people who recently left seemed content with the initial rations of rice, sugar, powdered milk and oil that they had been given. But many aid officials worry that the famine victims are going to soon find themselves in a bleak and barren environment once back in their home villages and that dispersing them will complicate an already strained aid effort.

    “This is a nightmare,” said a United Nations official who asked not to be identified because he was criticizing the Shabab and feared reprisals. “It has been hard enough to access famine victims in Shabab areas, and now that the people have been scattered, that means more checkpoints, more local authorities to deal with, more negotiations.”

    It seems that the Shabab, who have lost several chunks of territory in the past few months, are regrouping to some degree. In August, Shabab leaders pulled hundreds of fighters out of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, calling it a strategic withdrawal, though it seemed more of an acknowledgment that their mostly young and inexperienced troops could no longer go toe-to-toe with a better armed and trained African Union peacekeeping force. The African Union has 9,000 soldiers in Mogadishu to support Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, whose own army is weak and fragmented.

    But in recent days, witnesses have reported hundreds of Shabab fighters heading south toward Somalia’s border with Kenya. The border area is controlled by a fractious group of warlords and militias who get covert support from Kenya and Ethiopia and are nominally loyal to Somalia’s transitional government. On Friday before dawn, Shabab forces struck Dhobley, a market town jointly controlled by an Islamist warlord and a French-educated intellectual who is trying to form his own ministate called Azania, an ancient Greek name for the Horn of Africa.

    According to Adan Adar, Somalia program director for the American Refugee Committee, a private aid group that assists feeding centers in Dhobley, the Shabab attacked from several different directions, and all sides had casualties.

    “It was a big fight,” he said. “And it’s likely to impact humanitarian operations because there are many feeding centers in Dhobley.”

    By midafternoon on Friday, witnesses said that the Shabab fighters had been repulsed and that the Kenyan military was poised to get involved should the Shabab try again to take Dhobley. The town is only a few miles from the border with Kenya, and Kenyan officials are increasingly concerned that the Shabab, a vehemently anti-Western group that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, might attack inside Kenya.

    A Kenyan security official interviewed Friday said that he had just been sent to the border and that hundreds of Kenyan soldiers and police officers were preparing to enter Somalia. Residents in the area reported seeing Kenyan fighter planes and helicopters flying over Dhobley, though Kenyan officials have thus far been careful not to engage directly in Somalia’s internal fighting — or at least not to allow such activities to be made public.

    The Shabab control much of the southern third of Somalia, which has been hit by a famine caused by drought and war. The United Nations says that tens of thousands of people, mostly children, have already died and that 750,000 urgently need food and could starve to death in the next few months if aid efforts are not rapidly scaled up. The Shabab have blocked most large Western aid agencies from operating in their areas, and in a few places, the group’s fighters have set up their own camps to feed starving people who have fled drought zones, sometimes even forcing people to stay in their camps.

    But last week, the group abruptly announced that it was closing several of its camps, and Shabab fighters began ordering tens of thousands of people to return to their farms to plant crops before the rainy season starts, which should be in a few weeks. The Shabab called it a “resettlement program,” and the picture was mixed about how well it was going.

    In Buurhakaba, a midsize town that the Shabab control, residents said that after the Shabab closed down the camp there, many people decided to flee all the way to Kenya.

    “There is no way for people to return home because back there, there’s nothing to eat,” Sultan Said, a resident of Buurhakaba, said by telephone.

    But, he added, there had not been much food anyway in the Shabab-run camps because the Shabab fighters had been stealing it.

    “They’re starving too,” Mr. Sultan said.

    In Baidoa, a bigger Shabab-controlled town, some people who had sought help in the Shabab-run camps said the fighters had given them enough food to survive until the harvest. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Unicef have been able to distribute lifesaving food in some Shabab areas, and both organizations say that despite difficulties, they have been reaching more people in recent weeks.

    One destitute farmer who spoke by telephone from a village about 50 miles outside of Baidoa said that he had been living in a Shabab-run camp in Baidoa for two months and that the militants had treated him and his five children fine. When the Shabab decided to shut down the camp about a week ago, he said, nobody protested and the Shabab provided sacks of food and rides by truck back to the home villages of the camp residents.

    “If it rains, we’ll be O.K.; if it doesn’t, there will be famine,” the man said, adding that he did not like or dislike the Shabab.

    But at the end of the interview, the man pleaded not to be identified, saying the Shabab did not allow people to talk to the news media.


  10. Al Shabab – By NYT

    Al Shabab is one of Africa’s most fearsome militant Islamist groups. The organization controls much of southern Somalia, and has waged an insurgency against Somalia’s transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters since 2006. Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, the group that controlled Somalia prior to the country’s invasion by Ethiopian forces, Shabab leaders have claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda since 2007.

    As the group has drawn increasingly close to Al Qaeda, deploying suicide bombers and attracting jihadists from around the world, it has prompted American concerns that the organization may be spreading into Kenya, Yemen and beyond.

    For years, the Shabab have been terrorizing the Somali public, chopping off hands, stoning people to death and banning TV, music and even bras in their quest to turn Somalia into a seventh-century-style Islamic state.

    As drought ravaged Somalia in 2010 and 2011, causing a full-blown famine in several parts of the country, the Shabab blocked starving people from fleeing the country. The group was widely blamed for causing the famine by forcing out many Western aid organizations, depriving drought victims of desperately needed food.

    In August 2011, the group abruptly pulled out of the bullet-ridden capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, leaving the entire city in the hands of the government for the first time in years and raising hopes that aid groups could deliver aid to more famine victims unfettered.

    The group had taken a beating in steady urban fighting against a better-armed, 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force. The rebels were also divided over whether to let in Western aid organizations to relieve the famine.

    Aid groups hope that the Shabab retreat will allow them access to more parts of Mogadishu, where famine victims are waiting for help. But the Shabab still controls large parts of southern Somalia that have been worst hit by drought and famine, and it is not clear when Western aid groups will be able to get into those areas.

    In September 2011, a senior American military commander for Africa warned that three violent extremist organizations — the Shabab, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel region of northern Africa and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria — were trying to forge an alliance to coordinate attacks on the United States and Western interests.

    Although Defense Department officials noted that the three African terrorist groups had traditionally hit local government targets, and that they differed in ideology, one Defense Department official said they were believed to be working toward “an alliance of convenience.”

    American Strategy

    Over the past year, the United States has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia, American officials acknowledge. The Pentagon has turned to strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill Shabab militants and recently approved $45 million in arms shipments to African troops fighting in Somalia.

    The fight against the Shabab, a group that United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.

    According to officials, the State Department has been at odds with some military and intelligence officials about whether striking sites suspected of being militant camps in Somalia’s southern territories or carrying out American commando raids to kill militant leaders would significantly weaken the Shabab — or instead bolster its ranks by allowing the group to present itself as the underdog against a foreign power.

    The Shabab has already shown its ability to strike beyond Somalia, killing dozens of Ugandans in 2010 in a suicide attack that many believe was a reprisal for the Ugandan government’s decision to send troops to Somalia.

    Some critics view the role played by contractors as a troubling trend: relying on private companies to fight the battles that nations have no stomach to deal with directly. Some American Congressional officials investigating the money being spent for operations in Somalia said that opaque arrangements — where money is passed through foreign governments — made it difficult to properly track how the funds were spent.

    In Washington, American officials said debates were under way about just how much the United States should rely on clandestine militia training and armed drone strikes to fight the Shabab.

    A Global Threat Emerges

    The Shabab have been in the cross hairs of intelligence and counterterrorism officials for years. But the group’s growing force and alliances with a shifting array of Somali warlords has posed a constant, vexing challenge for the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster Somalia’s weak government and stabilize the country. In 2009, after what a senior administration official described as a fierce internal debate, President Obama halted American food aid to Somalia after evidence mounted that the Shabab was siphoning some of the aid for its operations.

    The group has also recruited young fighters from the frustrated ranks of Somali immigrants in the United States. In October 2008, a Minneapolis teenager, Shirwa Ahmed, became the first confirmed American suicide bomber, when he drove a car laden with explosives into a compound in northern Somalia. He had traveled to Somalia and was apparently trained as a fighter by the Shabab.

    Despite the group’s foreign recruits, a senior intelligence official said the United States believes it is still mainly focused on fighting the Somali government and those who support it, rather than the West.

    Militants Reach Out to Americans

    In 2009 United States officials unsealed terrorism-related charges against men they say were key actors in a recruitment effort that led roughly 20 young Americans to join Shabab. The case represented the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda. Many of the recruits had come to America as young refugees fleeing a brutal civil war, only to settle in a gang-ridden enclave of Minneapolis.

    The men named faced federal charges including perjury, providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill, maim, kidnap or injure people outside the United States.

    Law enforcement officials are concerned that the recruits, who hold American passports, could be commissioned to return to the United States to carry out attacks, though so far there is no evidence of such plots.

    Shabab on the Ground

    Shabab is nominally led by Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman (Abu Zubeyr), though experts say a core group of senior leaders guide its actions. The group is divided into three geographical units: Bay and Bokool regions, led by Mukhtar Roobow (Abu Mansur), the group’s spokesman; south-central Somalia and Mogadishu; and Puntland and Somaliland.

    A fourth unit, which controls the Juba Valley, is led by Hassan Abdillahi Hersi (Turki), who is not considered to be a member of Shabab, but is closely aligned with it. These regional units “appear to operate independently of one another, and there is often evidence of friction between them,” according to a December 2008 U.N. Monitoring Group report.

    Estimates of Shabab’s size vary, but analysts generally agree that the group has an estimated 3,000 hard-core fighters and 2,000 allied gunmen. Many of them are from the Hawiye clan. The Shabab have been able to expand their footprint in Somalia with relatively small numbers for two reasons: Somalia hasn’t had a central government since 1991; and many of the clan warlords that filled the power vacuum have proven willing to cooperate with Shabab, at least in Somalia’s south.

    Shabab’s tactics have evolved. When it began its insurgency in late 2006, it used classic guerrilla tactics — suicide bombings, shootings and targeted assassinations — to oppose the Somali government and what it perceives as its allies, from aid groups to the Ethiopian military to African Union peacekeepers. Much of the violence was concentrated in the capital, Mogadishu; battles between the Ethiopian military and Shabab in August 2007 caused roughly 400,000 people to flee the city.

    By February 2009, Shabab controlled most of southern Somalia.


  11. Obama Adviser Discusses Using Military on Terrorists

    Sept 16 2011; NYT

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — John O. Brennan, the top counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, on Friday defended a broad conception of where the United States can use military force against members of Al Qaeda and its allies.

    Mr. Brennan also denounced a proposal in Congress to mandate military detention of terrorism suspects — even those captured on United States soil. His remarks were part of a speech on the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy and the rule of law, delivered before a conference at Harvard Law School.

    Mr. Brennan’s remarks about the ability to use military force came against the backdrop of a debate, reported on Friday by The New York Times, between lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon over the limits of military force in places like Yemen and Somalia.

    In that region, the State Department has argued, the United States may — as a matter of self-defense — lawfully kill high-level militants who are involved in plots to attack the United States, but not low-level militants who are focused on parochial concerns. The Defense Department has argued that it can attack members of Al Qaeda and its allies, although the dispute has remained latent so far because the policy has been to strike at only “high-value individuals.”

    In his speech, Mr. Brennan initially suggested that he leaned toward the Pentagon’s view of the legal question, although subsequently made more ambiguous comments.

    “The United States does not view our authority to use military force against Al Qaeda as being restricted solely to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan,” he said. “Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that — in accordance with international law — we have the authority to take action against Al Qaeda and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time.”

    Still, he added, “That does not mean we can use military force whenever we want, wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally — and on the way in which we can use force — in foreign territories.”

    During a question period afterward, he drew a distinction between members of two groups in the region — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, and the Somalia-based Shabab — who are intent on attacking America, and those who are focused on local concerns. It was the former, he said, that the United States “will take action” against.

    He also criticized The New York Times article for portraying the deliberations as a “great debate,” saying it was appropriate for lawyers to “actively and rigorously debate the law” so that policy makers could know the boundaries within which they can make decisions.

    He also said it had never been the case that the legal interpretation that “came out of that lawyer group prevented us from doing what we wanted to do.”

    Mr. Brennan also sharply criticized a proposal in the Senate version of the 2012 defense authorization bill, which may be taken up soon, that would require terrorism suspects arrested inside the country to be transferred to military custody. The provision was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee this summer.

    Mr. Brennan called the idea a “nonstarter” and said the White House would fight the proposal vigorously.

    He said “it is the firm position of the Obama administration” that terrorism suspects arrested inside the United States must be prosecuted solely in civilian court system in line with “longstanding tradition.”

    “Our military does not patrol our streets or enforce our laws, nor should it,” he added. “This is not a radical idea.”

    Mr. Brennan also rejected as “absurd” accusations by some critics that the Obama administration might be deliberately killing terrorism suspects instead of capturing them, sacrificing the ability to interrogate them in order to avoid the legal complications of detaining them.

    “I want to be very clear: whenever it is possible to capture a suspected terrorist, it is the unqualified preference of the administration to take custody of that individual so we can obtain information that is vital to the safety and security of the American people,” he said.


  12. Al Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan
    By National Security Supervising Producer Adam Levine

    CNN / September 15th, 2011; 12:38 PM ET

    An al Qaeda figure identified as the terrorist network’s chief of operations in Pakistan has been killed, a U.S. officials said Thursday.

    Abu Hafs al-Shari was killed in Waziristan, Pakistan, according to one of the sources. While there was no explanation how he was killed, it is known armed predator drones have been used to kill suspected terrorists.

    One US official called it a “blow” to the core of Al Qaeda.

    “The loss of their chief of operations in Pakistan, an individual who played a key operational and administrative role for the group, will pose a challenge for Zawahiri. Abu Hafs was a contender to assume some of [recently killed Atiyah abd al-Rahman’s] duties, coordinated al Qaeda’s anti-US plotting in the region, and worked closely with the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks inside Pakistan.”

    A senior administration official said the strike will “further degrade” Al Qaeda’s ability to recover from the Rahman killing in August because ” because of his operations experience and connections within the group.”

    The pressure on Al Qaeda in Pakistan has been significant with a number of key leaders, most notably Osama bin Laden, being eliminated. Earlier this week, the top intelligence official at the Pentagon said US counterterrorism operations have left the group feeling “besieged.”

    “Its senior leaders are being eliminated at a rate far faster than al Qaeda can replace them, and the leadership replacements the group is able to field are much less experienced and credible,” said Michael Vickers, the Under Secretary for Defense Intelligence at an event in Washington on Tuesday. Vickers said the pressure on Al Qaeda has left it in a “precarious” postiion and predicted that at this rate the group could be eliminated wtihin the next two years.

    “We have substantially attrited AQ’s mid-level operatives, trainers and facilitators, its recent recruits, including several westerners, and senior leaders and operatives of its safe haven providers,” Vickers said.

    The head of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, told Congress on Tuesday that the pressure could lead to Al Qaeda rank and file fleeing Pakistan to Afghanistan or leaving south Asia.

    Vickers said that this year alone the terror group has lost eight of its “top 20” leaders and of all its top leaders from 2001 only one, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains. The killing of al-Shari raises the total to nine.

    – Pam Benson, Larry Shaughnessy and Alex Mooney contributed to this report


  13. Anwar al-Aulaqi Is Dead, But the Al-Qaeda Ideology Lives On
    By Philip Mudd, New America Foundation
    September 30, 2011

    The news that confronts Americans about the decade-long counterterrorism campaign defining the post-9/11 era is increasingly episodic, and for good reason. The death of Osama bin Laden, the killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi, questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the grisly operations against militants in that devastated country — all these are overshadowed domestically by debt problems, a looming election, global warming and a host of other issues worthy of national debate. And they come after a decade in which the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks is far lower than any observer could have guessed 10 years ago. Americans’ attention has shifted from terrorism, thankfully, and that shift should gratify any security professional.

    The popular perception that these terrorists’ deaths mark an accelerating decline among the terrorist groups that threaten the United States, particularly on its home shores, represents an accurate view that the leadership of these groups is disappearing at a remarkable rate. The professionals working against these groups day to day could not help but view the loss of so many al-Qaeda leaders in the border region of Pakistan, the setbacks of the al-Shabab militants in Somalia, the decimation of the al-Qaedist jihadists in Indonesia and the criminalization of hostage-taking al-Qaeda sympathizers in North Africa as signs that the flow of violent Islamist groups that grew after 9/11 has ebbed.

    For those of us sitting in a chair at the nightly meetings with CIA Director George Tenet in 2002 and the years afterward, however, the view was not so rosy. Attacks across the Islamic world seemed to represent not only the hydra-headed operational capabilities of a loose, far-flung al-Qaedist movement but also the success of an ideology that led so many formerly local jihadists to go global, accepting the al-Qaeda mantra that the United States and its allies represented the head of the snake. The successes of recent years have erased the sense, during those days, that it was the jihadists on the offensive, while we played defense. No more.

    But this same episodic focus — occasional stories marking the decline of various individual leaders — masks a reality that Americans struggle to face: This adversary is not a group, nor is it represented by any individual. It is an ideology, the corrupting vision that American military, cultural and political invasions into Muslim lands must be countered and that the use of indiscriminate violence is an appropriate counter. The Abu Ghraib photos, U.S. policy toward Palestine, photographs of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan — all these have fed the belief among the fringe who represent potential al-Qaeda recruits that the United States represents a threat, in their own homelands.

    This idea, that youth led by corrupt leaders should turn to al-Qaeda as an answer, had great resonance a decade ago, when al-Qaeda was seen as having stood up to America, and before this decade, during which al-Qaeda operations have killed many innocent Muslims in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa. These killings have radically undercut the appeal of this idea, and the Arab uprisings this year have replaced a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda by ousting unpopular leaders. But these events have not destroyed al-Qaedism. Not yet.

    There have been more arrests of al-Qaedist Americans in the past few years than ever before. These people are on the West Coast and the East Coast, in the South and the Midwest, all with their own homegrown plots, coming at us at a rate that we did not see when I first shifted to the FBI from the CIA in 2005. Very few of these individuals are al-Qaeda members; all, though, have absorbed al-Qaedist ideology. They are believers, not recruits. And their numbers have unmistakably increased.

    We may be right in looking at reports of the deaths of jihadist leaders overseas as representing a death knell for some of the most significant groups that have threatened America. U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement operations have combined, with foreign partners, to eviscerate these groups more effectively than we would have expected, even a few years ago.

    We would be wrong, however, in confusing the demise of a few leaders or their formal groups with the death of the ideology they sought to spread or the revolution they still intend to inspire. Witness the arrests in this country and the arrests in Europe. Al-Qaedism isn’t close to dead yet. Ideas live far longer than people, and this idea has proven roots. The adversary we face benefits from a long view, looking at the world through a lens of decades or centuries.

    We will want to mistake the deaths of al-Qaeda leaders with the death of an ideology. But in the midst of unmistakable successes, we have to match our adversaries by learning to be as patient as they are. Celebrations, or even premature judgments about our successes, would be a mistake. We are far from finished with al-Qaedism, even if al-Qaeda fades.

    Copyright 2011, The Washington Post


  14. Drone training now starting with academy cadets

    By An Anonymous @ Standard Examiner, Ogden, UT
    Sat, 09/26/2009 – 8:48pm

    Welcome to the 21st century of aerial combat. Cockpits have become cubicles and airborne robots controlled by airmen half a world away are doing the fighting.

    It’s a future the Air Force Academy is preparing cadets for, even if a lot of them long for the good old days of supersonic aerobatics.

    “You talk to a kid who has seen ‘Top Gun’ 25 times and tell them they’re going to fly an unmanned aircraft, they are not going to be happy,” said Lt. Col. Dean Bushey, who is leading a class of 12 cadets into the Air Force’s new robotic world.

    Every other day, the cadets gather at a training area on the south side of Fort Carson to learn skills that weren’t high-profile until the 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted the invasion of Afghanistan and put satellite-controlled planes on front lines.

    Now, the Air Force’s Predator and Reaper drones have been so stellar in spying on insurgents and killing them with missiles, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the F-35 fighter now in production may be the last fighter the Air Force buys that carries a pilot. The drones are manufactured General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The company also provides the ground control station and satellite link communications suite.

    Hill Air Force Base has also become part of the program and will do a lot of the maintenance work from the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.

    Dugway Proving Grounds is opening a drone testing center for the Army, which could mean 250 jobs for the facility.

    That doesn’t mean the remote planes are super stars with military pilots or at the Air Force Academy, where the cadet wing’s favorite acronym is IHTFP for “I’m here to fly planes.”

    “There are some who are against the whole concept,” said drone flier in training Rocco LiBrandi, a sophomore.

    The history of unmanned American warplanes dates to World War II, when generals pushed the idea of using old bombers loaded with explosives to take out targets by remote control.

    In the 1950s, the drones were used as targets for fighter pilots. In the 1960s and 1970s, drones were used for spying over China and Vietnam. The systems became more common in the 1980s, and one drone launched from a battleship in the 1991 Persian Gulf War became famous when Iraqis tried to surrender to it.

