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Entries in terrorism (31)

12:01AM

Chart of the Day: Somali piracy = sole rise in global piracy

WSJ story where chart caught my eye:  pull out the Somali bump-up and the rest of global piracy is basically flat from 2005 through 2009.  Because of Somali pirates, the total number of attacks has been increase by about 50%, meaning Somalia alone now accounts for roughly one-third.

The twist:  al Shabaab, the youth militant successor to the Islamic Courts Union (kicked out of Mogadishu by the Ethiopian military three years ago) used to just tax the pirates, but now it fields its own boats and speaks of "sea jihad." This is viewed primarily as a revenue-raising effort, because few American-flagged ships pass by there (Maersk Alabama was a relatively rare passage).  And with average ransoms paid now up to $2m (double the average of last year).

The good news?  The booming market for pirates suffers a talent dearth, as multinational navy response officers are noticing a steep decline in proficiency.

12:06AM

Al Shabaab branching out

Although al Qaeda made more than a few threats and feints in the direction of the World Cup in South Africa, prompting all sorts of warnings from friends about my traveling there for the Global Forum, all the group could manage was a soft-target attack in Uganda, not all that far from where I ended up traveling with Vonne a couple of weeks earlier in southern Ethiopia next door.

At once, it's unimpressive and troubling, because it suggests the usual regionalization strategy of somebody looking to internationalize their domestic fight--al Shabaab controls the southern quarter of Somalia but can't seem to expand that control.  One way to overcome such resistance or lack of success is to plunge the country into worse violence as a result of intervening troops.  Another way is to push those troops out, like Uganda's African Union peacekeepers.  By bombing soft targets in Kampala, al Shabaab gets it both ways:  trying to intimidate Uganda into leaving and trying to create enough fear in the West to go back to Somalia.  For now, it's a fat chance on both.

Most of the reporting on these strikes highlights the "new" linkages between al Shabaab and AQ, but they've been there all along, by most expert accounts, in that usual fellow-traveling way.

All this goes back to a long-standing prediction of mine (in all three trilogy books):  as you squeeze AQ with failure in the Persian Gulf, it can go NE into Central Asia or SW into Africa. More regional powers up north willing to fight to stop that than in the south, so the path of least resistance in through the Horn.  

Back to my "Americans Have Landed Piece" logic, this is why we set up Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in the first place, and ultimately, it's why we set up AFRICOM in a strategic flanking maneuver, just like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was set up by China and Russia in a pre-emptive fashion before even 9/11--same geostrategic instinct.

Point of this story being, expect more of the same over time.  Our hope is that we strengthen local security to handle it just well enough, and their hope is a direct fight.

12:02AM

Saudis success rate at militant rehabilitation? About 90% normally, dropping to 80% with the toughest cases.

Reuters by way of Michael Smith, who I know wants me to focus on the 20% versus the 80%:

Around 25 former detainees from Guantanamo Bay camp returned to militancy after going through a rehabilitation program for al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi security official said on Saturday.

The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a "war on terror" following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has put the returned prisoners along with other al Qaeda suspects through a rehabilitation program which includes religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life.

The scheme, which some 300 extremists have attended, is part of anti-terrorism efforts after al Qaeda staged attacks inside the kingdom from 2003-06. These were halted after scores of suspects were arrested with the help of foreign experts.

Around 11 Saudis from Guantanamo have gone to Yemen, an operating base for al Qaeda, while others have been jailed again or killed after attending the program, said Abdulrahman al-Hadlaq, Director General of the General Administration for Intellectual Security overseeing the rehabilitation.

He pinpointed strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent of other participants in the rehabilitation program.

But honestly, I read the piece and I have to agree with the Saudis calling the program "a success," a claim pretty much mocked throughout the US press.  We're talking probably the most committed (the ones we went after) and the ones with the biggest resulting gripes (time in Guantanamo) and the Saudis still got 4 out of every 5 to walk away from the cause?  To me, that's a pretty amazing success rate.  Good God, I'd take that for the average American convict (more like half go right back to crime once out of prison), so I guess I don't see where we get off pointing fingers on this one.

I think we're awfully unrealistic on this score (indeed, one version of this story in NY state proclaimed that "scores" of Saudi terrorists were back at work, because apparently 25 equals "scores").  Any program that sidelines 90% of a population (only those returned by America scored a mere 80%, as the Saudi standard is 9 out of 10 successfully rehabilitated) has to be deemed a serious success.  I doubt we get that share in most of our efforts in Af-Pak right now, so retract the finger!

12:02AM

Foot-and-mouth threatens Japan's cattle industry

NYT story on foot-and-mouth (called hoof-and-mouth where I came from) outbreak in Japan threatening to tank it's prized beef industry.

The fear is legitimate.  Similar thing happened with mad cow in the US in the early part of last decade and our beef exports dropped dramatically overnight