    Advancements in electronics and communication gear allowed the drones to do more by 2001. Instead of shooting film for later review on the ground, the drones now send live video. They’re also armed with the Hellfire missile, which can vaporize a truck or send a tank turret airborne.

    The key to the advancement has been satellite control, which allows airmen in Nevada and California to control the planes over the Middle East from computer terminals, where they use the drone’s cameras to watch the ground and on-board sensors to monitor speed, altitude and flight path.

    Friday morning, cadets were doing the same thing, although their battlefield was Fort Carson’s training area and their plane was the 15-foot-long Viking, an unarmed drone about half the size of the Air Force Predator.

    The class is unlike any other at the academy. There are no textbooks. Instead of learning theory, cadets are flying the Viking and searching for targets, most often classmates acting as the enemy.

    It’s even more exciting than jumping out of planes, one said.

    “You have a totally different experience here,” said cadet Christina England.

    The academy is pushing cadets into the world of drones from the rivets up.

    Engineering laboratories are dedicated to building the aircraft, including a 10-foot-long jet-powered test plane that will take to the air next year.

    Researchers are studying tiny drones, figuring out what it will take to make a sparrow-sized spy plane that can haunt its unknowing prey.

    All drones can do things that planes carrying pilots cannot. Combat drones of the future will be able to endure maneuvers that would kill humans. The tiny drones envisioned at the academy can sneak places no other craft could enter.

    And drones don’t get funerals, they get replaced.

    Tom McLaughlin, who runs the academy’s aerodynamic research laboratory, said cadets are fascinated with the technology that will change warfare in the future.

    “It is the sort of thing you can see in the Air Force 10-20 years from now,” McLaughlin said of the tiny drones.

    But cadets who dream of being pilots are still warming up to the thought of a cubicle-bound career, said Steve Brandt, a professor whose students are working on the jet-powered drone.

    “I think they’re generally not very enthusiastic about that future, though we all see advantages to it,” Brandt said.


  15. U.S. Navy, Marine Corps to Deploy Cargo UAS, Keeping Trucks off the Road

    07:48 GMT, October 6, 2011 PATUXENT RIVER, Md. | The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps announced Oct. 5 its plan to deploy the service’s first cargo unmanned aircraft system to Afghanistan next month.

    Adm. Bill Shannon, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, approved Lockheed Martin/Kaman’s K-MAX unmanned helicopter for a six-month deployment to augment Marine Corps ground and air logistics operations.

    “I am very excited to deploy a system that will keep our Marines and Sailors out of harm’s way and ultimately save lives,” said Shannon.

    Prior to Shannon’s decision last week, Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force released a report documenting the system’s favorable performance during a quick reaction assessment in Yuma, Ariz., in August. Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1, Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft System (CRUAS) Det. conducted the QRA, which replicated a week in the life of operations in Afghanistan with temperatures, flight profile and terrain almost identical to those planned for deployment.

    “Coming out to test and field K-MAX has been one of the most exciting opportunities of my career,” said Staff Sgt. Marc Cox, an air vehicle operator (AVO) from the detachment. “We are literally the tip of the spear in terms of the development and advancement of this particular cargo UAS and all future unmanned rotary wing systems.”

    Results from the QRA confirmed that K-MAX exceeded the Navy and Marines’ requirement to carry 6,000 pounds of cargo per day over a five-day period. The system carried a total of 33,400 pounds of cargo during the assessment period, with nearly 3,500 pounds delivered in a single mission.

    “K-MAX has the capability to deliver a tremendous amount of cargo over the course of the deployment,” said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, VMU-1 CRUAS Det. officer in charge. “We witnessed firsthand its ability to carry multiple loads to separate locations in a single sortie without being affected by harsh conditions.”

    Test coordinators developed scenarios that would demonstrate the system’s ability to operate in severe conditions. For example, K-MAX flew one mission in a dusty zone, similar to the Afghan environment. The successful mission validated the system’s auto drop function, proving the aircraft’s ability to deliver cargo at any location.

    According to O’Connor, personnel could not see the K-MAX during this dusty zone mission due to the “brown out” conditions in the zone, but the cargo could still be delivered safely and accurately. This auto drop capability was used during many of the missions flown throughout the week.

    “We successfully completed all missions and reacted to challenging scenarios,” O’Connor said. “The team worked through any issues or obstacles that surfaced and had both aircraft ready for operations at the start of each day.”

    O’Connor is confident the deployment will be a success if the system operates as well as it did during its assessment. He will lead the Marine detachment in Afghanistan next month along with Lockheed Martin contractors, many of whom have prior military experience.

    The majority of personnel will operate two K-MAX helicopters from a central main operating base. AVOs will reside at smaller forward operating bases, where cargo will be delivered.

    “Most of the missions will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes,” said Marine Capt. Caleb Joiner, mission commander. “This will allow us to keep out of small arms range.”

    The detachment is excited to bring this groundbreaking capability into theater.

    “Every time this aircraft delivers a payload, we’re taking one more truck off the road,” said Cpl. Ryan Venem, Det. AVO. “That’s our goal, reducing IED (improvised explosive device) strikes and taking convoys off the roads.”

    Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons Public Affairs / NNS


  16. US drones strike in North, South Waziristan
    By AFP / Express
    Published: October 13, 2011

    MIRANSHAH: A second US drone strike on Thursday killed three people and injured four in the Bermal tehsil of South Waziristan near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

    Another strike, earlier today, had killed a logistics commander in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and three other militants in North Waziristan, officials had said.

    According to initial details, a US drone had fired two missiles on a compound in the area. There were also reports of firing in the area.

    “US drones fired three missiles. Six militants were killed,” a Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

    Covert CIA drones are the United States’ chief weapon against Taliban and al Qaeda militants who use Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas as launchpads for attacks.

    Earlier, an unmanned aircraft fired two missiles at a compound in Dandey Darpakhel village, about seven kilometres (four miles) north of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal district.

    “Jamil Haqqani, an important Afghan commander of Haqqani network was the target and was killed,” a Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

    A Pakistani intelligence official in Miranshah confirmed the killing and said Jamil was in his thirties.

    “He was working as a coordinator of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan,” the official said.

    The official said the three other people killed in the strike were Haqqani’s fighters, guarding the commander in the compound.

    Jamil is understood to have been responsible for logistics in North Waziristan, where the group’s overall leadership is believed to be based.

    Officials said he was not a relative of Jalaluddin, the Afghan warlord who founded the Taliban faction, or his son Sirajuddin who now runs the network but that he was “very close to the top commanders including Sirajuddin”.

    The United States blames the Haqqanis for fuelling the 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan; attacking US-led Nato troops and working to destabilise the Western-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    Washington last month significantly stepped up demands on Islamabad to take action against the network and cut alleged ties to the group.

    US missiles have destroyed dozens of other Haqqani network compounds and a sprawling madrassa in 2008, killing dozens of fighters, officials say.

    Mohammed Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin, was killed in a US drone attack in Dandey Darpakhel, the same North Waziristan village as Thursday’s strike, in February 2010.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week the United States is waging “war” in Pakistan against militants, referring to the covert CIA campaign that the US government declines to discuss publicly.

    Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, the former CIA director said the relationship between Washington and ally Islamabad was “complicated”.

    “And admittedly, there are a lot of reasons for that. We are fighting a war in their country,” Panetta said.

    Around 30 US drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since Navy SEALs found and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden near the country’s top military academy in Abbottabad, close to the capital, on May 2.

    Last month, the outgoing top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency and accused Pakistan of supporting attacks on US targets in Afghanistan.

    Islamabad officially denies any support for Haqqani activities, but has nurtured Pashtun warlords for decades as a way of influencing events across the border and offsetting the might of arch-rival India.

    The Pakistani military says it is too over-stretched fighting local Taliban to acquiesce to American demands to launch an offensive against the Haqqanis, a battle that not all observers think the Pakistani military would win.

    But the humiliation of the bin Laden raid is thought to have contributed to debate within the military about the merits of traditional support for militant groups.


  17. Pakistan welcomes US initiative for peace in Afghanistan
    By AFP / Express / Kamran Yousaf
    Published: October 13, 2011

    ISLAMABAD: US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman on Thursday said that Pakistan and the US have a “meeting of the minds” on securing a stable Afghanistan.

    In a joint press conference with Grossman, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is going to be a “continuous process”.

    “We should be able to share notes and understand each other’s perspectives,” she added.

    Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani welcomed America’s initiatives for peace in Afghanistan.

    During the meeting, the prime minister said the world should recognise Pakistan’s efforts in the war against terror.

    He said intelligence agencies were reviewing the evidence provided by the Afghan government regarding the killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani.

    Gilani also voiced support for the reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan but stressed that issues cannot be solved without involving Pakistan.

    He also reiterated Pakistan’s stance on drone strikes in the tribal areas.

    Grossman also met Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

    Marc Grossman said that victory in the war against terror in Afghanistan is not possible without Pakistan’s input.

    We tried to think about the future and way to keep our strategic dialogue going,” Grossman told a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

    “We also talked about how can we continue in a systematic way to identify the interests that we share with Pakistan, and there are many, and then find ways to act on them jointly,” he added.

    Grossman said that besides discussing bilateral relations with the foreign minister, the peace conferences of Istanbul and Bonn were also discussed so that Pakistan should be included in the peace process and it is an important country to play due role for the peace and security in the region.

    He said success of these two conferences would be helpful in ensuring peace and security, not only in Afghanistan but would also promote peace in the region and the world.

    Grossman said he also visited Central Asian States, Kabul,China and India before coming to Pakistan and brought a message of hope and support from the regional countries for peace and security in the region.

    On Tuesday, acknowledging for the first time that the US is waging a war in Pakistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described Washington’s relationship with Islamabad as “complicated”.

    “And admittedly, there are a lot of reasons for that. We are fighting a war in their country,” Panetta said.

    He said the two countries sharply disagreed over “relations they maintain with some of the militant groups in that country,” a reference to Washington’s demand that Islamabad crack down on the Haqqani network.

    Updated from print edition (below)

    Haqqanis to be high on US envoy’s agenda in key meetings
    Pakistan and the United States will seek to narrow down their differences on the Haqqani network when a senior US diplomat meets the country’s civil and military leadership today (Thursday) in Islamabad.

    US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman is arriving on a day-long trip to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as well as other senior officials.

    Following last month’s daring assault on the US Embassy in Kabul, Washington has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the group’s ‘safe havens’ from North Waziristan tribal region.

    Pakistan has resisted the US demand, but expressed its readiness to address its concerns on the Haqqani network. It is widely believed that Pakistan’s reluctance to go after the group is attributed to the fact that the Haqqanis have a pivotal role in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan.

    “There are regional complexities which we are aware of and are trying to address,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua at her last news briefing when asked about tensions between Pakistan and the US on the Haqqanis.

    Grossman, who is arriving from New Delhi, will also discuss the forthcoming international conference on Afghanistan in Istanbul on November 2 and in Bonn on December 5.

    Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2011.


  18. How Close Is Al-Qaida To Defeat?

    October 13, 2011

    A debate is raging in the intelligence community about what it means to defeat al-Qaida. Because America’s efforts to capture or kill al-Qaida’s key members have been so effective, some officials say the core group — al-Qaida’s founders and longtime members hiding out in Pakistan — is near collapse.

    One camp, which includes members of the Obama administration, says al-Qaida’s core group is three to five members away from collapse. Others, however, say with al-Qaida affiliates gathering strength, any victory over the core will be a hollow one.

    President Obama’s top adviser on Afghanistan, Gen. Douglas Lute, is in the first camp.

    “I think in this succession period that there are three to five key senior leaders in al-Qaida that if removed from the battlefield would seriously jeopardize al-Qaida’s capacity to regenerate and therefore move us decidedly further toward defeat,” Lute said during a conference at the Aspen Institute this summer.

    Weakening Al-Qaida’s Core

    Lute isn’t the only one who has made this claim about al-Qaida’s imminent demise. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said as much as well. He has talked about al-Qaida being near what he called “strategic defeat.” But what sets Lute’s comments apart is that he actually put a number on how many people the U.S. would need to remove from the battlefield.

    Michael Leiter is another person who thinks this view has merit. He was the head of the National Counterterrorism Center during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

    “Could you kill three to five key leaders of al-Qaida in Pakistan and have al-Qaida in Pakistan so significantly weakened that it couldn’t launch any attacks against the West with any sophistication? Yes, I actually think that’s possible,” Leiter says.

    The list would include leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s replacement, as well as other longtime operatives with experience planning attacks. But Leiter is quick to say that wouldn’t necessarily end the threat.

    “It would be a meaningful tactical step toward defeating that specific enemy, but it doesn’t speak to the broader terrorist threat emanating from the region — or the broader specific threat from al-Qaida,” he says.

    Rise In Independent Operations

    In other words, the U.S. needs to worry about more than just a handful of bin Laden associates in the frontier territories of Pakistan. Al-Qaida — which means “the Base” in Arabic — is more than just a group, 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks. It has become a movement with global reach, which makes it much more difficult to defeat.

    “A movement like al-Qaida that is more than two decades old, even as weak as it is now, its survival isn’t predicated on two to three people or four or five people,” says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.

    While al-Qaida’s core members have diminished in importance, Hoffman says, “it deliberately created itself, as its name suggests, to be the base or foundation to inspire this global radical campaign of violence. We may force the collapse of al-Qaida in one place, but I believe its strategy in recent years has been to replicate itself in other locations.”

    Those other locations include Yemen and Somalia. For months now, officials have been making the case that al-Qaida’s affiliates are America’s chief concern. Al-Qaida’s arm in Yemen, for example, has leveled a number of attacks against the U.S. in the past two years, and officials say even with the death of its top recruiter, American-born radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki, the group is a threat.

    Last month, a CIA drone in Yemen killed Awlaki, alongside Samir Khan, another American who produced al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s house webzine, Inspire.

    But those were independent operations, and al-Qaida’s core had little to do with them, officials say.

    Beyond Bin Laden

    So in a sense, the terrorist threat has moved beyond bin Laden’s replacement and the men around him in Pakistan. What’s more, other Islamist groups — groups that haven’t adopted al-Qaida’s name — are starting to target the U.S., and they wouldn’t be affected if al-Qaida’s top tier was eliminated.

    Leiter, the former U.S. counterterrorism official, says those organizations include the group behind Faisal Shahzad’s attempted attack on Times Square, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or the TTP, and the Haqqani network. He notes that so far, the Haqqani network has only pursued American targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan and not beyond, but could do so in the future.

    Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters just before he left office that the Haqqani network is a threat to America and is backed by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

    The TTP and the Haqqani network vaguely subscribe to al-Qaida’s ideology, but they have a completely different leadership. So Lute’s prediction about al-Qaida’s collapse may actually end up meaning more to Americans than the new enemies who may be planning to target them.


  19. U.S. Keeping Close Watch On Al-Qaida In Africa

    October 25, 2011

    The U.S. has had major successes against al-Qaida this year, taking out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

    But for American counterterrorism officials, concerns over al-Qaida in Africa keep growing.

    In North Africa: al-Qaida’s arm, al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb, is making millions by kidnapping foreigners. In West Africa: a local Islamist group in Nigeria named Boko Haram has started attacking international targets with suicide bombers, an al-Qaida-like tactic. And in East Africa, foreign terrorists are traveling to Somalia to train for violent jihad.

    U.S. officials see all these things as an indication that al-Qaida influence in Africa is becoming stronger.

    “If you ask me what keeps me up at night, it is the thought of an American passport holding person who transits to a training camp in Somalia, gets some skill and finds their way back to the United States to attack Americans here in the homeland,” Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently. “That’s mission failure for us.”

    A Foreigner In Somalia

    So imagine the reaction when a little over a week ago an unusual video appeared on Islamic websites. It was of a white man with a scarf twisted over his face standing before bags of grain and piles of clothes in a desert in Somalia. In the video, he was addressing the hungry at a local feeding station. He said his name was Abu Abdulla al-Muhajir, or “the foreigner.” And there was one thing US officials noticed about the man almost immediately: He was speaking nearly perfect English.

    “Alhamdulillah,” or “Praise to God,” he began. “We are honored and blessed to take this opportunity to send our heartfelt greetings to our brothers and sisters in Somalia and we also take this opportunity to say we love you all for the sake of Allah and we sincerely relate to your suffering and affliction during this testing time.”

    His English wasn’t quite unaccented and his word choice wasn’t quite right – but it was close. The young man went on to tell the crowd that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had sent him to Somalia to distribute food and clothing. “Al-Qaida, under the leadership of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, continues to highlight the plight of the (community) and continues to support them with every means at their disposal,” he said.

    Possible Links To Somali Militia

    Counter-terrorism officials say the release of this tape could mean al-Qaida is forging closer ties with the group that is controlling much of southern Somalia, an Islamist militia called al-Shabab. It has been fighting the transitional government in Somalia for years and, more recently, has banned most foreign aid organizations from the parts of Somalia where it has control.

    A famine is sweeping through southern Somalia and the United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of Somalis have already died of hunger. Al-Shabab has been criticized for making the disaster worse by threatening NGOs that want to provide food aid.

    The food station where the young man was addressing the Somalis was one of the few stations controlled by al-Shabab. The group has forged ties with al-Qaida in recent months and US counter-terrorism officials, like President Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan, see al-Qaida following a familiar pattern – the group takes advantage of chaos.

    “Al-Qaida traditionally has taken advantage of areas that are wracked by conflict, turmoiil and lack of government, it is a safe haven they see to launch attacks,” Brennan told reporters recently. “Somalia is one of the most challenging areas of the world because it has this internal conflict, it has such a devastating famine and it is an area that al-Qaida has tried regularly to exploit.”

    Against that backdrop, it is easy to understand why the video with this mysterious English speaker talking on behalf of al-Qaida got people’s attention. Intelligence officials are trying to determine who this young man is. They have done voice comparisons, taking the audio from this video and comparing it to recordings they have of foreigners they believe have joined al-Qaida.

    So far there hasn’t been a match. Then again, intelligence officials are asking why al-Qaida would send an English speaker to Somalia in the first place? The people he was addressing at a food station would likely only speak Somali.

    So maybe, the U.S. officials say, the English-language video was aimed at the U.S.


  20. U.S. drone base in Ethi­o­pia is operational

    By Craig Whitlock, Friday, October 28, 4:49 AM

    The Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethi­o­pia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said.

    The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethi­o­pia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.

    Mindful of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in which two U.S. military helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and 18 Americans killed, the Obama administration has sought to avoid deploying troops to the country.

    As a result, the United States has relied on lethal drone attacks, a burgeoning CIA presence in Mogadishu and small-scale missions carried out by U.S. special forces. In addition, the United States has increased its funding for and training of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia that fight al-Shabab.

    The Washington Post reported last month that the Obama administration is building a constellation of secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, including one site in Ethi­o­pia. The location of the Ethio­pian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed. Some bases in the region also have been used to carry out operations against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.

    The Air Force confirmed Thursday that drone operations are underway at the Arba Minch airport. Master Sgt. James Fisher, a spokesman for the 17th Air Force, which oversees operations in Africa, said that an unspecified number of Air Force personnel ­are working at the Ethio­pian airfield “to provide operation and technical support for our security assistance programs.”

    The Arba Minch airport expansion is still in progress but the Air Force deployed the Reapers there earlier this year, Fisher said. He said the drone flights “will continue as long as the government of Ethi­o­pia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs.”

    Last month, the Ethio­pian Foreign Ministry denied the presence of U.S. drones in the country. On Thursday, a spokesman for the Ethio­pian embassy in Washington repeated that assertion.

    “That’s the government’s position,” said Tesfaye Yilma, the head of public diplomacy for the embassy. “We don’t entertain foreign military bases in Ethi­o­pia.”

    But U.S. military personnel and contractors have become increasingly visible in recent months in Arba Minch, a city of about 70,000 people in southern Ethi­o­pia. Arba Minch means “40 springs” in Amharic, the national language.

    Travelers who have passed through the Arba Minch airport on the occasional civilian flights that land there said the U.S. military has erected a small compound on the tarmac, next to the terminal.

    The compound is about half an acre in size and is surrounded by high fences, security screens and lights on extended poles. The U.S. military personnel and contractors eat at a cafe in the passenger terminal, where they are served American-style food, according to travelers who have been there.

    Arba Minch is located about 300 miles south of Addis Ababa and about 600 miles east of the Somali border. Standard models of the Reaper have a range of about 1,150 miles, according to the Air Force.

    The MQ-9 Reaper, known as a “hunter killer,” is manufactured by General Atomics and is an advanced version of the Predator, the most common armed drone in the Air Force’s fleet.

    Ethi­o­pia is a longtime U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the militant group that has fomented instability in war-torn Somalia and launched attacks in Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere in the region.

    The Ethio­pian military invaded Somalia in 2006 in an attempt to wipe out a related Islamist movement that was taking over the country, but withdrew three years later after it was unable to contain an insurgency.

    The U.S. military clandestinely aided Ethi­o­pia during that invasion by sharing intelligence and carrying out airstrikes with AC-130 gunships, which operated from an Ethio­pian military base in the eastern part of the country. After details of the U.S. involvement became public, however, the Ethio­pian government shut down the U.S. military presence there.

    In a present-day operation that carries echoes of that campaign, Kenya launched its own invasion of southern Somalia this month to chase after al-Shabab fighters that it blames for kidnapping Western tourists in Kenya and destabilizing the border region.

    Although U.S. officials denied playing a role in that offensive, a Kenyan military spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said Kenya has received “technical assistance” from its American allies. He declined to elaborate.

    The U.S. military deploys drones on attack and surveillance missions over Somalia from a number of bases in the region.

    The Air Force operates a small fleet of Reapers from the Seychelles, a tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean, about 800 miles from the Somali coast.

    The U.S. military also operates drones — both armed versions and models used strictly for surveillance — from Djibouti, a tiny African nation that abuts northwest Somalia at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. About 3,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. base on the African continent.

    The U.S. government is known to have used drones to mount lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

    The Washington Post


  21. Pakistan ISI connections with Taliban and Haqqani Networks, to counter attack USA and NATO allies. From last 10 years, Pakistan covertly played the double cross game against USA in Afghanistan.

    Narendra Modi is the Lion of Bharat and the future PM of India. He has ended the VOTE BANK Politics of Congress in the Gujarat and made it the most developed State in India within 10 years of his rule.

    CBI should investigate Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and Congress Party for ISI and Pakistan links: Dr Subramanian Swamy.
    Dr Swamy alleges that congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has direct connection with some Pakistani ISI agents. Swamy is asking CBI should interrogate Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh. He says sisters of Sonia Gandhi met ISI agents in Dubai. Dr Swamy says that Hindu terror thing is a congress Government conspiracy by which they want to divert Nation attention from the Islamic militants which is a concern of National security.


  22. Bin Laden and Awlaki: Lawful Targets

    October 26, 2011 by Major Shane Reeves and Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Marsh
    Created 10/26/2011 – 16:23

    “Major Shane Reeves is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Law at the United States Military Academy and Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Marsh is an Assistant Professor and Senior Military Faculty member in the Department of Law at the United States Air Force Academy. Prior to these assignments, both taught as Associate Professors for the International and Operational Law Department at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, VA.

    The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force, or the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of either service.”

    Many have challenged the legality of the 2011 United States’ operations that resulted in the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. Pakistan condemned the Bin Laden operation as a violation of international law; human rights advocates asserted that each man should have been captured instead of killed; and others claimed the operations were unlawful “assassinations” or, in the case of Awlaki, a violation of his constitutional rights as an American citizen. These criticisms are all without merit.

    An important threshold question to answer in determining the legality of both attacks is whether al-Qaeda is a transnational criminal enterprise or an organized armed group at war with the United States. If al-Qaeda is a transnational criminal organization, akin to the American-Sicilian mafia, then domestic criminal law controls and capturing members is required save in extreme cases of individual self-defense. However, if the United States and al-Qaeda are at war, than the laws of war control and lethal targeting is allowed. Critics of both operations assume that the applicable legal framework is one of criminal law enforcement and international human rights law. This assumption is wrong. The answer to this question is well-established: since September 11, 2001, the United States has been engaged in a congressionally-authorized armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to its inherent right of self-defense.

    This inherent right, recognized by the United Nations Security Council after 9/11, provides an exception to the legal principle that no nation may use military force to violate the sovereign territory of another nation. Pakistan is quick to claim a violation of its sovereignty. International law, however, permits the United States to pursue its right of self-defense in a safe harbor nation if that nation is “unwilling or unable” to effectively deal with the threat. Given Bin Laden’s location in Abbottabad for the past five years, it is quite obvious that Pakistan was in fact unwilling and/or unable to address the threat. Therefore, the United States lawfully entered Pakistan’s sovereign territory in order to carry out this military operation.

    Similarly, the United States’ incursion into Yemen clearly complies with international law. Unlike Pakistan, the United States targeted Awlaki at the invitation of the Yemeni government and therefore an “unwilling or unable” determination was unnecessary. Yemen’s consent to the Awlaki operation obviates any legal sovereignty debates and pre-empts any future allegations that the United States violated Yemen’s territorial sovereignty.

    Even if the United States can pursue self-defense in Pakistan and Yemen, one must consider whether they can do so as part of an armed conflict. In September 2010, in court filings related to the possible targeting of Awlaki in Yemen, the Obama Administration made clear that the armed conflict against al-Qaeda includes the authority to target, and kill, belligerents away from the “hot” battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The realities of globalization, coupled with the proliferation of transnational terrorism, provide belligerents opportunities to successfully carry out hostile activities far away from an active battlefield. It defies international law, logic, and practicality to give such belligerents legal protection from targeting based on their location. Instead, armed conflict, and the targeting authorities associated with it, must follow the belligerents.

    Lawful targets are generally easy to recognize in an armed conflict between two nations. National armed forces, such as the United States Army, are comprised of uniformed individuals, who openly carry weapons, comply with the laws of war, and operate within a recognized chain of command. These individuals, known as “combatants,” may be attacked at any time or place regardless of the threat they pose to the enemy assuming they are not wounded or attempting to surrender. All others on the battlefield are protected from attack unless they decide to forfeit this protection by directly participating in the hostilities. This clear delineation between combatants and non-combatants allows for concrete determinations of who is or is not a lawful target while simultaneously protecting civilians from the brutality of warfare.
    In contrast, the United States’ armed conflict with al-Qaeda involves a traditional armed force engaging an unaffiliated armed group whose members conduct hostilities without uniforms while mixing with civilians. Al-Qaeda’s intermingling with civilians obviously poses a challenge to the United States in discerning who is a lawful target. However, once positively identified, simply looking like a civilian does not afford al-Qaeda members protection from attack as, similar to a conflict between nations, their choice to engage in hostilities makes them lawful targets.

    The law distinguishes between those individuals who sporadically participate in hostilities in support of a non-state-affiliated armed force, such as a farmer paid to occasionally shoot at American soldiers, and those individuals who consistently perform hostile acts, such as a fully integrated member of al-Qaeda. Under international law, the farmer is only exposed to attack for the limited time in which he or she is directly participating in hostilities. In essence, such a person can move in and out of combatant status. This “revolving door” between civilian and combatant status however does not apply to those al-Qaeda operatives who continuously function in a combat role by repeatedly taking part in the hostilities. These individuals, much like a combatant in an armed conflict between nations, are lawful targets irrespective of their location or immediate activities.

    As the commander of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden long ago forfeited any protections from targeting. His leadership role of an organized armed group amounted to a continuous combat function, enabling him to be targeted, and killed, based on his status, not his conduct. Consequently, it is irrelevant whether he was armed and resisting when he was killed. In addition, there was no duty for the SEAL team to attempt capture. This was not a domestic policing action requiring arrest, but rather a wartime decision governed by the laws of war, which clearly permit the use of deadly force against a lawful target as a first resort. Unless he plainly manifested an intent to surrender, or was wounded, the United States had clear legal authority to kill Bin Laden.

    Like Bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki was an operational leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an organized armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Though some believe Awlaki was a mere propagandist, his active involvement in the planning and direction of the November 2009 attack on Fort Hood, the 2009 Christmas day (underwear) bomb attempt, the May 2010 Times Square bomb attempt, and the more recent attempt to load explosives onto cargo flights bound for the United States dispel any claims that he was not acting in a combat role. Awlaki’s operational leadership role in these and other combat activities make him, like Bin Laden, the equivalent of an “enemy combatant,” whom the United States could lawfully target and kill.

    Unlike Osama Bin Laden, however, Awlaki was an American citizen whose death was the result not of a Special Forces raid but of a Predator “drone” strike. Despite complaints to the contrary, these facts do not alter the legal conclusion. As discussed above, the laws of war permit the targeting and killing of enemy combatants or those who continuously function in a combat role. Citizenship is not a factor in this determination. On more than one occasion, the United States Supreme Court has confirmed that a citizen who chooses to conduct hostilities against his home nation becomes an enemy combatant and is afforded no greater protection than any other enemy belligerent. Citizenship does not provide blanket immunity from targeting nor preclude a nation from defending itself.

    Further, the United States use of a remotely-piloted vehicle (“drone”) is undeniably a lawful means of attack. Once an individual gains enemy combatant status, or its equivalent through a continuous combat function, any means of attack that complies with the law of war principles of distinction, proportionality, and unnecessary suffering is allowed. As the strike against Awlaki occurred in a remote Yemen desert with precision weaponry, the operation complied with all applicable law of war restrictions regarding targeting. Awlaki’s American citizenship and the use of a “drone” are, therefore, immaterial for targeting purposes and do not alter the conclusion that this was a lawful attack.

    The fact that the United States could target and kill Bin Laden and Awlaki in the locations and manner in which it did so admittedly makes some uncomfortable. The laws of war are based on a delicate balance between military necessity, the wartime necessity of killing and destroying military objectives in pursuit of a nation’s right of self-defense, and humanity, the wartime requirement of preventing unnecessary suffering and protecting the civilian population. Military necessity is what permitted the attacks on Bin Laden and Awlaki. Moreover, because these killings occurred as part of an armed conflict, they did not violate the US domestic law ban on assassination, which forbids murder for political purposes, not the targeting of lawful military objectives.

    The killings of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki were legal under both international law and US domestic law. Pakistan’s complaints are not supported by international law and are a smokescreen to hide their embarrassment and internal instability. Further, those who argue that Bin Laden and Awlaki were illegally “executed,” “assassinated,” or should have been captured and tried ignore the unfortunate reality that in armed conflict, military necessity legally justifies the lethal targeting of those belligerents who choose to participate. Bin Laden and Awlaki both made this choice and, in turn, the United States exercised its legal prerogative to kill them.


  23. Beyond Guantánamo, a Web of Prisons for Terrorism Inmates
    Published: December 10, 2011

    WASHINGTON — It is the other Guantánamo, an archipelago of federal prisons that stretches across the country, hidden away on back roads. Today, it houses far more men convicted in terrorism cases than the shrunken population of the prison in Cuba that has generated so much debate.

    An aggressive prosecution strategy, aimed at prevention as much as punishment, has sent away scores of people. They serve long sentences, often in restrictive, Muslim-majority units, under intensive monitoring by prison officers. Their world is spare.

    Among them is Ismail Royer, serving 20 years for helping friends go to an extremist training camp in Pakistan. In a letter from the highest-security prison in the United States, Mr. Royer describes his remarkable neighbors at twice-a-week outdoor exercise sessions, each prisoner alone in his own wire cage under the Colorado sky. “That’s really the only interaction I have with other inmates,” he wrote from the federal Supermax, 100 miles south of Denver.

    There is Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Mr. Royer wrote. Terry Nichols, who conspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building. Ahmed Ressam, the would-be “millennium bomber,” who plotted to attack Los Angeles International Airport. And Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

    In recent weeks, Congress has reignited an old debate, with some arguing that only military justice is appropriate for terrorist suspects. But military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantánamo hugely costly — $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison.

    The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial. A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, an examination of how the prisons have handled the challenge of extremist violence reveals some striking facts:

    ¶ Big numbers. Today, 171 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. As of Oct. 1, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported that it was holding 362 people convicted in terrorism-related cases, 269 with what the bureau calls a connection to international terrorism — up from just 50 in 2000. An additional 93 inmates have a connection to domestic terrorism.

    ¶ Lengthy sentences. Terrorists who plotted to massacre Americans are likely to die in prison. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, is serving a sentence of life without parole at the Supermax, as are Zacarias Moussaoui, a Qaeda operative arrested in 2001, and Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, among others. But many inmates whose conduct fell far short of outright terrorism are serving sentences of a decade or more, the result of a calculated prevention strategy to sideline radicals well before they could initiate deadly plots.

    ¶ Special units. Since 2006, the Bureau of Prisons has moved many of those convicted in terrorism cases to two special units that severely restrict visits and phone calls. But in creating what are Muslim-dominated units, prison officials have inadvertently fostered a sense of solidarity and defiance, and set off a long-running legal dispute over limits on group prayer. Officials have warned in court filings about the danger of radicalization, but the Bureau of Prisons has nothing comparable to the deradicalization programs instituted in many countries.

    ¶ Quiet releases. More than 300 prisoners have completed their sentences and been freed since 2001. Their convictions involved not outright violence but “material support” for a terrorist group; financial or document fraud; weapons violations; and a range of other crimes. About half are foreign citizens and were deported; the Americans have blended into communities around the country, refusing news media interviews and avoiding attention.

    ¶ Rare recidivism. By contrast with the record at Guantánamo, where the Defense Department says that about 25 percent of those released are known or suspected of subsequently joining militant groups, it appears extraordinarily rare for the federal prison inmates with past terrorist ties to plot violence after their release. The government keeps a close eye on them: prison intelligence officers report regularly to the Justice Department on visitors, letters and phone calls of inmates linked to terrorism. Before the prisoners are freed, F.B.I. agents typically interview them, and probation officers track them for years.

    Both the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress often cite the threat of homegrown terrorism. But the Bureau of Prisons has proven remarkably resistant to outside scrutiny of the inmates it houses, who might offer a unique window on the problem.

    In 2009, a group of scholars proposed interviewing people imprisoned in terrorism cases about how they took that path. The Department of Homeland Security approved the proposal and offered financing. But the Bureau of Prisons refused to grant access, saying the project would require too much staff time.

    “There’s a huge national debate about how dangerous these people are,” said Gary LaFree, director of a national terrorism study center at the University of Maryland, who was lead author of the proposal. “I just think, as a citizen, somebody ought to be studying this.”

    The Bureau of Prisons would not make any officials available for an interview with The New York Times, and wardens at three prisons refused to permit a reporter to visit inmates. But e-mails and letters from inmates give a rare, if narrow, look at their hidden world.

    Paying the Price

    Consider the case of Randall Todd Royer, 38, a Missouri-born Muslim convert who goes by Ismail. Before 9/11, he was a young Islamic activist with the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society, meeting with members of Congress and visiting the Clinton White House.

    Today he is nearly eight years into a 20-year prison sentence. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to helping several American friends go to a training camp for Lashkar-e-Taiba, an extremist group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. The organization was later designated a terrorist group by the United States — and is blamed for the Mumbai massacre in 2008 — but prosecutors maintained in 2004 that the friends intended to go on to Afghanistan and fight American troops alongside the Taliban.

    Mr. Royer had fought briefly with the Bosnian Muslims against their Serbian neighbors in the mid-1990s, when NATO, too, backed the Bosnians. He trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp himself. And in 2001, he was stopped by Virginia police with an AK-47 and ammunition in his car.

    But he adamantly denies that he would ever scheme to kill Americans, and there is no evidence that he did so. Before sentencing, he wrote the judge a 30-page letter admitting, “I crossed the line and, in my ignorance and phenomenally poor judgment, broke the law.” In grand jury testimony, he expressed regret about not objecting during a meeting, just after the Sept. 11 attacks, in which his friends discussed joining the Taliban.

    “Unfortunately, I didn’t come out and clearly say that’s not what any of us should be about,” he said.

    Prosecutors call Mr. Royer “an inveterate liar“ in court papers in another case, asserting that he has given contradictory accounts of the meeting after Sept. 11. Mr. Royer says he has been truthful.

    Whatever the facts, he is paying the price. His 20-year sentence was the statutory minimum under a 2004 plea deal he reluctantly took, fearing that a trial might end in a life term. His wife divorced him and remarried; he has seen his four young children only through glass since 2006, when the Bureau of Prisons moved him to a restrictive new unit in Indiana for inmates with the terrorism label. After an altercation with another inmate who he said was bullying others, he was moved in 2010 to the Supermax in Colorado.

    He is barred from using e-mail and permitted only three 15-minute phone calls a month — recently increased from two, a move that Mr. Royer hopes may portend his being moved to a prison closer to his children. His letters are reflective, sometimes self-critical, frequently dropping allusions to his omnivorous reading. His flirtation with violent Islam and his incarceration, he says, have not poisoned him against his own country.

    “You asked what I think of the U.S.; that is an extraordinarily complex question,” Mr. Royer wrote in one letter consisting of 27 pages of neat handwriting. “I can say I was born in Missouri, I love that land and its people, I love the Mississippi, I love my family and my cousins, I love my Germanic ethnic heritage and people, I love the English language, I love the American people — my people.

    He said he believed some American foreign policy positions had been “needlessly antagonistic” but added, “Nothing the U.S. did justified the 9/11 attacks.”

    Mr. Royer rejected the notion that the United States was at war with Islam. “Conflict between the U.S. and Muslims is neither inevitable nor beneficial or in anyone’s interest,” he wrote. “Actually, I suppose it is in the interest of fanatics on both sides, but their interests run counter to everyone else’s.” He added an erudite footnote: “ ‘Les extrémités se touchent’ (the extremes meet) — Blaise Pascal.”

    He expressed frustration that the Bureau of Prisons appears to view him as an extremist, despite what he describes as his campaign against extremism in discussions with other inmates and prison sermons at Friday Prayer, “which they surely have recordings of.”

    “I have gotten into vehement debates, not to mention civil conversations, with other inmates from the day I was arrested until today, about the dangers and evils of extremism and terrorism,” Mr. Royer wrote in a yearlong correspondence with a reporter. “Can they not figure out who I am?”

    A Scorched-Earth Approach

    In 2004, prosecutors believed they knew who Mr. Royer was: one of a group of young Virginians under the influence of a radical cleric, Ali al-Timimi, whose members played paintball to practice for jihad and were on a path toward extremist violence. After Sept. 11, federal prosecutors took a scorched-earth approach to any crime with even a hint of a terrorism connection, and judges and juries went along.

    In the Virginia jihad case, for instance, prosecutors used the Neutrality Act, a little-used law dating to 1794 that prohibits Americans from fighting against a nation at peace with the United States. Prosecutors combined that law with weapons statutes that impose a mandatory minimum sentence in a strategy to get the longest prison terms, with breaks for some defendants who cooperated, said Paul J. McNulty, then the United States attorney overseeing the case.

    “We were doing all we could to prevent the next attack,” Mr. McNulty said.

    “It was a deterrence strategy and a show of strength,” said Karen J. Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University who has overseen the most thorough independent analysis of terrorism prosecutions. “The attitude of the government was: Every step you take toward terrorism, no matter how small, will be punished severely.”

    About 40 percent of terrorism cases since the Sept. 11 attacks have relied on informants, by the count of the Center on Law and Security at New York University, which Ms. Greenberg headed until earlier this year. In such cases, the F.B.I. has trolled for radicals and then tested whether they were willing to plot mayhem — again, a pre-emptive strategy intended to ferret out potential terrorists. But in some cases prosecutors have been accused of overreaching.

    Yassin M. Aref, for instance, was a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq and the imam of an Albany mosque when he agreed to serve as witness to a loan between an acquaintance and another man, actually an informant posing as a supporter of a Pakistani terrorist group, Jaish-e-Muhammad. The ostensible purpose of the loan was to buy a missile to kill the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Aref’s involvement was peripheral — but he was convicted of conspiring to aid a terrorist group and got a 15-year sentence.

    That was a typical punishment, according to the Center on Law and Security, which has studied the issue. Of 204 people charged with what it calls serious jihadist crimes since the Sept. 11 attacks, 87 percent were convicted and got an average sentence of 14 years, according to a September report from the center.

    Federal officials say the government’s zero-tolerance approach to any conduct touching on terrorism is an important reason there has been no repeat of Sept. 11. Lengthy sentences for marginal offenders have been criticized by some rights advocates as deeply unfair — but they have sent an unmistakable message to young men drawn to the rhetoric of violent jihad.

    The strategy has also sent scores of Muslim men to federal prisons.

    Special Units

    After news reports in 2006 that three men imprisoned in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had sent letters to a Spanish terrorist cell, the Bureau of Prisons created two special wards, called Communication Management Units, or C.M.U.’s. The units, which opened at federal prisons in Terre Haute, Ind., in 2006 and Marion, Ill., in 2008, have set off litigation and controversy, chiefly because critics say they impose especially restrictive rules on Muslim inmates, who are in the majority.

    “The C.M.U.’s? You mean the Muslim Management Units?” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

    The units currently hold about 80 inmates. The rules for visitors — who are allowed no physical contact with inmates — and the strict monitoring of mail, e-mail and phone calls are intended both to prevent inmates from radicalizing others and to rule out plotting from behind bars.

    A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, Traci L. Billingsley, said in an e-mail that the units were not created for any religious group but were “necessary to ensure the safety, security and orderly operation of correctional facilities, and protection of the public.”

    An unintended consequence of creating the C.M.U.’s is a continuing conflict between Muslim inmates and guards, mainly over the inmates’ demand for collective prayer beyond the authorized hourlong group prayer on Fridays. The clash is described in hundreds of pages of court filings in a lawsuit. In one affidavit, a prison official in Terre Haute describes “signs of radicalization” in the unit, saying one inmate’s language showed “defiance to authority, and a sense of being incarcerated because of Islam.”

    One 2010 written protest obtained by The New York Times, listing grievances ranging from the no-contact visiting rules to guards “mocking, disrespecting and disrupting” Friday Prayer, was signed by 17 Muslim prisoners in the Terre Haute Communication Management Unit. They included members of the so-called Virginia jihad case of which Mr. Royer was part; the Lackawanna Six, Buffalo-area Yemeni Americans who traveled to a Qaeda camp in Afghanistan; Kevin James, who formed a radical Muslim group in prison and plotted to attack military facilities in Los Angeles; and John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban.

    An affidavit signed by Mr. Lindh, who is serving 20 years after admitting to fighting for the Taliban, complained that a correctional officer greeted male Muslim inmates with “Good morning, ladies.” (“No ladies were in the area,” Mr. Lindh writes.) Prison officials say in court papers that Mr. Lindh has repeatedly challenged guards and violated rules.

    Unlike those at the Supermax, inmates in the segregated units have access to e-mail, and some were willing to answer questions. Mr. Lindh, whose father, Frank Lindh, said his son believed the news media falsely labeled him a terrorist, was not. In reply to a reporter’s letter requesting an interview, he sent only a photocopy of the sole of a tennis shoe. Since shoe bottoms are considered offensive in many cultures, his answer appeared to be an emphatic no.

    There is some evidence that the Bureau of Prisons has assigned Muslims with no clear terrorist connection to the C.M.U.’s. Avon Twitty, a Muslim who spent 27 years in prison for a 1982 street murder, was sent to the Terre Haute unit in 2007. When he challenged the assignment, he was told in writing that he was a “member of an international terrorist organization,” though no organization was named and there appears to be no public evidence for the assertion.

    Mr. Twitty, working for a home improvement company and teaching at a Washington mosque since his release in January, said he believed the real reason was to quash his complaints about what he believed were miscalculations of time off for good behavior for numerous inmates. “They had to shut me up,” he said.

    Another former inmate at the Marion C.M.U., Andy Stepanian, an animal rights activist, said a guard once told him he was “a balancer” — a non-Muslim placed in the unit to rebut claims of religious bias. Mr. Stepanian said the creation of the predominantly Muslim units could backfire, adding to the feeling that Islam is under attack.

    “I think it’s a fair assessment that these men will leave with a more intensified belief that the U.S. is at war with Islam,” said Mr. Stepanian, 33, who now works for a Princeton publisher. “The place reeked of it,” he said, describing clashes over restrictions on prayer and some guards’ hostility to Islam.

    Yet Mr. Stepanian also said he found the “family atmosphere” and camaraderie of inmates at the unit a welcome change from the threatening tone of his previous medium-security prison, where he said prisoners without a gang to protect them were “food for the sharks.” When he arrived at the C.M.U., he said, he found on his bed a pair of shower slippers and a bag of non-animal-based food that Muslim inmates had collected after hearing a vegan was joining the unit.

    He was wary. “I thought they were trying to indoctrinate me,” he said. “They never tried.” The consensus of the inmates, he said, “was that 9/11 was not Islam.” “These guys were not lunatics,” he said. “They wanted to be back with their families.”


    It may be too early to judge recidivism for those imprisoned in terrorism cases after Sept. 11; those who are already out are mostly defendants whose crimes were less serious or who cooperated with the authorities. Justice Department officials and outside experts could identify only a handful of cases in which released inmates had been rearrested, a rate of relapse far below that for most federal inmates or for Guantánamo releases.

    For example, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a Kuwaiti Canadian who plotted with Al Qaeda to attack American embassies in Singapore and Manila, pleaded guilty in 2002 and began to work as an F.B.I. informant. But F.B.I. agents soon discovered he was secretly plotting to kill them — and he was sentenced to life in prison.

    Nearly all of these ex-convicts, however, lie low and steer clear of militancy, often under the watchful eye of family, mosque and community, lawyers and advocates say. A dozen former inmates declined to be interviewed, saying that to be associated publicly with a terrorism case could derail new jobs and lives. As for Mr. Royer, he is approaching only the midpoint of his 20-year sentence.

    Did he get what he deserved? Chris Heffelfinger, a terrorism analyst and author of “Radical Islam in America,” did a detailed study of the Virginia jihad case, and concluded that Mr. Royer’s sentence was perhaps double what his crime merited. But he said the prosecution was warranted and probably prevented at least some of the men Mr. Royer assisted from joining the Taliban.

    “I think a strong law enforcement response to cases like this is appropriate nine times out of 10,” Mr. Heffelfinger said. Mr. Royer himself, in his long presentencing letter to Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, said he understood why he had been arrested. “I realize that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from terrorism,” he wrote, “and that in this post-9/11 environment, it must take all reasonable precautions.”

    Today, Mr. Royer’s only battle is to serve out his sentence in a less restrictive prison nearer his children. In what he called in a letter “a heroic sacrifice,” his parents, Ray and Nancy Royer, moved from Missouri to Virginia to be close to their son’s children, now aged 8 to 12.

    “I found it necessary to be a surrogate father,” said Ray Royer, 70, a commercial photographer by trade, in an interview at the retirement community outside Washington where he and his wife now live. When his son, who still goes by Randy in the family, converted to Islam at the age of 18, his parents did not object. Later, when he headed to Bosnia, they chalked it up to his active social conscience. “Religion is a personal thing,” the elder Mr. Royer said. “He’d never been in trouble.”

    Ray Royer was at his son’s Virginia apartment in 2003 when the F.B.I. knocked at 5 a.m., put him in handcuffs and took him away. Now, years later, he alternates between defending his son and expressing dismay at what Randy got himself into.

    “He did help his buddies get to L.E.T.,” or Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group later designated as a terrorist organization. “He admitted to it. He should pay the price.” Still, he added, “maybe he deserved five years or so. Not 20.”

    Ray Royer sat at his home computer one recent evening, looking through a folder called “Randy Pics” — photographs tracing his son’s life from childhood, to fatherhood, to prison.

    “He loved his family,” the father said of his son. “Why would he put this cause ahead of his family? I still don’t really know what happened. I’m still trying to figure it out.”


  24. M’sian militant with RM15mil bounty killed
    Jason Gutierrez, AFP | 9:15PM Feb 2, 2012

    The Philippines said it killed three of South-East Asia’s top Islamic militants in a US-backed airstrike today, including a Malaysian bombmaker with a US$5-million bounty on his head.

    The Philippine army, aided by US advisers, launched a pre-dawn bombing raid on a remote southern island in which 15 members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiah (JI) organisations died, military chiefs said.

    “This is a big victory. There were three senior leaders (killed). This will have a very big impact on the capability of the terrorists,” regional military commander Major-General Noel Coballes told reporters in a teleconference.

    Planes bombed the outskirts of a village on Jolo island where intelligence sources had informed the military that about 30 militant figures were based, Coballes said, adding no ground troops were initially deployed.

    Among those the military said it killed was Zulkifli Abdul Hir (left), alias Marwan, a Malaysian who is accused of being a senior member of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah and behind multiple bomb attacks in the Philippines.

    He is also accused of being the leader of Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), a Malaysian group that like Jemaah Islamiyah wants to set up an Islamic state across South-East Asia.

    In 2007 the US government offered a US$5-million reward for his capture, making him one of the United States’ most-wanted men.

    According to the US State Department’s website that posts information about its most-wanted for terrorism, only four people have higher bounties for their capture, among them al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    In Malaysia, authorities celebrated the reports of Zulkifli’s death.

    “We welcome the news of his demise as security forces in the region continue their fight against such militants,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of Malaysia’s special task force on counter-terrorism, told AFP.

    The Philippine military said among the others to die in the air raid was Filipino Abu Pula, also known as Doctor Abu and Umbra Jumdail, one of the core leaders of the Abu Sayyaf militant organisation.

    In hiding since 2003

    The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines including the bombing of a ferry in Manila that killed more than 100 people, as well as dozens of kidnappings in the remote, Muslim-populated south.

    The third senior militant figure that the Philippine military said it killed was Singaporean Mohammad Ali, alias Muawiyah, another top name in Jemaah Islamiah.

    Jemaah Islamiah is accused of carrying out many deadly attacks in South-East Asia including the bombing of tourist spots on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, among them 88 Australians.

    Muawiyah and Zulkifli were believed to have been hiding out on the Abu Sayyaf’s bases on remote, jungle-infested southern Philippine islands since 2003, according to the Filipino military and the US State Department website.

    Regional military commander Coballes said local soldiers and police who reached the site of the air raid after the attack confirmed that 15 militants were killed, including the three senior figures.

    A rotating force of 600 US Special Forces has been stationed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to help train local troops in how to combat Islamic militants.

    The US forces are only allowed to advise the Filipino soldiers and are banned from having a combat role, but they have claimed major successes over the past decade including helping in the deaths of many Abu Sayyaf leaders.

    Philippine armed forces spokesman Colonel Arnufo Burgos told reporters in Manila that the US troops had again provided help in today’s bombing raid, which took place after months of monitoring and surveillance on Jolo island.

    “The US has been providing us assistance in terms of training intelligence and they are helping us in the joint operation task force based in southern Mindanao,” Burgos said.

    “They provided us intelligence in this case.”

    A US embassy spokesperson in Manila said she had no immediate comment.

    – AFP


  25. Friday February 3, 2012
    Marwan’s decade-long tale of terror

    PETALING JAYA: Zulkifli Abdul Hir, born in Muar in 1966, was a telecommunications engineer trained in the United States.

    Zulkifli, whose aliases included Marwan and Musa, was believed to be the head of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), accused of being a senior member of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and blamed for multiple bomb attacks in the Philippines.

    He was a protege of JI bomb expert Dr Azahari Hussin, a Malaysian killed by an Indonesian anti-terrorism unit on Nov 9, 2005.

    He was wanted for his role in leading KMM in a Southern Bank robbery in Petaling Jaya in May 2001, and the murder of Lunas assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez and the bombing of a Hindu temple in Pudu, both in 2000.

    He fled to Indonesia where he was believed to be involved in the Bali bombing in 2002, which claimed more than 200 lives. It is thought that he then escaped to Jolo Island in Southern Philippines in 2003.

    In the Philippines, he cooperated with Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to attack and bomb several American interests and military bases there.

    This led him to being placed in the top 10 list of the world’s most wanted terrorists with a US$5mil (M15mil) bounty on his head.

    He was also high on the Philippines police’s wanted list after two of their personnel were killed in a clash when they attempted to approach his hideout near Manila in August 2006.

    Marwan had also been accused of helping to secure funds and weapons for Abu Sayyaf from foreign donors.

    In March 2010, the Philippines marines launched an assault against Marwan, killing at least seven al-Qaeda linked militants in a raid at Laminusa Island, off southern Sulu province.

    However, he managed to escape.

    In October last year, Marwan fled from a military assault by the Philippines, which killed three Abu Sayyaf commanders and two other militants near the Indanan town in southern Sulu province.

    His brother-in-law, Taufik Abdul Halim, was caught when he tried to set off a bomb at Plaza Atrium in Jakarta in 2001.

    However, he ended up losing part of his right leg when the bomb exploded prematurely.


  26. Friday February 3, 2012

    JI leader Marwan killed

    PETALING JAYA: Jemaah Islamiyah leader Zulkifli Abdul Hir, a Malaysian militant high on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, was killed in an air strike in the Philippines.

    Regional military commander Maj Gen Noel Coballes told news agencies that ground troops had confirmed the death of Zulkifli, famously known as Marwan, after a raid on a military stronghold in Jolo island, in the Mindanao region.

    Fifteen militants were killed in the attack at about 3am yesterday, including fellow Jemaah Islamiyah militant Mohammad Ali @ Muawiyah and Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Pula.

    Marwan, an engineer trained in the United States, was born in Muar, Johor, in 1966.

    He was believed to be the head of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia terrorist organisation and one of the leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group blamed for some of South-East Asia’s deadliest terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings, where more than 200 people were killed.

    Marwan had been in the Philippines since August 2003 where he is believed to have conducted bomb-making training for the Abu Sayyaf Group.

    In MANILA, AFP quoted the Philippine army as saying that Marwan, who had a US$5mil (RM15mil) FBI bounty on his head, was among three of South-East Asia’s most-wanted militants killed in the attack.

    The Philippine army, aided by US advisers, launched the bombing raid on a remote southern island in which 15 members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah organisations died, military chiefs said.

    “This is a big victory and it will have a very big impact on the capability of the terrorists,” Maj Gen Coballes said.

    The US State Department’s website said only four other people in the world had higher bounties for their capture than Zulkifli, and one of them is al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    Filipino Abu Pula was also known as Dr Abu while Singaporean Muawiyah was another top name in Jemaah Islamiyah.

    The Philippine military said it also killed Uma Jumdail, a core leader of Abu Sayyaf. Although no Philippine troops were on the ground, the military said it was sure that the three had been killed, based on reports from their intelligence sources.

    Muawiyah and Marwan were believed to have been hiding out at Abu Sayyaf bases on remote, jungle-infested southern Philippine islands since 2003, according to the Philippine military and the US State Department website.

    A US embassy spokesman in Manila said she had no immediate comment.


  27. Friday February 3, 2012

    Leader of Easter kidnapping taken out in air strike

    KOTA KINABALU: Uma Jumdail (pic), the last of the key Abu Sayaff leaders involved in the notorious 2000 Sipadan kidnapping, is dead.

    A former hospital assistant, Uma was widely linked to the Abu Sayyaf group led by Galib Andang @ Commander Robot.

    The group made headlines when it kidnapped 21 Malaysians resort workers and foreign tourists from Sipadan on April 23, 2000 Easter Sunday before holding them in Jolo for three to five months.

    Uma was reportedly killed in a pre-dawn air strike yesterday in Jolo along with Malaysian Zulkifli Hir @ Marwan and Singaporean Abdullah Ali @ Muawiyah, and at least 12 other hardcore Abu Sayaff and Jemaah Islamiah militants.

    Robot was captured in 2003 and was killed in 2005 when police stormed a prison during a revolt in 2005, along with his trusted right-hand man Nadmi Saabdula, also known as Commander Global.

    Another key lieutenant, Commander Mujib Susukan, was killed in an encounter with the Philippines military in 2003.

    At that time, Uma eluded arrest and went on to become a senior leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf bandit group.

    Philippines Armed Forces information chief Col Arnulfo Burgos Jr said Uma was also involved in the Dol Palmas kidnapping in 2001 and had a 7.4mil Philippines peso (about RM800,000) bounty for his capture.

    The US government also put up a US$140,000 (RM422,590) reward for him.

    All the Sipadan hostages 10 Malaysians and 11 foreigners except for a Filipino captive were released in stages over the next five months by the notorious gang following negotiations and payments of various amounts of ransom.

    However, Uma, together with Marwan and the other targets killed in the air strike, were yet to be positively identified since police and other troops are yet to arrive at the scene because of the presence of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces in the area.

    The air strike was conducted a day after an unidentified group seized two European bird watchers in Tawi-Tawi close to Sabah where Malaysian Pang Chiong Pong was abducted on Oct 5.


  28. The perils of leaderless jihad
    By Raffaello Pantucci Tuesday, February 7, 2012 – 12:47 PM
    The AfPak Channel

    Just over a year ago a group of twelve men were arrested as part of a long-term investigation led by British intelligence agency MI5 into a network of cells of British Muslims suspected of plotting acts of terrorism. Last week, just as the jury trial was about to get underway, the nine defendants eventually charged in the case chose to plead guilty in the hope of getting reduced sentences. Codenamed Operation Guava and featuring British radical groups, the Internet, Inspire magazine, training camps in Pakistan, prison radicalization and a mysterious character known as “the Bengali,” this case brings together a number of different strands in British jihadist terrorism.

    The accused plotters were rounded up in four different locations: Birmingham, Cardiff, East London and Stoke-on-Trent, though charges against the Birmingham group were dropped. Four of the men have now admitted to planning on leaving a bomb inside the restroom of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), while the other five pled guilty to various charges of terrorist fundraising, attending terrorist attack planning meetings, or possessing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine. In summing up, the prosecutor highlighted that the group had not actually planned to kill anyone; “their intention was to cause terror and economic harm and disruption.” However, “their chosen method meant there was a risk people would be maimed or killed.”

    The various cells of the plot met independently in their various locations before connecting nationally through radical networks, Dawah (proselytization) stalls run by extremist groups in cities like Cardiff and webforums like PalTalk. They had all met together in person just a couple of times. The prosecution characterized Mohammed Chowdhury of London as the “ring leader” of the network, though it seems to have been less structured than that. The Stoke group in particular developed plans on its own to carry out a bombing campaign in Stoke, and were eager to recruit more members and train in Kashmir. Stories in the media indicated that members of the Cardiff and Stoke groups had been seen at meetings and protests organized by successor groups of al Muhajiroun (the infamous group established in the late 1990s by a cleric now-banned from Britain, Omar Bakri Mohammed). And a picture has emerged of central plotter Mohammed Chowdury holding an Islam4UK placard at one of the organization’s events (Islam4UK was a name adopted by al Muhajiroun after a former appellation was added to the list of proscribed terror groups by British authorities). While the role of al Muhajiroun — or whatever the name of the successor group may be; at other times they have used the names Saved Sect, al Ghurabaa, Muslims Against Crusades, and the one in vogue currently, Ummah United — as a radicalizer in networks that have produced terrorists has somewhat receded from that of its heyday, this plot showed the potential risks that still linger from the network.

    Neighbors of the men detained in Cardiff reported that some members of the group had apparently served time in prison, where it seemed they had picked up radical ideas. A longstanding concern of Western authorities, the potential for prison radicalization had already reared its head this year in the U.K. when it was revealed last month that a British man who had been converted while serving in Feltham Young Offenders Institution was a key figure in an alleged terrorist plot that was disrupted in December in Mombasa, Kenya. He was not the first terrorist to have done time in Feltham; both ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and leader of the July 21, 2005 follow-up attempt to attack London’s underground system, Muktar Said Ibrahim, passed through their gates.

    But the element that has caught the most media attention is the group’s use of AQAP’s English-language jihadi manual Inspire. The group had downloaded copies of the magazine and were apparently following its advice in trying to plan a terrorist plot. They discussed the idea of copying the parcel bombs sent by the group in October 2010 and using the Royal Mail or DHL to send bombs within the United Kingdom. Where they were planning on sending them was hinted at in a list they had compiled of the addresses of London Mayor Boris Johnson and at least two prominent British rabbis. Members of the group were also trailed as they reconnoitered a number of locations in London, including the London Stock Exchange, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Blackfriars Bridge and the Church of Scientology. The Stoke group discussed leaving bombs in local pubs and clubs. They seemed to have taken Anwar al-Awlaki’s injunctions (of which they had collected substantial amounts) to heart, and were eager to strike in the West at any targets that they could find.

    But the group also appears to have maintained some connections with more classic aspects of the British jihadi story, and sought to train abroad in Kashmir. Initially, they claimed that their meetings were to find ways of raising money for Kashmir. Indeed, the Stoke group (predominantly made up of Pakistani-Britons, unlike the London and Cardiff groups, which were made up of Bangladeshi-Britons) had decided to travel abroad to obtain training and had already funded the construction of a madrassa in Kashmir that they spoke of using as a training camp for British radicals. Furthermore, they made connections to a mysterious figure named in court only as “the Bengali,” after which they had moved forward with putting their ideas into practice, scoping out targets and trying out making bombs.

    This plot is not the only one currently making its way through British courts. Late last year, police in Birmingham arrested a group they claimed had discussed suicide bombs and had allegedly made connections with groups in Pakistan. Operation Guava’s significance lies in the fact that it brings together a number of different strands in current counter-terrorism concerns in the UK, creating a complex hybrid plot that seems to have been hatched and conceived entirely at home. A textbook example of Leaderless Jihad.

    Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and his writing can be found:


  29. Strange bedfellows: The neo-Nazi movement and radical Islam
    Lance Eldridge

    Both neo-Nazis and radical Islamists thrive in chaos and depend on frenetic press reports to bolster their image and, they hope, their recruitment efforts

    Almost immediately after Wade Michael Page attacked and murdered six worshippers at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, mainstream press articles that covered the tragedy included numerous references as to how often “some people confuse Sikhs with Muslims,” leading the reader to conclude that Page’s murderous attack was really directed at Muslims. For some neo-Nazis and racist skinheads Sikhs may be an appropriate target of violence.

    The simplistic conclusion is that neo-Nazis target Muslims because they see them as members of an “inferior” race and part of the “browning of America” they so abhor. This conclusion ignores, however, the strength of anti-Semitic beliefs among both the neo-Nazi movement and radical Islamists. For the time being, at least, in selected circumstances the hatred of the Jews will likely override other racial concerns and create what some in both radical communities may believe to be a practical bond between them.* This relationship should not be surprising, but for now it won’t be meaningful beyond polite phrases of support for their mutual anti-Semitic agendas.

    Selected leaders of the modern neo-Nazi and National Socialist movements in Europe and the US have periodically expressed support for radical Islamists. However, it should be noted that not all neo-Nazi, National Socialist, or racist skinhead organizations embrace this controversial position. For example, the late William L. Pierce, an influential figure in the US neo-Nazi movement, wanted no such association.

    European Examples
    The late Albert Huber, who was known also as Ahmed Huber, was a Swiss neo-Nazi convert to Islam who the US government believed was linked to funding networks of al Qaeda through the Al Taqwa Bank. The bank’s co-founders, which included Huber, also reportedly included several members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Huber admired both Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler and was, to many, an example of the fusion between radical Islam and National Socialism.

    In Germany, neo-Nazis have recognized that radical jihadists can make good allies. Unsurprisingly, many commentators in Germany have not recognized this relationship and continue to maintain that Muslims should be the natural target for neo-Nazi violence.

    United States Examples
    Neo-Nazis and radical Islamists also periodically cooperate in the US. In 1961 Elijah Muhammad, at the time the leader of the Nation of Islam, met with Klan leaders in Atlanta. In 1962, America’s best known Nazi, George Lincoln Rockwell, formally addressed the Nation of Islam. That same year he praised Elijah Muhammad in his Party’s newspaper as a man that could make a “lazy race” industrious.

    More recently Tom Metzger, a proponent of the “Third Way” (a rejection of both capitalism and socialism), has remained unabashedly anti-Semitic and has, as Rockwell did before him, reached out to the Nation of Islam (which has also garnered support from the late Muammar Qaddafi, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Idi Amin) and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, as early as 1985. Taking a cue from Rockwell, Metzger has also addressed Malik Zulu Shabazz’s New Black Panther Party, which received some recent notoriety as the group that brandished weapons and attempted to intimidate voters at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008.

    Billy Roper, who prefers the label of “National Socialist” to “neo-Nazi,” has reportedly expressed admiration for the perpetrators of 9/11 by stating that “…anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me…”

    The Aryan Nations, under the leadership of August Kreis, has expressed strong support for al-Qaeda.

    What this suggests is that it would be premature to conclude that Page attacked the Sikh temple by mistake. Assuming or even implying that he mistook Sikhs for Muslims is putting conclusions before the facts.

    Page may have targeted the Sikhs just as easily as he could have mistaken them for Muslims. Relations between Sikh and Muslim have often been strained, and Sikhs preach and embrace a religious tolerance that radical Islamists and neo-Nazis find unacceptable. Yet, in Great Britain neo-Nazis have found it expedient to support the Sikhs when it is in their interest to do so.

    Using the Mainstream Media
    The mainstream American press pounced on the anti-Muslim narrative after the Oak Creek shooting without any evidence of exactly what Page believed at the time of the attack. They reported the events in such a manner as to make their speculations appear conclusive. Though time may prove these conclusions correct, the reason will be more happenstance than prescient.

    Both neo-Nazis and radical Islamists thrive in chaos and depend on frenetic press reports to bolster their image and, they hope, their recruitment efforts.

    • Both use discontent to promote their values
    • Both adhere to a violent and xenophobic world-view
    • Both promote martyrdom
    • Both recruit in prison
    • Both embrace absolutist and totalitarian views
    • Both oppose democracy and individual liberty
    • Both subscribe to conspiracy theories to explain their own failures and victimization
    • Both yearn for purity and a desire for a homogeneous society, one based on race and the other based on religion

    However, not every neo-Nazi who promotes racial hatred resorts to violence, and membership in racist skinhead or neo-Nazi “crews” does not “on its own prove violent intent” despite their penchant for violence-inspiring rhetoric.

    Though the loss of life at the hands of a terrorist is always tragic, the threat in the U.S. of terrorist acts from neo-Nazis remains minimal, though anti-Semitic hate groups will continue to be the greatest inspiration for terrorism. According to the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions, between 1999 and 2009 the majority of terrorist plots from al-Qaeda, those inspired by al-Qaeda, and white supremacists made up nearly 70 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in the US. Al-Qaeda and groups and individuals inspired by them were responsible for 40 of the 86 plots. White supremacists were responsible for 20 plots during the same period.

    Reports have surfaced, however, arguing that neo-Nazi inspired terrorist attacks may be on the rise.

    Though neo-Nazi recruitment might see a slight upward tick as a result of the Oak Creek attack, the overall effect on the movement’s strength and rhetorical unity will be symbolic. A possible outcome could be that Page’s act will inspire other like-minded anti-Semites to plan or take similar action as individuals (the most difficult to detect) or small groups.

    However, it’s unlikely that Page’s act will inspire any long-term cooperation between neo-Nazis and radical Islamists. For now, members of each may give the other rhetorical succor, but the fissures in both movements will make any sustained cooperation difficult to maintain.

    * One of the best contemporary academic works on this relationship is George Michael’s The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right (University Press of Kansas, 2006).

    About the author
    After having completed more than 20 years of active military service, Lance Eldridge retired from the US Army and is currently a patrol officer in Craig, Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism.


  30. The roots of radical Islamist and Nazi collaboration
    Lance Eldridge

    Discussions of the relationship between radical Islamists and National Socialism typically began with a discussion of Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

    During the Second World War, Al-Husseini embraced the goals and aspirations of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler. Appointed by British Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel (a Jew), in 1921, Al-Husseini organized riots against Jewish settlements and was eventually dismissed in 1936. Finding himself increasingly irrelevant to the politics of the moment, he decided to curry favor with Hitler. He came to Berlin and lived throughout the war in a suite at the Adlon, a famous luxury hotel on the Pariser Platz.

    With Hitler’s blessing he recruited Muslims to fight Tito’s partisans in the bloody Yugoslavian guerilla war. Muslim recruits fought alongside ethnic Germans and Croatians in the 13th Waffen SS (Shutzstaffel) Mountain Division, known as the Handschar Division. Kosovar Albanians manned the division’s best trained and equipped battalion. This battalion served as the foundation for a second SS division, the 21st (Skanderbeg).1

    Both divisions were involved in the brutal fighting and many Serbs have held the Muslim Albanians responsible for the ethnic cleansing in what is today Kosovo. Ghosts of these crimes were evident in the anti-Kosovar, pro-Serbian propaganda generated by Slobodan Milosevic’s government between the disintegration of Yugoslavia, beginning in 1992 with the war in Bosnia, and ending with the peace plan that brought the fighting to an end in Kosovo in 1999.

    However, it should be noted that not all Albanian or other Muslims were in cahoots with the Nazis and the Croatian nationalist Ustase death squads. Many Muslims in Albania tried, at the risk of their own lives, to smuggle and hide members of the local Jewish population.2

    1George Lepre, Himmler’s Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division (Schiffer Publishing, 2000)
    2Norman H. Gershman, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II (Syracuse University, 2008)

    About the author
    After having completed more than 20 years of active military service, Lance Eldridge retired from the US Army and is currently a patrol officer in Craig, Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism.

    The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of his or any other law enforcement agency.


  31. It’s Time for the U.S. Air Force to Stop Buying Reapers

    14:35 GMT, August 24, 2012 We can all agree that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) have proven themselves one of, if not the single most, useful capabilities the U.S. military has deployed in the last decade. From the hand-held Raven to the larger, rail-launched Scan Eagle up to the Predator (and its bigger and badder fraternal twin, the Reaper) and the high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk, UASs have transformed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) at the tactical and operational levels of conflict. Until their withdrawal last year from Iraq and to this day in Afghanistan, U.S. forces rarely left their bases without access to an overhead UAS video feed. Hellfire-armed Predators, operated by the CIA, have become the single most important tool for prosecuting the global campaign against violent extremists. All told, the Department of Defense has spent billions of dollars deploying thousands of UASs along with ground stations, controllers and supporting infrastructures.

    The Pentagon intends to spend billions more on UASs in the near future. Some of this money will go to deploy advanced systems such as the Air Force’s Block 40 Global Hawk and its cousin, the Navy’s broad area maritime surveillance system (BAMS), as well as the Army’s Shadow and Grey Eagle UASs. Additional resources will be devoted to development of new platforms such as the Navy’s Integrator, a small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS) and Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system.

    But the overwhelming bulk of the money being spent on UASs will go to buy additional Air Force Reapers. Since they were first introduced in 2002, the Air Force has purchased some 350-400 of these platforms. While procurement of the Predator ended in 2011, the Air Force has bought around 100 Reapers and plans to go on doing so as far as the eye can see. According to DoD’s 2013-2042 Aircraft Procurement Plan, the number of platforms in the large UAS category which includes both the Global Hawks and Reapers will grow from approximately 445 in FY 2013 to approximately 645 in FY 2022. Since the total planned procurement of Global Hawks is around 50, most of these will be Reapers. For FY 2013, more than half the total number of aircraft the Air Force plans to buy will be Reapers.

    The size of the Predator/Reaper fleet is driven by the requirement to establish 65 reliable orbits. What’s the basis of this requirement? It sprang fully formed from the head of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the height of the Iraq conflict. There was no data to support that number. Nor am I aware of any data that demonstrates the value of increasing the number of orbits from the current level of around 50 to 65. With the U.S. already reducing its force levels in Afghanistan and planning a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014, the 65 orbit requirement makes no sense.

    In fact, there are several additional reasons to question the utility of the 65 orbit goal. The Army is planning to acquire nearly 200 Grey Eagles, a Predator variant, to do much the same mission. It also conducted the first flight of its Long Endurance Multiple Intelligence Vehicle, a large airship that can stay airborne for days and maintain persistent surveillance of very large areas. Also, advanced sensors, such as Gorgon Stare, will allow each Predator/Reaper to track multiple targets at the same time, reducing the overall demand for orbits. Finally, even as it was ramping up Predator orbits, DoD also was investing in a fleet of manned surveillance aircraft to provide additional ISR. The military is being crushed under the weight of ISR information that it has not the means to exploit today. What possible utility is there from the last 15 or so orbits?

    It is time for DoD to revisit the 65 orbit goal and for the Air Force to call a halt to its frenzied acquisition of Reapers. The new Strategic Defense Guidance explicitly says that the military should no longer plan for large-scale, protracted stability operations, the kind of situations that would have called for filling the skies with Predator/Reaper orbits. Yes, the world is an uncertain place and we must be prepared to track terrorists, deal with humanitarian disasters and respond to crises anywhere in the world. But do these missions translate into a requirement for 65 Predator/Reaper orbits, particularly given all the other ISR investments DoD is supporting? The answer is no. It is entirely possible that half the current goal, 30 orbits, would be sufficient to cover all the other missions identified in the Strategic Defense Guidance.

    The Air Force needs to halt the rush to 65 orbits, cut back its acquisition goals for the Reaper and take a deep breath. It is time to stop and consider what the Air Force wants in the next generation of UASs. All our strategy documents and intelligence assessments warn of a future in which our adversaries will acquire modern air defense systems. Neither the Predator nor the Reaper could survive in such an environment. So, why is the Air Force locking itself into a UAS fleet that could not deal with the future threat? The Air Force should put together a research and technology development plan that will lead to the next generation of UASs, ones that can survive in hostile air environments, operate safely in crowded air space and perform their mission even in the face of communications failures and electronic attack.

    Daniel Goure, Ph.D.
    Early Warning Blog, Lexington Institute


  32. U.S. perceives tacit consent from Pakistan on drone strikes
    By Jennifer Rowland Thursday, September 27, 2012 – 9:22 AM

    Perception and permission

    Although Pakistani officials publicly denounce the U.S. drone campaign in the tribal regions as a violation of national sovereignty, the U.S. government interprets the Pakistani intelligence agency’s lack of response to a monthly memo informing them of the general locations of planned drone strikes as tacit consent for the program (WSJ). And while the Obama administration appears to be comfortable with this rationale, many legal experts within the government remain concerned about the permissibility of the strikes, and the precedent they are setting for other countries’ use of drones in the future.

    Pakistani Islamist leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, information about whom the United States is offering a $10 million reward, accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of starting a religious and cultural war against Muslims by refusing to take action against the maker of the anti-Islam film that recently sparked protests in countries around the world (Reuters). Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban said Wednesday that they would give “amnesty” to the Minister of Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, because he placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the film’s producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (AP).

    Threat assessment

    Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Hamid Shalizi published a must-read on Thursday detailing their investigation into one of the recent “insider” attacks in Afghanistan, in which Army Spc. Mabry Anders and Sgt. Christopher Birdwell were killed by an Afghan Army soldier, Welayat Khan (Reuters). The Taliban later told Khan’s family that they had trained him to carry out the attack, though details of the incident imply that it was a spontaneous act. Khan himself was killed by a U.S. helicopter as he tried to flee the scene.

    The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday, and reaffirmed their respective commitments to achieving peace and stability in the region (The News, Dawn). And Anna Coren writes Thursday for CNN about the transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan forces, which is placing Afghans alone on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban for the first time (CNN).

    Finally, a U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair has been charged with multiple counts of forcible sodomy, adultery, and having inappropriate relationships with subordinates, after begin sent home from a tour in Afghanistan due to the allegations against him (AP).

    Film flop

    Heroine, a highly anticipated film from well-known Bollywood producer Madhur Bhandarkar, and starring the beautiful Kareena Kapoor, disappointed at least one critic in Pakistan with its “half-hearted attempt at depicting present day Bollywood (ET). Rafay Mahmood writes in the Express Tribune, that “if you go out for a cigarette break and return, you will not have missed a thing.”

    — Jennifer Rowland


  33. US Unease Over Drone Strikes

    About once a month, the Central Intelligence Agency sends a fax to a general at Pakistan’s intelligence service outlining broad areas where the U.S. intends to conduct strikes with drone aircraft, according to U.S. officials. The Pakistanis, who in public oppose the program, don’t respond.

    On this basis, plus the fact that Pakistan continues to clear airspace in the targeted areas, the U.S. government concludes it has tacit consent to conduct strikes within the borders of a sovereign nation, according to officials familiar with the program.

    Representatives of the White House’s National Security Council and CIA declined to discuss Pakistani consent, saying such information is classified. In public speeches, Obama administration officials have portrayed the U.S.’s use of drones to kill wanted militants around the world as being on firm legal ground. In those speeches, officials stopped short of directly discussing the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan because the operations are covert.

    Now, the rationale used by the administration, interpreting Pakistan’s acquiescence as a green light, has set off alarms among some administration legal officials. In particular, lawyers at the State Department, including top legal adviser Harold Koh, believe this rationale veers near the edge of what can be considered permission, though they still think the program is legal, officials say.

    Two senior administration officials described the approach as interpreting Pakistan’s silence as a “yes.” One dubbed the U.S. approach “cowboy behavior.”

    In a reflection of the program’s long-term legal uncertainty and precedent-setting nature, a group of lawyers in the administration known as “the council of counsels” is trying to develop a more sustainable framework for how governments should use such weapons.

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    European Pressphoto Agency
    Drone strikes in Pakistan have been fewer since retired Gen. David Petraeus took over the CIA.

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    IntelCenter / Associated Press
    A drone strike killed al Qaeda figure Abu Yahya al-Libi.

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    European Pressphoto Agency
    Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, another al Qaeda figure, was also killed in a drone strike.

    The effort is designed to fend off legal challenges at home as well as to ease allies’ concerns about increasing legal scrutiny from civil-liberties groups and others. The White House also is worried about setting precedents for other countries, including Russia or China, that might conduct targeted killings as such weapons proliferate in the future, officials say.

    Because there is little precedent for the classified U.S. drone program, international law doesn’t speak directly to how it might operate. That makes the question of securing consent all the more critical, legal specialists say.

    In public, Pakistan has repeatedly expressed opposition to the drone program, and about 10 months ago closed the CIA’s only drone base in the country. In private, some Pakistani officials say they don’t consider their actions equivalent to providing consent. They say Pakistan has considered shooting down a drone to reassert control over the country’s airspace but shelved the idea as needlessly provocative.

    Pakistan also has considered challenging the legality of the program at the United Nations.

    “No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism than Pakistan,” Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday. “Drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for hearts and minds through this epic struggle.”

    A former Pakistani official who remains close to the program said Pakistan believes the CIA continues to send notifications for the sole purpose of giving it legal cover.

    It is possible Pakistan is playing both sides. Ashley Deeks, a former State Department assistant legal adviser under Mr. Koh who is now at the University of Virginia, said a lack of a Pakistani response to U.S. notifications might be a way for Pakistan to meet seemingly contradictory goals—letting the CIA continue using its airspace but also distancing the government of Pakistan from the program, which is deeply unpopular among Pakistanis.

    Legal experts say U.S. law gives the government broad latitude to pursue al Qaeda and its affiliates wherever they may be. A joint resolution of Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks authorized the president to use force against the planners of the attacks and those who harbor them. Then-President George W. Bush that month signed a classified order known as a “finding” authorizing covert action against al Qaeda.

    Government consent provides the firmest legal footing, legal experts say. The U.S. has that in Yemen, whose government assists with U.S. strikes against an al Qaeda affiliate. In Somalia, the nominal government, which controls little territory, has welcomed U.S. military strikes against militants.

    In an April speech, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the administration has concluded there is nothing in international law barring the U.S. from using lethal force against a threat to the U.S., despite the absence of a declared war, provided the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.

    On the international stage, matters are less clear-cut. The unwilling-or-unable doctrine, which was first publicly stated by the George W. Bush administration and has been affirmed by the Obama administration, remains open to challenge abroad, legal experts say. Conducting drone strikes in a country against its will could be seen as an act of war.

    Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the U.S. drone approach in Pakistan is getting closer to the edge. “It doesn’t mean it is illegal, but you are at the margins of what can reasonably be construed as consent,” he said.

    Enlarge Image

    Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University, defended the right to conduct drone operations without consent if a country refuses to address the threat. He added, however, that such a program can’t be sustained by secret winks and nods.

    “Strategic ambiguity is a real bad long-term policy because it eventually blows up in your face,” Mr. Anderson said. “It’s not stable.”

    Senior U.S. officials worry about maintaining the support of an important ally—the U.K.—where officials have begun to express concerns privately about the extent of Pakistan’s consent.

    Britain began a review to see whether under British law it could continue to cooperate with the program, say U.S. and British officials, after Pakistan closed the CIA’s drone base in December. Pakistan took that action after a strike by a manned U.S. aircraft killed two dozen Pakistani troops mistaken for militants. Britain eventually decided to maintain its cooperation.

    John Bellinger, the top State Department legal adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said that for the U.S., it is “not unreasonable to assume consent” from Pakistan for the use of drones, “particularly when the U.S. conducts repeated attacks and it’s open and obvious.”

    But some in the U.K., Mr. Bellinger added, might “need to have greater clarity that there actually is consent,” given increasing domestic legal scrutiny for Britain’s supporting role in the program.

    Until the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, there was a more open channel of communication.

    In the early days of the Afghan war, lists of specific individuals to be targeted on Pakistani soil by U.S. drones were approved by both the U.S. and Pakistan, in what was called a “dual-key” system. Starting about four years ago, the U.S. began increasingly to go it alone.

    By last year, according to U.S. officials, the system in place was that the CIA would send a regular monthly fax to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The fax would outline the boundaries of the airspace the drones would use—large areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border referred to as flight “boxes” because they are shaped like three-dimensional rectangles in the sky. There was no mention of specific targets.

    The ISI would send back a fax acknowledging receipt. The return messages stopped short of endorsing drone strikes. But in U.S. eyes the fax response combined with the continued clearing of airspace to avoid midair collisions—a process known as “de-confliction”—represented Pakistan’s tacit consent to the program.

    After the May 2011 bin Laden raid, which the U.S. did without Pakistani permission or knowledge, the ISI stopped acknowledging receipt of U.S. drone notifications, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. Replies were stopped on the order of the ISI chief at that time, said an official briefed on the matter.

    “Not responding was their way of saying ‘we’re upset with you,’ ” this official said. The official said the ISI chief chose that option knowing an outright denial of drone permission would spark a confrontation, and also believing that withdrawing consent wouldn’t end the strikes.

    Administration lawyers, including those with qualms such as Mr. Koh, believe the CIA’s campaign is legal. They believe they have consent, however tacit, primarily because the Pakistani military continues to clear airspace for drones and doesn’t interfere physically with the unpiloted aircraft in flight, according to officials involved with the administration’s legal thinking.

    Still, for some U.S. officials, including Mr. Koh, the lack of an ISI response to faxes was unnerving, leaving already-vague communications even more open to interpretation.

    Spurred by concerns about the future of the drone program in Pakistan, administration lawyers have been considering the feasibility of making changes. One idea calls for putting some of the drones under control of the U.S. military, which would allow officials to talk more openly about how the program works and open the door to closer cooperation with the Pakistanis, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

    The U.S. has also considered a coordinated campaign that could involve both U.S. drones and Pakistani F-16 fighter planes, these officials said.

    In meetings in Washington last month with the new chief of Pakistan’s ISI, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, American officials raised the prospect of a “drone drawdown,” according to Pakistani officials. American officials said the idea of ramping down the program gradually as security conditions permit has been hotly debated for months. Pakistani officials considered the proposal to be “amorphous” and “without detail,” an adviser to Pakistan’s government said.

    Americans also raised the prospect of creating “joint ownership” of the drone program, the Pakistani adviser said, but no changes were agreed to.

    Since retired Gen. David Petraeus became CIA director about a year ago, the agency has taken some steps to ease concerns about the drone program, according to officials. The frequency of drone strikes in Pakistan has fallen to an average of four a month, versus 10 monthly in the prior 12 months, based on a tally from the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

    Officials said Gen. Petraeus has occasionally overruled recommendations of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and declined to authorize some strikes that could create friction with Pakistan. One U.S. official said the pace of counterterrorism operations mirrors the thinner ranks of al Qaeda after years of strikes.

    The effort to put the program on a firmer legal footing is running into some hurdles. The council of counsels wants to make details of counterterrorism programs public in some ways to address court challenges and reassure anxious allies, as well as to avoid spurring future use of these kinds of technologies by other countries.

    But the agency general counsels have drawn the line at revealing detailed criteria for picking targets or disclosing who makes the decisions. Officials say leaving these things ambiguous could help shield officials involved against possible court challenges and avoid providing information that militants could use to evade targeting. Courts in Europe have sought to put on trial some of the CIA officers and foreign partners alleged to be involved in detaining suspected militants in secret sites during the Bush administration.

    —Julian E. Barnes contributed to this article.


  34. U.S. perceives tacit consent from Pakistan on drone strikes
    By Jennifer Rowland
    Thursday, September 27, 2012 – 9:22 AM

    Perception and permission

    Although Pakistani officials publicly denounce the U.S. drone campaign in the tribal regions as a violation of national sovereignty, the U.S. government interprets the Pakistani intelligence agency’s lack of response to a monthly memo informing them of the general locations of planned drone strikes as tacit consent for the program (WSJ). And while the Obama administration appears to be comfortable with this rationale, many legal experts within the government remain concerned about the permissibility of the strikes, and the precedent they are setting for other countries’ use of drones in the future.

    Pakistani Islamist leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, information about whom the United States is offering a $10 million reward, accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of starting a religious and cultural war against Muslims by refusing to take action against the maker of the anti-Islam film that recently sparked protests in countries around the world (Reuters). Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban said Wednesday that they would give “amnesty” to the Minister of Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, because he placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the film’s producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (AP).

    Threat assessment

    Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Hamid Shalizi published a must-read on Thursday detailing their investigation into one of the recent “insider” attacks in Afghanistan, in which Army Spc. Mabry Anders and Sgt. Christopher Birdwell were killed by an Afghan Army soldier, Welayat Khan (Reuters). The Taliban later told Khan’s family that they had trained him to carry out the attack, though details of the incident imply that it was a spontaneous act. Khan himself was killed by a U.S. helicopter as he tried to flee the scene.

    The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday, and reaffirmed their respective commitments to achieving peace and stability in the region (The News, Dawn). And Anna Coren writes Thursday for CNN about the transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan forces, which is placing Afghans alone on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban for the first time (CNN).

    Finally, a U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair has been charged with multiple counts of forcible sodomy, adultery, and having inappropriate relationships with subordinates, after begin sent home from a tour in Afghanistan due to the allegations against him (AP).

    Film flop

    Heroine, a highly anticipated film from well-known Bollywood producer Madhur Bhandarkar, and starring the beautiful Kareena Kapoor, disappointed at least one critic in Pakistan with its “half-hearted attempt at depicting present day Bollywood (ET). Rafay Mahmood writes in the Express Tribune, that “if you go out for a cigarette break and return, you will not have missed a thing.”

    — Jennifer Rowland


  35. The Obama doctrine: Drones and just wars
    By Meg Braun

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012 – 1:05 PM

    Less than half of Americans approve of Obama’s job as president. According to Gallup’s most recent poll, his job approval rating is 49 percent. However, there is one area where President Obama gets high marks: drone warfare. In June the Pew Research Center reported that 62 percent of Americans approve of the President’s use of drone strikes.

    Targeted killings by drones were first introduced under President Bush in 2002 when a Hellfire missile slammed into a Jeep in Yemen, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harithi, a key conspirator in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And yet it is President Obama who has consistently made headlines for authorizing hundreds of attacks in Pakistan, and recently dozens more in Yemen. According to a recent CNN article based on data compiled by the New America Foundation, President Obama has carried out six times more strike during his first term than Bush did during his entire eight years in office.

    On its face these numbers would seem to suggest that President Obama is the more aggressive commander-in-chief, that he is uniquely unencumbered by concerns for Pakistani sovereignty, a stronger proponent of drone warfare and disproportionately committed to killing al-Qaeda members. However, analyzing Obama’s drone policy in isolation from larger geopolitical issues, obscures that which is truly radical about his foreign policy.

    The rate of drone strikes was already increasing exponentially when Obama took office. He continued that trend and made the politically unpopular decision to give Afghanistan the resources he thought it deserved, while using drones to deny terrorists safe haven in Pakistan and targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban rank and file rather than just their commanders.

    During his tenure, George W. Bush did not fail to use drones effectively; rather he was preoccupied with Saddam Hussein. From 2002 to 2008, the Bush administration devoted a preponderance of the United States’ military assets, political capital and administrative attention to Iraq. In 2005, the Air Force had just two Predator drones monitoring the whole of Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas, to say nothing of resources in Pakistan. It was not until the summer of 2008, seven long years after 9/11, that they began to shift their focus back to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. From January to June 2008 U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan nearly doubled, going from 26,000 to 48,000.

    At the same time, the Bush administration made a critical decision to stop requesting Pakistani authorization prior to each strike. With a new government taking over in Pakistan and a renewed sense of urgency brought about by a Presidency quickly coming to a close, the White House seized the opportunity to re-write the diplomatic rules of the Predator program. The impact was immediate. During the first half of 2008 Bush authorized a modest five drone strikes. In his last six months he approved 31. Had he served a third term, we can reasonably expect, based on this trend, he might have carried out 62 strikes a year, if not more. Obama’s annual average is 75.

    This shift was facilitated not just by domestic factors, but by a fundamental change in Pakistan. Just as Bush and the U.S. military were pivoting their attention back to Afghanistan, domestic security in Pakistan was deteriorating. In December of 2007 Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan and then opposition party leader was assassinated in a combined sniper and suicide bomb attack. Bhutto’s death was just one of many. Prior to 2007, there were less than ten suicide attacks a year, however, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace, by 2009 there were 87 suicide attacks and 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian related incidents of terrorism. Afghanistan succumbing to a Taliban coup would be tragic, but in Pakistan, a country with over 100 nuclear warheads, it would be catastrophic. Thus domestic terrorism and political insecurity presumably made the Pakistanis more hospitable to drone strikes, while making intervention an American imperative.
    From the outset of his presidency Obama identified Afghanistan as not only a just war, but a strategic necessity. Within a month of entering office, President Obama announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and within a year he announced a surge of 30,000 more. Shortly after the reinforcements arrived, in September of 2010, the military launched a major offensive in Kandahar province. Drone strikes in Pakistan immediately skyrocketed from an average of 7 per month to 24 in September. This remains the deadliest month on drone record, with approximately 140 militants reported killed and zero reported civilian deaths.

    This aggressive pursuit is a marked difference from Bush’s Battle of Tora Bora, during which bin Laden and dozens of his followers escaped into Pakistan.

    While Bush sought to decapitate the leadership ranks of al-Qaeda, Obama has sought to cut their legs out from under them, destroying the foot soldiers, rather than just the officers. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, while a third of all strikes by President Bush killed a militant leader, under President Obama, that number has fallen to 13 percent and leaders account for only 2 percent of all total drone related fatalities.

    However a war of militant attrition is not without advantages. Drone attacks based on patterns of activity rather than individual identity have decimated the ranks of low-level combatants, forcing would-be terrorists to look to their own survival rather than plotting the next attack. The omnipresent threat of a missile strike has restricted freedom of movement, impeded communication and destroyed dozens of training camps.

    Under Obama drones have not only been a tactic to hunt terrorists leaders, they are also a tool for preventing spillover into Pakistan at a minimum cost of U.S. blood and treasure, and, despite some civilian casualties, with minimal disruption to the state of Pakistan.

    Finally, there is also evidence to suggest that many of the attacks were designed to appease Pakistan, in that drones have pursued Taliban leaders who were more threatening to Pakistan than to the United States. In the first eight months of 2009 the United States carried out 32 drone strikes, 19 of which targeted Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and alleged mastermind behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Thus some portion of the increased targeting of the Taliban may simply reflect the costs of doing business.

    What Obama deserves to be lauded for is not increasing drones strikes, but rather a willingness to give Afghanistan the attention and resources it deserved while confronting the spread of violence in Pakistan. Facts on the ground indicate that the drone program has been an operational success. Under Obama’s watch drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 1,332 to 2,326 combatants and the number of monthly terrorist attacks in Pakistan has fallen by over 50 percent since the high in 2008.

    The question is not whether the next administration, be it a Romney or Obama one, will continue to use drones. The question is whether drones have reached the limits of their tactical utility. The core of al-Qaeda is in disarray and drone firepower had begun to focus on regional affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and beyond. However, killing militants will not cure the world of terrorism, it can only help to restrain it. The solution lies in committing the diplomatic and financial resources to address the political and economic instability upon which Islamic extremism feeds. A truly courageous commander-in-chief must know when to prioritize statecraft over armed force.

    Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy.


  36. Taking stock of the surge — from the bottom up
    By Frances Z. Brown
    Wednesday, September 26, 2012 – 4:04 PM

    This month marks the end of the American surge in Afghanistan: the 33,000 additional troops President Barack Obama authorized in his administration’s first months will complete redeployment, leaving behind a force of 68,000. By launching the surge in December 2009, President Obama attempted to remedy the previous administration’s inattention to the Afghanistan effort and fully resource a civilian and military stabilization campaign.

    Although the surge’s primary military objective was to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan National Security Forces, it also aimed to “promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” It would focus on local Afghan government institutions. After widespread acknowledgment that international assistance had concentrated too heavily on Kabul in the years after the 2001 Bonn Agreement, the new U.S. approach aimed to connect local-level governance structures to national ones “from the bottom up.” The new strategy endeavored to build governance and development in regions of the country recently “cleared” from a security perspective-largely in Regional Commands South and East. For the first time, U.S. personnel and resources would flow directly into the district level in some of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas.

    Over three years after President Obama’s initial strategy announcement, and as the international community shifts to transition mode, what lasting impacts has the surge had on Afghan subnational governance? A new paper from USIP, drawing on over sixty interviews with Afghans and Americans based at the district level, explores this question. Examining both the U.S. military’s localized CERP-funded “governance, reconstruction, and development” projects and civilian stabilization programming, this paper argues that despite policymakers’ proclamations of modesty, the U.S. surge aimed to profoundly transform Afghanistan’s subnational governance landscape. Although the surge has attained localized progress, its impact has fallen short of this transformative, sustainable intent because its plans were based upon three unrealistic assumptions.

    First, the surge overestimated the speed and extent to which specific types of governance intervention would yield progress. In military parlance, it assumed that the campaign’s quick success in “amassing security effects” would be mirrored by (or closely approached by) the speed with which it amassed governance effects. Plans assumed that in the realm of governance, more resources could make up for less time. For example, surge policy presupposed that with enough assistance, local governors could rapidly foster legitimacy and durable local support. It also assumed that American aid could quickly establish vertical linkages for service delivery-connecting increasing local “bottom up” demand for services to the “top down” of ministries’ delivery systems. Finally, plans assumed that governance successes would quickly gain momentum of their own and spread “ink blot” style, rather than continuing to require great amounts of U.S. inputs.

    A second miscalculation was the expectation that the surge’s “bottom up” progress-the result of dedicated work by locally-based U.S. and Afghan personnel-would be matched by “top down”, Afghan-led systemic reforms to make this local progress durable. Where surge personnel encouraged district governors’ responsiveness to their local populations in the short run, they hoped that in the longer term, these local officials’ incentive structures would shift to ensure they were more accountable to their constituents and not Kabul. Instead, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance’s subnational appointment system made claims of reform and merit-based improvements but in practice left Kabul’s longstanding patronage system largely unchanged.

    In addition, as U.S. officials worked with district-level councils to improve the competence of these shuras, they assumed that, in the longer term, the councils’ makeup and authority would be formalized by the Kabul-based government. Instead, Kabul showed little appetite to reconcile the confusing, competing array of local councils or to standardize their powers. (Very recently, after the Tokyo conference, a committee led by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) is drafting district council regulation, but any implementation will come too late for the surge.) Finally, some surge personnel labored to increase local officials’ budgetary prioritization skills so that local needs could be reflected in central line ministries’ decisions. But any meaningful fiscal deconcentration, apart from a nascent and currently-stalled provincial budgeting pilot, was unlikely during the lifespan of the surge. In short, the surge showed that one key ingredient-Afghan political will to undertake needed structural reforms-was not malleable from the “bottom up.”

    Finally, the surge rested upon the assumption that “lack of governance” was a universal driver of the insurgency, for which service delivery was the appropriate cure. Though this analysis rang true in some districts and municipalities, in others, particularly some remote parts of Regional Command East, observers suggested that presence of government became a fueling factor. In these regions, the local insurgency represented a response to the intrusion of the Afghan government, viewed as extortive and foreign. The presence of ISAF troops facilitating this extended Afghan government reach represented a further grievance for communities who wanted to be left alone. Stabilization programs attempted to win popular support by providing services, but in some areas these initiatives were just atoning for the fact that outsiders-Western and Afghan alike-had shown up in the first place.

    More broadly, there is genuine debate over whether “more service delivery” is truly the appropriate prescription for the most contested areas of Afghanistan targeted by the surge. Beyond a deep local desire for security and justice, most other international offerings of “service delivery” found themselves abutting preexisting Afghan arrangements to locally manage everything from karez (irrigation canal) cleaning to equitable water distribution. Many service delivery offerings targeted local requests that were never before expressed, thus creating newly inflated expectations. Meanwhile, the insertion or elevation of local government officials to administer these programs often facilitated extortion, further alienating the local community.

    What to make of the surge’s governance track record? In many ways, this record merely echoed criticism of the surge’s plans from the start, from those inside and outside of U.S. government: the campaign was overly ambitious for an externally-driven effort on a short timeline. So why was optimism so high at the outset? Partial explanations reside in American confidence about perceived counterinsurgency success in Iraq, and enthusiasm at finally resourcing the “good war” in Afghanistan. In addition, Capitol Hill and the American electorate would have been unlikely supporters of an effort billed as a very long, hard slog.

    But once the surge was in motion, other American miscalculations emerged that fueled optimism. One was the confusion of discrete successes with replicable progress. When a previously hostile district such as Helmand’s Nawa transformed into a peaceful one, the unrelenting stream of VIPs sent to visit did not necessarily see the unusual combination of tribal makeup, leadership calculus, and disproportionate American inputs that prevented the “Nawa Model” from being generalizable, or sustainable. Another common miscalculation was mistaking a local Afghan official’s individual advancement with wider progress in building the institutions of local government. In a country where subnational officials are regularly reshuffled or, unfortunately, assassinated, this metric was deceptive. Finally, on a separate note, American officials often placed considerable faith in the power of technical and technological solutions to resolve problems that were fundamentally political in nature. New solutions fed new optimism.

    As the surge recedes, the upcoming transition offers an opportunity to apply its lessons toward future governance and development planning. The U.S-Afghan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement[i] represents a promising opportunity to embrace strategic planning that is longer in term but more realistic in ambit. As the international community draws down, it should exert its remaining governance-related leverage to impact select systemic issues rather than tactical-level ones, such as standardizing the system by which district council members are selected, improving ministries’ recurring services, and bolstering provincial and municipal administrations. The international community should also prioritize a few key, attainable efforts, such as providing training that is consistent with current Afghan government functions, while avoiding creating additional structures. Finally, the surge proved once again that all the usual Afghan local governance recommendations still apply: resolving Afghanistan’s subnational challenges requires long-term commitment and systematic execution.

    Frances Z. Brown is an International Affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.


  37. Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists

    By Greg Miller, Wednesday, October 24, 7:08 AM

    Editor’s note: This project, based on interviews with dozens of current and former national security officials, intelligence analysts and others, examines evolving U.S. counterterrorism policies and the practice of targeted killing. This is the first of three stories.

    Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

    The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

    Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

    Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.

    “We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us,” a senior administration official said. “It’s a necessary part of what we do. . . . We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America.’ ”

    That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus. The rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero.

    Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

    The Obama administration has touted its successes against the terrorist network, including the death of Osama bin Laden, as signature achievements that argue for President Obama’s reelection. The administration has taken tentative steps toward greater transparency, formally acknowledging for the first time the United States’ use of armed drones.

    Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war. Spokesmen for the White House, the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and other agencies declined to comment on the matrix or other counterterrorism programs.

    Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul.

    White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.

    CIA Director David H. Petraeus is pushing for an expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, U.S. officials said. The proposal, which would need White House approval, reflects the agency’s transformation into a paramilitary force, and makes clear that it does not intend to dismantle its drone program and return to its pre-Sept. 11 focus on gathering intelligence.

    The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, which carried out the raid that killed bin Laden, has moved commando teams into suspected terrorist hotbeds in Africa. A rugged U.S. outpost in Djibouti has been transformed into a launching pad for counterterrorism operations across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

    JSOC also has established a secret targeting center across the Potomac River from Washington, current and former U.S. officials said. The elite command’s targeting cells have traditionally been located near the front lines of its missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. But JSOC created a “national capital region” task force that is a 15-minute commute from the White House so it could be more directly involved in deliberations about al-Qaeda lists.

    The developments were described by current and former officials from the White House and the Pentagon, as well as intelligence and counterterrorism agencies. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

    These counterterrorism components have been affixed to a legal foundation for targeted killing that the Obama administration has discussed more openly over the past year. In a series of speeches, administration officials have cited legal bases, including the congressional authorization to use military force granted after the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the nation’s right to defend itself.

    Critics contend that those justifications have become more tenuous as the drone campaign has expanded far beyond the core group of al-Qaeda operatives behind the strikes on New York and Washington. Critics note that the administration still doesn’t confirm the CIA’s involvement or the identities of those who are killed. Certain strikes are now under legal challenge, including the killings last year in Yemen of U.S.-born al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.

    Counterterrorism experts said the reliance on targeted killing is self-perpetuating, yielding undeniable short-term results that may obscure long-term costs.

    “The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

    An evolving database

    The United States now operates multiple drone programs, including acknowledged U.S. military patrols over conflict zones in Afghanistan and Libya, and classified CIA surveillance flights over Iran.

    Strikes against al-Qaeda, however, are carried out under secret lethal programs involving the CIA and JSOC. The matrix was developed by the NCTC, under former director Michael Leiter, to augment those organizations’ separate but overlapping kill lists, officials said.

    The result is a single, continually evolving database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued. So are strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols.

    Obama’s decision to shutter the CIA’s secret prisons ended a program that had become a source of international scorn, but it also complicated the pursuit of terrorists. Unless a suspect surfaced in the sights of a drone in Pakistan or Yemen, the United States had to scramble to figure out what to do.

    “We had a disposition problem,” said a former U.S. counterterrorism official involved in developing the matrix.

    The database is meant to map out contingencies, creating an operational menu that spells out each agency’s role in case a suspect surfaces in an unexpected spot. “If he’s in Saudi Arabia, pick up with the Saudis,” the former official said. “If traveling overseas to al-Shabaab [in Somalia] we can pick him up by ship. If in Yemen, kill or have the Yemenis pick him up.”

    Officials declined to disclose the identities of suspects on the matrix. They pointed, however, to the capture last year of alleged al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame off the coast of Yemen. Warsame was held for two months aboard a U.S. ship before being transferred to the custody of the Justice Department and charged in federal court in New York.

    “Warsame was a classic case of ‘What are we going to do with him?’ ” the former counterterrorism official said. In such cases, the matrix lays out plans, including which U.S. naval vessels are in the vicinity and which charges the Justice Department should prepare.

    “Clearly, there were people in Yemen that we had on the matrix,” as well as others in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the former counterterrorism official said. The matrix was a way to be ready if they moved. “How do we deal with these guys in transit? You weren’t going to fire a drone if they were moving through Turkey or Iran.”

    Officials described the matrix as a database in development, although its status is unclear. Some said it has not been implemented because it is too cumbersome. Others, including officials from the White House, Congress and intelligence agencies, described it as a blueprint that could help the United States adapt to al-Qaeda’s morphing structure and its efforts to exploit turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East.

    A year after Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared the core of al-Qaeda near strategic defeat, officials see an array of emerging threats beyond Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — the three countries where almost all U.S. drone strikes have occurred.

    The Arab spring has upended U.S. counterterrorism partnerships in countries including Egypt where U.S. officials fear al-Qaeda could establish new roots. The network’s affiliate in North Africa, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has seized territory in northern Mali and acquired weapons that were smuggled out of Libya.

    “Egypt worries me to no end,” a high-ranking administration official said. “Look at Libya, Algeria and Mali and then across the Sahel. You’re talking about such wide expanses of territory, with open borders and military, security and intelligence capabilities that are basically nonexistent.”

    Streamlining targeted killing

    The creation of the matrix and the institutionalization of kill/capture lists reflect a shift that is as psychological as it is strategic.

    Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States recoiled at the idea of targeted killing. The Sept. 11 commission recounted how the Clinton administration had passed on a series of opportunities to target bin Laden in the years before the attacks — before armed drones existed. President Bill Clinton approved a set of cruise-missile strikes in 1998 after al-Qaeda bombed embassies in East Africa, but after extensive deliberation, and the group’s leader escaped harm.

    Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.

    This year, the White House scrapped a system in which the Pentagon and the National Security Council had overlapping roles in scrutinizing the names being added to U.S. target lists.

    Now the system functions like a funnel, starting with input from half a dozen agencies and narrowing through layers of review until proposed revisions are laid on Brennan’s desk, and subsequently presented to the president.

    Video-conference calls that were previously convened by Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been discontinued. Officials said Brennan thought the process shouldn’t be run by those who pull the trigger on strikes.

    “What changed is rather than the chairman doing that, John chairs the meeting,” said Leiter, the former head of the NCTC.

    The administration has also elevated the role of the NCTC, which was conceived as a clearinghouse for threat data and has no operational capability. Under Brennan, who served as its founding director, the center has emerged as a targeting hub.

    Other entities have far more resources focused on al-Qaeda. The CIA, JSOC and U.S. Central Command have hundreds of analysts devoted to the terrorist network’s franchise in Yemen, while the NCTC has fewer than two dozen. But the center controls a key function.

    “It is the keeper of the criteria,” a former U.S. counterterrorism official said, meaning that it is in charge of culling names from al-Qaeda databases for targeting lists based on criteria dictated by the White House.

    The criteria are classified but center on obvious questions: Who are the operational leaders? Who are the key facilitators? A typical White House request will direct the NCTC to generate a list of al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen involved in carrying out or plotting attacks against U.S. personnel in Sanaa.

    The lists are reviewed at regular three-month intervals during meetings at the NCTC headquarters that involve analysts from other organizations, including the CIA, the State Department and JSOC. Officials stress that these sessions don’t equate to approval for additions to kill lists, an authority that rests exclusively with the White House.

    With no objections — and officials said those have been rare — names are submitted to a panel of National Security Council officials that is chaired by Brennan and includes the deputy directors of the CIA and the FBI, as well as top officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the NCTC.

    Obama approves the criteria for lists and signs off on drone strikes outside Pakistan, where decisions on when to fire are made by the director of the CIA. But aside from Obama’s presence at “Terror Tuesday” meetings — which generally are devoted to discussing terrorism threats and trends rather than approving targets — the president’s involvement is more indirect.

    “The president would never come to a deputies meeting,” a senior administration official said, although participants recalled cases in which Brennan stepped out of the situation room to get Obama’s direction on questions the group couldn’t resolve.

    The review process is compressed but not skipped when the CIA or JSOC has compelling intelligence and a narrow window in which to strike, officials said. The approach also applies to the development of criteria for “signature strikes,” which allow the CIA and JSOC to hit targets based on patterns of activity — packing a vehicle with explosives, for example — even when the identities of those who would be killed is unclear.

    A model approach

    For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.

    During Monday’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made it clear that he would continue the drone campaign. “We can’t kill our way out of this,” he said, but added later that Obama was “right to up the usage” of drone strikes and that he would do the same.

    As Obama nears the end of his term, officials said the kill list in Pakistan has slipped to fewer than 10 al-Qaeda targets, down from as many as two dozen. The agency now aims many of its Predator strikes at the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

    In Yemen, the number of militants on the list has ranged from 10 to 15, officials said, and is not likely to slip into the single digits anytime soon, even though there have been 36 U.S. airstrikes this year.

    The number of targets on the lists isn’t fixed, officials said, but fluctuates based on adjustments to criteria. Officials defended the arrangement even while acknowledging an erosion in the caliber of operatives placed in the drones’ cross hairs.

    “Is the person currently Number 4 as good as the Number 4 seven years ago? Probably not,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the process until earlier this year. “But it doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous.”

    In focusing on bureaucratic refinements, the administration has largely avoided confronting more fundamental questions about the lists. Internal doubts about the effectiveness of the drone campaign are almost nonexistent. So are apparent alternatives.

    “When you rely on a particular tactic, it starts to become the core of your strategy — you see the puff of smoke, and he’s gone,” said Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center. “When we institutionalize certain things, including targeted killing, it does cross a threshold that makes it harder to cross back.”

    For a decade, the dimensions of the drone campaign have been driven by short-term objectives: the degradation of al-Qaeda and the prevention of a follow-on, large-scale attack on American soil.

    Side effects are more difficult to measure — including the extent to which strikes breed more enemies of the United States — but could be more consequential if the campaign continues for 10 more years.

    “We are looking at something that is potentially indefinite,” Pillar said. “We have to pay particular attention, maybe more than we collectively have so far, to the longer-term pros and cons to the methods we use.”

    Obama administration officials at times have sought to trigger debate over how long the nation might employ the kill lists. But officials said the discussions became dead ends.

    In one instance, Mullen, the former Joint Chiefs chairman, returned from Pakistan and recounted a heated confrontation with his counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

    Mullen told White House and counterterrorism officials that the Pakistani military chief had demanded an answer to a seemingly reasonable question: After hundreds of drone strikes, how could the United States possibly still be working its way through a “top 20” list?

    The issue resurfaced after the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden. Seeking to repair a rift with Pakistan, Panetta, the CIA director, told Kayani and others that the United States had only a handful of targets left and would be able to wind down the drone campaign.

    A senior aide to Panetta disputed this account, and said Panetta mentioned the shrinking target list during his trip to Islamabad but didn’t raise the prospect that drone strikes would end. Two former U.S. officials said the White House told Panetta to avoid even hinting at commitments the United States was not prepared to keep.

    “We didn’t want to get into the business of limitless lists,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spent years overseeing the lists. “There is this apparatus created to deal with counterterrorism. It’s still useful. The question is: When will it stop being useful? I don’t know.”

    Karen DeYoung, Craig Whitlock and Julie Tate contributed to this report.


  38. A CIA veteran transforms U.S. counterterrorism policy

    By Karen DeYoung, Published: October 25

    This is the second of three articles.

    In his windowless White House office, presidential counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is compiling the rules for a war the Obama administration believes will far outlast its own time in office, whether that is just a few more months or four more years.

    The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

    “What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria, and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions — we’re talking about direct action, lethal action — so that irrespective of the venue where they’re taking place, we have a high confidence that they’re being done for the right reasons in the right way,” Brennan said in a lengthy interview at the end of August.

    A burly 25-year CIA veteran with a stern public demeanor, Brennan is the principal architect of a policy that has transformed counterterrorism from a conventional fight centered in Afghanistan to a high-tech global effort to track down and eliminate perceived enemies one by one.

    What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core.

    Four years ago, Brennan felt compelled to withdraw from consideration as President Obama’s first CIA director because of what he regarded as unfair criticism of his role in counterterrorism practices as an intelligence official during the George W. Bush administration. Instead, he stepped into a job in the Obama administration with greater responsibility and influence.

    Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency. Still, during Brennan’s tenure, the CIA has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and opened a new base for armed drones in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Although he insists that all agencies have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions, making differing perspectives available to the Oval Office, Brennan wields enormous power in shaping decisions on “kill” lists and the allocation of armed drones, the war’s signature weapon.

    When operations are proposed in Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off.

    As the war against al-Qaeda and related groups moves to new locations and new threats, Brennan and other senior officials describe the playbook as an effort to constrain the deployment of drones by future administrations as much as it provides a framework for their expanded use in what has become the United States’ permanent war.

    “This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”

    A critical player

    There is widespread agreement that Obama and Brennan, one of the president’s most trusted aides, are like-minded on counterterrorism policy.

    “Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort,” Brennan said. “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement.”

    But the concentration of power in one person, who is unelected and unconfirmed by Congress, does not sit well with critics.

    To many in the international legal community and among human rights and civil liberties activists, Brennan runs a policy so secret that it is impossible for outsiders to judge whether it complies with the laws of war or U.S. values — or even determine the total number of people killed.

    “Brennan says the administration is committed to ‘greater transparency,’ ” Human Rights Watch said in response to a speech he gave in May about drones. But despite “administration assertions that ‘innocent civilians’ have not been injured or killed, except in the ‘rarest of circumstances,’ there has been no clear accounting of civilian loss or opportunity to meaningfully examine the administration’s assertions.”

    Although outsiders have criticized the policy itself, some inside the administration take issue with how Brennan has run it. One former senior counterterrorism official described Brennan as the “single point of failure” in the strategy, saying he controls too much and delegates too little.

    A former top Defense Department official sounded a similar note. “He holds his cards incredibly close,” he said. “If I ask for the right one to be seen, he’ll show it to me. But he’s not going to show me everything he’s got in his hand.”

    Michael E. Leiter, who headed the National Counterterrorism Center until mid-2011, described Brennan as a forceful leader and “a critical player in getting this president comfortable with the tools of the trade.”

    Leiter said that he and Brennan “disagreed not infrequently” on fleeting issues, including interpretations of a piece of intelligence or how to respond to a specific threat. But there was a more significant issue: Leiter said Brennan was less focused on root causes of radicalization, in part because of how Brennan and the White House defined his job.

    Leiter was one of the few people who allowed his name to be used among the nearly dozen current and former senior national security officials interviewed for this article. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity under restrictions imposed by the administration or because they were not authorized to discuss certain issues.

    For each of Brennan’s critics, there are many associates who use the words “moral compass” to describe his role in the White House. It is Brennan, they say, who questions the justification for each drone attack, who often dials back what he considers excessive zeal by the CIA and the military, and who stands up for diplomatic and economic assistance components in the overall strategy.

    Brennan’s bedrock belief in a “just war,” they said, is tempered by his deep knowledge of the Middle East, Islam and the CIA, and the critical thinking forged during a classic Jesuit education.

    Some White House aides describe him as a nearly priest-like presence in their midst, with a moral depth leavened by a dry Irish wit.

    One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude surfacing in unexpected ways. Brennan once questioned Rizzo’s use of the “BCC” function in the agency’s e-mail system to send a blind copy of a message to a third party without the primary recipient’s knowledge.

    “He wasn’t joking,” Rizzo said. “He regarded that as underhanded.”

    Brennan, 57, was born in the gritty New Jersey town of North Bergen, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan. His Irish-immigrant parents, now in their early 90s, were strict and devout Catholics, traits his brother Tom said Brennan embodied from an early age. “It was almost like I had two fathers,” Tom Brennan said.

    John Brennan’s formative experiences at Fordham University, where he earned a degree in political science, included a summer in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, and a junior year at the American University in Cairo, where he studied Arabic and the region that would dominate his intelligence career and greatly influence his White House tenure.

    In 1980, soon after receiving a master’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin, Brennan answered a CIA recruitment ad in a newspaper. By the middle of the decade, he had spent two years in Saudi Arabia and was among the agency’s leading Middle Eastern analysts.

    “He was probably the hardest-working human being I ever encountered,” said a former senior CIA official who worked for Brennan on the Middle East desk. Brennan, he said, was regarded as insightful, even imaginative, but had a seriousness that set him apart.

    In 1999, after a second tour in Saudi Arabia as CIA station chief, he returned to headquarters as chief of staff for then-Director George J. Tenet. In 2001, he became deputy executive director, just months before a team of al-Qaeda operatives — most of them from Saudi Arabia — used four hijacked U.S. airliners to kill nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11.

    ‘I . . . do what I think is right’

    Brennan’s belief in his competence and probity has sometimes led to political blind spots. Tenet tapped him in 2003 to build the new CIA-based Terrorist Threat Integration Center to bridge pre-Sept. 11 intelligence gaps. But Brennan was bypassed by the Bush administration a year later for two key jobs — head of the National Counterterrorism Center and deputy to the new director of national intelligence — largely because of his criticism of the Iraq war.

    As a private citizen after leaving government, Brennan spoke publicly about counterterrorism controversies of the day. He defended the CIA’s rendition of suspected terrorists as “an absolutely vital tool” but described waterboarding as within “the classic definition of torture.” Brennan also criticized the military as moving too far into traditional intelligence spheres.

    His career in government appeared to be over until he was invited in late 2007 to join the nascent presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Although Obama and Brennan did not meet until after the election, their first conversation during the transition revealed profound harmony on issues of intelligence and what the president-elect called the “war against al-Qaeda.”

    But when Brennan’s name circulated as Obama’s choice to head the CIA, he again came under political fire — this time from liberals who accused him of complicity in the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures under Bush. Spooked by the criticism, Obama quickly backtracked and Brennan withdrew.

    “It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration such as preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding,” he wrote in an angry withdrawal letter released to the media.

    Several former intelligence colleagues said that, although Brennan had criticized the CIA interrogation methods after he left the government, they could not recall him doing so as a senior executive at the agency.

    Brennan was given responsibility in the White House for counterterrorism and homeland security, a position that required no Senate confirmation and had no well-defined duties. At the outset, colleagues said they wondered what his job would be.

    But to a young administration new to the secret details of national security threats and responsibilities, Brennan was a godsend.

    And for the man passed over for other posts, it was vindication. “I’ve been crucified by the left and the right, equally so,” and rejected by the Bush administration “because I was not seen as someone who was a team player,” Brennan said in the interview.

    “I’m probably not a team player here, either,” he said of the Obama administration. “I tend to do what I think is right. But I find much more comfort, I guess, in the views and values of this president.”

    Brennan and others on the inside found that Obama, hailed as a peacemaker by the left and criticized by the right as a naive pacifist, was willing to move far more aggressively than Bush against perceived extremists.

    Yemen is a ‘model’

    From the outset, Brennan expressed concern about the spread of al-Qaeda beyond South Asia, particularly to Yemen, according to administration officials involved in the early talks.

    U.S. counterterrorism policy had long been concentrated on Pakistan, where the Bush administration had launched sporadic CIA drone attacks against senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Within two years, Obama had more than tripled the number of strikes in Pakistan, from 36 in 2008 to 122 in 2010, according to the New America Foundation.

    Eventually, Obama and Brennan decided the program was getting out of hand. High-value targets were becoming elusive, accusations of civilian deaths were rising, and strikes were increasingly directed toward what the angry Pakistanis called mere “foot soldiers.”

    But with Pakistan’s adamant refusal to allow U.S. military operations on its soil, taking what was considered a highly successful program out of CIA hands was viewed as counterproductive and too complicated. Although CIA strikes in other countries and military strikes outside Afghanistan require Obama’s approval, the agency has standing permission to attack targets on an approved list in Pakistan without asking the White House.

    Although the administration has “wrestled with” the Pakistan program, it was always considered an initiative of the previous administration, a senior official said. In Yemen, the Obama team began to build its own counterterrorism architecture.

    The turning point came on Christmas Day in 2009, when a Nigerian trained by Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group, penetrated post-Sept. 11 defenses and nearly detonated a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

    In the wake of the failed attack, Brennan “got more into tactical issues,” said Leiter, the former NCTC head. “He dug into more operational stuff than he had before.”

    Brennan made frequent visits to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, its closest neighbor and the dominant regional power. He used his longtime contacts in the region to cement a joint U.S.-Saudi policy that would ultimately — with the help of Yemen’s Arab Spring revolt — bring a more cooperative government to power. He often spoke of the need to address “upstream” problems of poverty and poor governance that led to “downstream” radicalization, and pushed for economic aid to buttress a growing military and intelligence presence.

    Yemen quickly became the place where the United States would “get ahead of the curve” on terrorism that had become so difficult to round in Pakistan, one official said. As intelligence and military training programs were expanded, the military attacked AQAP targets in Yemen and neighboring Somalia using both fixed-wing aircraft and drones launched from a base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

    Despite Brennan’s professed dismay at the transformation of the CIA into a paramilitary entity with killing authority, the agency was authorized to operate its own armed aircraft out of a new base in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Beginning in 2011, discussions on targeting, strikes and intelligence that had been coordinated by a committee set up by Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were gradually drawn into the White House under Brennan, who, according to several accounts, struggled to pare back increasingly expansive target lists in Yemen. At one meeting last year, one senior official said, Obama weighed in to warn that Yemen was not Afghanistan, and that “we are not going to war in Yemen.”

    Today, Brennan said, “there are aspects of the Yemen program that I think are a true model of what I think the U.S. counterterrorism community should be doing” as it tracks the spread of al-Qaeda allies across Northern Africa.

    As targets move to different locations, and new threats “to U.S. interests and to U.S. persons and property” are identified in Africa and elsewhere, Brennan described a step-by-step program of escalation. “First and foremost, I would want to work through local authorities and see whether or not we can provide them the intelligence, and maybe even give them some enhanced capability, to take action to bring that person to justice,” he said.

    For those governments that are “unwilling or unable” to act, he said, “then we have an obligation as a government to protect our people, and if we need then to take action ourselves . . . we look at what those options are as well.”

    In late August, Brennan said he saw no need “to go forward with some kind of kinetic action in places like Mali,” where al-Qaeda allies have seized control of a broad swath of territory. Since then, Brennan and other officials have begun to compare the situation in Mali to Somalia, where drone and other air attacks have supplemented a U.S.-backed African military force.

    An opaque process

    Where Obama and Brennan envision a standardized counterterrorism program bound by domestic and international law, some others see a secretive killing machine of questionable legality and limitless expansion.

    Many civil libertarians and human rights experts disdain claims by Brennan and others that the drone program has become increasingly transparent, noting that the administration has yet to provide even minimal details about targeting decisions or to take responsibility for the vast majority of attacks.

    “For more than two years, senior officials have been making claims about the program both on the record and off. They’ve claimed that the program is effective, lawful and closely supervised,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said last month in appealing repeated court refusals to force the administration to release more information.

    Some critics have described it as immoral, rejecting the administration’s claims that few civilians have been among the nearly 3,000 people estimated to have been killed in drone attacks. There is ample evidence in Pakistan that the more than 300 strikes launched under Obama have helped turn the vast majority of the population vehemently against the United States.

    None of the United States’ chief allies has publicly supported the targeted killings; many of them privately question the administration’s claim that it comports with international law and worry about the precedent it sets for others who inevitably will acquire the same technology.

    To the extent that it aspires to make the program’s standards and processes more visible, the playbook has been a source of friction inside the administration. “Other than the State Department, there are not a lot of advocates for transparency,” one official said. Some officials expressed concern that the playbook has become a “default” option for counterterrorism.

    The CIA, which declined to comment for this article, is said to oppose codifying procedures that might lock it into roles it cannot expand or maneuver around in the future. Directors at most national security agencies agree on targeting rules that are already in place, an official close to Brennan said. But “when it’s written down on paper, institutions may look at it in a different way.”

    The CIA, which is preparing a proposal to increase its drone fleet, considers Brennan “a rein, a constrainer. He is using his intimate knowledge of intelligence and the process to pick apart their arguments that might be expansionary,” a senior official outside the White House said.

    Two administration officials said that CIA drones were responsible for two of the most controversial attacks in Yemen in 2011 — one that killed American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a prominent figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and a second a few days later that killed his 16-year-old son, also an American citizen. One of the officials called the second attack “an outrageous mistake. . . . They were going after the guy sitting next to him.”

    Both operations remain secret and unacknowledged, because of what officials said were covert-
    action rules that tied their hands when it came to providing information.

    Some intelligence officials said Brennan has made little substantive effort to shift more responsibility to the military. But Brennan and others described a future in which the CIA is eased out of the clandestine-killing business, and said the process will become more transparent under Defense Department oversight and disclosure rules.

    “Deniable missions” are not the military norm, one official said.

    Said Brennan: “I think the president always needs the ability to do things under his chief executive powers and authorities, to include covert action.” But, he added, “I think the rule should be that if we’re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that.”

    One official said that “for a guy whose reputation is focused on how tough he is on counterterrorism,” Brennan is “more focused than anybody in the government on the legal, ethical and transparency questions associated with all this.” By drawing so much decision-making directly into his own office, said another, he has “forced a much better process at the CIA and the Defense Department.”

    Even if Obama is reelected, Brennan may not stay for another term. That means someone else is likely to be interpreting his playbook.

    “Do I want this system to last forever?” a senior official said. “No. Do I think it’s the best system for now? Yes.”

    “What is scary,” he concluded, “is the apparatus set up without John to run it.”

    Greg Miller and Julie Tate contributed to this report.


  39. Remote U.S. base at core of secret operations

    By Craig Whitlock, Published: October 26

    This is the third of three articles.

    DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti — Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at a U.S. military base here, the combat hub for the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

    Some of the unmanned aircraft are bound for Somalia, the collapsed state whose border lies just 10 miles to the southeast. Most of the armed drones, however, veer north across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, another unstable country where they are being used in an increasingly deadly war with an al-Qaeda franchise that has targeted the United States.

    Camp Lemonnier, a sun-baked Third World outpost established by the French Foreign Legion, began as a temporary staging ground for U.S. Marines looking for a foothold in the region a decade ago. Over the past two years, the U.S. military has clandestinely transformed it into the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone, a model for fighting a new generation of terrorist groups.

    The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program. Behind closed doors, painstaking debates precede each decision to place an individual in the cross hairs of the United States’ perpetual war against al-Qaeda and its allies.

    Increasingly, the orders to find, track or kill those people are delivered to Camp Lemonnier. Virtually the entire 500-acre camp is dedicated to counterterrorism, making it the only installation of its kind in the Pentagon’s global network of bases.

    Secrecy blankets most of the camp’s activities. The U.S. military rejected requests from The Washington Post to tour Lemonnier last month. Officials cited “operational security concerns,” although they have permitted journalists to visit in the past.

    After a Post reporter showed up in Djibouti uninvited, the camp’s highest-ranking commander consented to an interview — on the condition that it take place away from the base, at Djibouti’s lone luxury hotel. The commander, Army Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, answered some general queries but declined to comment on drone operations or missions related to Somalia or Yemen.

    Despite the secrecy, thousands of pages of military records obtained by The Post — including construction blueprints, drone accident reports and internal planning memos — open a revealing window into Camp Lemonnier. None of the documents is classified and many were acquired via public-records requests.

    Taken together, the previously undisclosed documents show how the Djibouti-based drone wars sharply escalated early last year after eight Predators arrived at Lemonnier. The records also chronicle the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to further intensify drone operations here in the coming months.

    The documents point to the central role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which President Obama has repeatedly relied on to execute the nation’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions.

    About 300 Special Operations personnel plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire. Most of the commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.

    Other counterterrorism work at Lemonnier is more overt. All told, about 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp, where they train foreign militaries, gather intelligence and dole out humanitarian aid across East Africa as part of a campaign to prevent extremists from taking root.

    In Washington, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps to sustain the drone campaign for another decade, developing an elaborate new targeting database, called the “disposition matrix,” and a classified “playbook” to spell out how decisions on targeted killing are made.

    Djibouti is the clearest example of how the United States is laying the groundwork to carry out these operations overseas. For the past decade, the Pentagon has labeled Lemonnier an “expeditionary,” or temporary, camp. But it is now hardening into the U.S. military’s first permanent drone war base.

    Centerpiece base

    In August, the Defense Department delivered a master plan to Congress detailing how the camp will be used over the next quarter-century. About $1.4 billion in construction projects are on the drawing board, including a huge new compound that could house up to 1,100 Special Operations forces, more than triple the current number.

    Drones will continue to be in the forefront. In response to written questions from The Post, the U.S. military confirmed publicly for the first time the presence of remotely piloted aircraft — military parlance for drones — at Camp Lemonnier and said they support “a wide variety of regional security missions.”

    Intelligence collected from drone and other surveillance missions “is used to develop a full picture of the activities of violent extremist organizations and other activities of interest,” Africa Command, the arm of the U.S. military that oversees the camp, said in a statement. “However, operational security considerations prevent us from commenting on specific missions.”

    For nearly a decade, the United States flew drones from Lemonnier only rarely, starting with a 2002 strike in Yemen that killed a suspected ringleader of the attack on the USS Cole.

    That swiftly changed in 2010, however, after al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen attempted to bomb two U.S.-bound airliners and jihadists in Somalia separately consolidated their hold on that country. Late that year, records show, the Pentagon dispatched eight unmanned MQ-1B Predator aircraft to Djibouti and turned Lemonnier into a full-time drone base.

    The impact was apparent months later: JSOC drones from Djibouti and CIA Predators from a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula converged over Yemen and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and prominent al-Qaeda member.

    Today, Camp Lemonnier is the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases in Africa, created to combat a new generation of terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic. The U.S. military also flies drones from small civilian airports in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, but those operations pale in comparison to what is unfolding in Djibouti.

    Lemonnier also has become a hub for conventional aircraft. In October 2011, the military boosted the airpower at the base by deploying a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, which can fly faster and carry more munitions than Predators.

    In its written responses, Africa Command confirmed the warplanes’ presence but declined to answer questions about their mission. Two former U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-15s are flying combat sorties over Yemen, an undeclared development in the growing war against al-Qaeda forces there.

    The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared.

    Since January 2011, Air Force records show, five Predators armed with Hellfire missiles crashed after taking off from Lemonnier, including one drone that plummeted to the ground in a residential area of Djibouti City. No injuries were reported but four of the drones were destroyed.

    Predator drones in particular are more prone to mishaps than manned aircraft, Air Force statistics show. But the accidents rarely draw public attention because there are no pilots or passengers.

    As the pace of drone operations has intensified in Djibouti, Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire.

    In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.

    “After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”

    Prime location

    Djibouti is an impoverished former French colony with fewer than 1 million people, scarce natural resources and miserably hot weather.

    But as far as the U.S. military is concerned, the country’s strategic value is unparalleled. Sandwiched between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Camp Lemonnier enables U.S. aircraft to reach hot spots such as Yemen or Somalia in minutes. Djibouti’s port also offers easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

    “This is not an outpost in the middle of nowhere that is of marginal interest,” said Amanda J. Dory, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa. “This is a very important location in terms of U.S. interests, in terms of freedom of navigation, when it comes to power projection.”

    The U.S. military pays $38 million a year to lease Camp Lemonnier from the Djiboutian government. The base rolls across flat, sandy terrain on the edge of Djibouti City, a somnolent capital with eerily empty streets. During the day, many people stay indoors to avoid the heat and to chew khat, a mildly intoxicating plant that is popular in the region.

    Hemmed in by the sea and residential areas, Camp Lemonnier’s primary shortcoming is that it has no space to expand. It is forced to share a single runway with Djibouti’s only international airport, as well as an adjoining French military base and the tiny Djiboutian armed forces.

    Passengers arriving on commercial flights — there are about eight per day — can occasionally spy a Predator drone preparing for a mission. In between flights, the unmanned aircraft park under portable, fabric-covered hangars to shield them from the wind and curious eyes.

    Behind the perimeter fence, construction crews are rebuilding the base to better accommodate the influx of drones. Glimpses of the secret operations can be found in an assortment of little-noticed Pentagon memoranda submitted to Congress.

    Last month, for example, the Defense Department awarded a $62 million contract to build an airport taxiway extension to handle increased drone traffic at Lemonnier, an ammunition storage site and a combat-loading area for bombs and missiles.

    In an Aug. 20 letter to Congress explaining the emergency contract, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that 16 drones and four fighter jets take off or land at the Djibouti airfield each day, on average. Those operations are expected to increase, he added, without giving details.

    In a separate letter to Congress, Carter said Camp Lemonnier is running out of space to park its drones, which he referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and other planes. “The recent addition of fighters and RPAs has exacerbated the situation, causing mission delays,” he said.

    Carter’s letters revealed that the drones and fighter aircraft at the base support three classified military operations, code-named Copper Dune, Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield.

    Copper Dune is the name of the military’s counterterrorism operations in Yemen. Africa Command said it could not provide information about Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield, citing secrecy restrictions. The code names are unclassified.

    The military often assigns similar names to related missions. Octave Fusion was the code name for a Navy SEAL-led operation in Somalia that rescued an American and a Danish hostage on Jan. 24.

    Spilled secrets

    Another window into the Djibouti drone operations can be found in U.S. Air Force safety records.

    Whenever a military aircraft is involved in a mishap, the Air Force appoints an Accident Investigation Board to determine the cause. Although the reports focus on technical questions, supplementary documents make it possible to re-create a narrative of what happened in the hours leading up to a crash.

    Air Force officers investigating the crash of a Predator on May 17, 2011, found that things started to go awry at Camp Lemonnier late that night when a man known as Frog emerged from the Special Operations compound.

    The camp’s main power supply had failed and the phone lines were down. So Frog walked over to the flight line to deliver some important news to the Predator ground crew on duty, according to the investigators’ files, which were obtained by The Post as part of a public-records request.

    “Frog” was the alias chosen by a major assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command. At Lemonnier, he belonged to a special collection of Navy SEALs, Delta Force soldiers, Air Force commandos and Marines known simply as “the task force.”

    JSOC commandos spend their days and nights inside their compound as they plot raids against terrorist camps and pirate hideouts. Everybody on the base is aware of what they do, but the topic is taboo. “I can’t acknowledge the task force,” said Baker, the Army general and highest-ranking commander at Lemonnier.

    Frog coordinated Predator hunts. He did not reveal his real name to anyone without a need to know, not even the ground-crew supervisors and operators and mechanics who cared for the Predators. The only contact came when Frog or his friends occasionally called from their compound to say it was time to ready a drone for takeoff or to prepare for a landing.

    Information about each Predator mission was kept so tightly compartmentalized that the ground crews were ignorant of the drones’ targets and destinations. All they knew was that most of their Predators eventually came back, usually 20 or 22 hours later, earlier if something went awry.

    On this particular night, Frog informed the crew that his Predator was returning unexpectedly, 17 hours into the flight, because of a slow oil leak.

    It was not an emergency. But as the drone descended toward Djibouti City it entered a low-hanging cloud that obscured its camera sensor. Making matters worse, the GPS malfunctioned and gave incorrect altitude readings.

    The crew operating the drone was flying blind. It guided the Predator on a “dangerously low glidepath,” Air Force investigators concluded, and crashed the remote-controlled plane 2.7 miles short of the runway.

    The site was in a residential area and fire trucks rushed to the scene. The drone had crashed in a vacant lot and its single Hellfire missile had not detonated.

    The Predator splintered apart and was a total loss. With a $3 million price tag, it had cost less than one-tenth the price of an F-15 Strike Eagle.

    But in terms of spilling secrets, the damage was severe. Word spread quickly about the mysterious insect-shaped plane that had dropped from the sky. Hundreds of Djiboutians gathered and gawked at the wreckage for hours until the U.S. military arrived to retrieve the pieces.

    One secret that survived, however, was Frog’s identity. The official Air Force panel assigned to investigate the Predator accident couldn’t determine his real name, much less track him down for questioning.

    “Who is Frog?” one investigator demanded weeks later while interrogating a ground crew member, according to a transcript. “I’m sorry, I was just getting more explanation as to who Frog — is that a person? Or is that like a position?”

    The crew member explained that Frog was a liaison officer from the task force. “He’s a Pred guy,” he shrugged. “I actually don’t know his last name.”

    The accident triggered alarms at the upper echelons of the Air Force because it was the fourth drone in four months from Camp Lemonnier to crash.

    Ten days earlier, on May 7, 2011, a drone carrying a Hellfire missile had an electrical malfunction shortly after it entered Yemeni airspace, according to an Air Force investigative report. The Predator turned back toward Djibouti. About one mile offshore, it rolled uncontrollably to the right, then back to the left before flipping belly up and hurtling into the sea.

    “I’ve never seen a Predator do that before in my life, except in videos of other crashes,” a sensor operator from the ground crew told investigators, according to a transcript. “I’m just glad we landed it in the ocean and not someplace else.”

    Flying every sortie

    The remote-control drones in Djibouti are flown, via satellite link, by pilots 8,000 miles away in the United States, sitting at consoles in air-conditioned quarters at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

    At Camp Lemonnier, conditions are much less pleasant for the Air Force ground crews that launch, recover and fix the drones.

    In late 2010, after military cargo planes transported the fleet of eight Predators to Djibouti, airmen from the 60th Air Force Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron unpacked the drones from their crates and assembled them.

    Soon after, without warning, a microburst storm with 80-mph winds struck the camp.

    The 87-member squadron scrambled to secure the Predators and other exposed aircraft. They managed to save more than half of the “high-value, Remotely Piloted Aircraft assets from destruction, and most importantly, prevented injury and any loss of life,” according to a brief account published in Combat Edge, an Air Force safety magazine.

    Even normal weather conditions could be brutal, with summertime temperatures reaching 120 degrees on top of 80 percent humidity.

    “Our war reserve air conditioners literally short-circuited in the vain attempt to cool the tents in which we worked,” recalled Lt. Col. Thomas McCurley, the squadron commander. “Our small group of security forces personnel guarded the compound, flight line and other allied assets at posts exposed to the elements with no air conditioning at all.”

    McCurley’s rare public account of the squadron’s activities came in June, when the Air Force awarded him a Bronze Star. At the ceremony, he avoided any explicit mention of the Predators or Camp Lemonnier. But his narrative matched what is known about the squadron’s deployment to Djibouti.

    “Our greatest accomplishment was that we flew every single sortie the Air Force asked us to fly, despite the challenges we encountered,” he said. “We were an integral part in taking down some very important targets, which means a lot to me.”

    He did not mention it, but the unit had gotten into the spirit of its mission by designing a uniform patch emblazoned with a skull, crossbones and a suitable nickname: “East Africa Air Pirates.”

    The Air Force denied a request from The Post to interview McCurley.

    Increased traffic

    The frequency of U.S. military flights from Djibouti has soared, overwhelming air-traffic controllers and making the skies more dangerous.

    The number of takeoffs and landings each month has more than doubled, reaching a peak of 1,666 in July compared with a monthly average of 768 two years ago, according to air-traffic statistics disclosed in Defense Department contracting documents.

    Drones now account for about 30 percent of daily U.S. military flight operations at Lemonnier, according to a Post analysis.

    The increased activity has meant more mishaps. Last year, drones were involved in “a string of near mid-air collisions” with NATO planes off the Horn of Africa, according to a brief safety alert published in Combat Edge magazine.

    Drones also pose an aviation risk next door in Somalia. Over the past year, remote-controlled aircraft have plunged into a refugee camp, flown perilously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital, according to a United Nations report.

    Manned planes are crashing, too. An Air Force U-28A surveillance plane crashed five miles from Camp Lemonnier while returning from a secret mission on Feb. 18, killing the four-person crew. An Air Force investigation attributed the accident to “unrecognized spatial disorientation” on the part of the crew, which ignored sensor warnings that it was flying too close to the ground.

    Baker, the two-star commander at Lemonnier, played down the crashes and near-misses. He said safety had improved since he arrived in Djibouti in May.

    “We’ve dramatically reduced any incidents of concern, certainly since I’ve been here,” he said.

    Last month, the Defense Department awarded a $7 million contract to retrain beleaguered air-traffic controllers at Ambouli International Airport and improve their English skills.

    The Djiboutian controllers handle all civilian and U.S. military aircraft. But they are “undermanned” and “over tasked due to the recent rapid increase in U.S. military flights,” according to the contract. It also states that the controllers and the airport are not in compliance with international aviation standards.

    Resolving those deficiencies may not be sufficient. Records show the U.S. military is also scrambling for an alternative place for its planes to land in an emergency.

    Last month, it awarded a contract to install portable lighting at the only backup site available: a tiny, makeshift airstrip in the Djiboutian desert, several miles from Lemonnier.


  40. The Targeted-Killing Czar’s Powerful Case Against the Drone War
    By Conor Friedersdorf

    John Brennan has more control over who appears on the kill lists than anyone save President Obama. And even he thinks the CIA can’t be trusted.

    In Djibouti, a small East African country on the Gulf of Aden, the United States launches killer drones that strike in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. Last spring, as one of the drones sat on a runway, it suddenly came alive “without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed,” the Washington Post reports. “Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the ‘brains’ of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.” It’s an anecdote that underscores how easily things can go wrong as America rapidly expands drone fleets and missions. It isn’t just that drones are frequently crashing, sometimes on urban neighborhoods in the part of the world where John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, says that he’s been most successful controlling the unmanned program. It’s that a drone there isn’t or wasn’t entirely under the control of its minders!

    With that in mind, let’s turn to Pakistan, where America has carried out more drone strikes than anywhere else. Remarkably, the man who has more power than anyone save Obama over America’s kill list has unwittingly made an air-tight argument that the drone war, as presently waged, is deeply problematic. That’s what I gleaned from a close reading of the three-part Washington Post series on kill lists, which quotes Brennan and others familiar with his thinking at length.

    Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency.

    So Brennan believes CIA drone strikes lack sufficient transparency. In addition:
    There are many associates who use the words “moral compass” to describe his role in the White House. It is Brennan, they say, who questions the justification for each drone attack, who often dials back what he considers excessive zeal by the CIA and the military, and who stands up for diplomatic and economic assistance components in the overall strategy. Brennan’s bedrock belief in a “just war,” they said, is tempered by his deep knowledge of the Middle East, Islam and the CIA, and the critical thinking forged during a classic Jesuit education.

    So Brennan regularly deems the CIA too eager to kill.

    But at least he’s always there to rein them in, right?


    Unlike in Yemen, where the Obama Administration built “its own counterterrorism infrastructure,” the Pakistani drone program “was always considered an initiative of the previous administration,” Karen DeYoung writes, providing context for this noteworthy passage:

    Eventually, Obama and Brennan decided the program was getting out of hand. High-value targets were becoming elusive, accusations of civilian deaths were rising, and strikes were increasingly directed toward what the angry Pakistanis called mere “foot soldiers.” But with Pakistan’s adamant refusal to allow U.S. military operations on its soil, taking what was considered a highly successful program out of CIA hands was viewed as counterproductive and too complicated. Although CIA strikes in other countries and military strikes outside Afghanistan require Obama’s approval, the agency has standing permission to attack targets on an approved list in Pakistan without asking the White House.

    As is clear from other reporting, some or all of these are “signature strikes,” in which the CIA doesn’t itself know the identities of the people that it is killing with Hellfire missiles shot from the sky.

    Let’s review. According to Brennan, transparency concerns alone suggest that the military rather than the CIA should wage America’s drone war. In addition, the CIA is so zealous about lethal drone strikes that Brennan regularly reins them in when he reviews their kill wish list. But the CIA is nevertheless permitted to operate without White House oversight in Pakistan.

    The program is imprudent by the logic of the most senior counterterrorism adviser in America! He agrees with several of the most significant critiques that Obama Administration critics set forth! As if the passages above leave any doubt about it, the Washington Post series also includes this:

    Some intelligence officials said Brennan has made little substantive effort to shift more responsibility to the military. But Brennan and others described a future in which the CIA is eased out of the clandestine-killing business, and said the process will become more transparent under Defense Department oversight and disclosure rules. Said Brennan: “I think the president always needs the ability to do things under his chief executive powers and authorities, to include covert action.” But, he added, “I think the rule should be that if we’re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that.”

    This is a guy who is universally considered to be Obama’s most trusted adviser on counterterrorism, and particularly drone strikes. He is privy to all of the intelligence. He is said to share the president’s thinking on these subjects more than anyone else. Ponder what it means that this man has reached the same judgment as every drone-war critic that shouts about how America’s targeted killing program is overzealous, excessively secretive, and unaccountable. Even the man with more power over it than any other fears the parts beyond his control.

    Others apparently agree:
    “Do I want this system to last forever?” a senior official said. “No. Do I think it’s the best system for now? Yes.”

    “What is scary,” he concluded, “is the apparatus set up without John to run it.”

    In other news, “Republican Mitt Romney has edged ahead of President Obama in the new Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, with the challenger winning 50 percent of likely voters for the first time in the campaign.” And “even if Obama is reelected, Brennan may not stay for another term.”
    This article available online at:

    Copyright © 2012 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.


  41. No letup
    The Frontier Post : Posted on October 25, 2012

    What of the anti-drone marches and the establishment’s protests? There is no letup whatsoever in the US drone attacks on our tribal areas. Just within days, they struck again on Wednesday in the North Waziristan Agency, killing three persons and wounding many more. And there is no possibility either if there will be an end to this CIA drone adventurism in Pakistan in any foreseeable future, even if Mitt Romany, the Republican presidential challenger, makes to the White House.

    In Monday’s foreign policy debate with President Barack Obama, he made unambiguously clear that he would keep up with the incumbent’s policy of drone incursions. Indeed, in view of the CIA’s reported plans to beef up its drones fleet heftily, there is every chance that in the coming times these assaults on our territory would be further stepped up, not slowed down.

    And it would be very unwise on the part of the Islamabad establishment not to still come fully alive to the dire repercussions this US drone adventurism holds for our national cohesion, solidarity and unity. Although the American warlords persist in their ruse that they kill only the militants and whatever the collateral damage that is only minimal, the human rights community worldwide is in a shrill that they are being untruthful.

    Only a few high-value militants are killed while the innocent civilians are being mowed down mostly and this tragic loss is intolerably colossal, scream the activists on the basis of objective surveys they have carried out. And it is not just the UN rights workers who have joined in their cacophony. Even the American university researchers have spoken up. And their take is indeed very devastating. As against a couple of high-value militants, civilians in two digits are killed in the drone strikes, they have concluded.

    The Islamabad establishment should not underestimate the dire negative impact of this civilian holocaust on our national solidarity, particularly so when the general impression, which indeed is not so wrong, is that our leadership across the spectrum is very much on board of this US adventurism. It must know, for one thing, that the people not just in the tribal areas but in rest of the country are convinced in their minds that the anti-drone-incursion noises that our leaders, both civilians and military, raise are only for public consumption, not meant really.

    And it is not just the WikiLeaks revealing US diplomatic cables and the official leaks in the American media that have convinced them of this. They are no lesser driven to this belief by the freedom the drones enjoy to operate in our airspace to carry out their assaults. The common reasoning goes that if the leadership across the spectrum is not colluding in this adventurism, how comes the drones conduct their attacks on our territory without being intercepted or challenged. This belief has further been reinforced by the military voices often heard that our air force does have the capability to shoot down the intruding drones but consent is needed for this from the political leadership.

    Secondly, nobody in the establishment must live under the illusion that the killing of our civilians in the drone attacks carries no consequences. It does, and very much. Not only the aggrieved families feel the pangs of the loss of life or limb of their loved ones. They also are outraged and get angry at this holocaust. And if someone in the establishment thinks that this anger is directed against the Americans alone, he is badly mistaken. It is as much directed against the Pakistani State, to the great woe of our national solidarity and integrity.

    And if someone in the establishment wants to have an inkling of it, he is only to view how hostilely are the residents of North Waziristan reacting to mere reports that our military is about to launch an operation in the agency. They are threatening to migrate en masse to Afghanistan, even to seek the support of the Afghan government to cope up with that eventuality. And this is the tribal agency where the residents are bearing almost all the brunt of the US drone adventurism and living under the constant fear of incursions fatally. The amount of their combustibility against the Pakistani State can be well imagined.

    Given this, the establishment must think hard how to dissuade the American warlords away from this drone adventurism in our territory and explore the viable alternatives to decimate the terrorists who pose no lesser an existential threat to us.


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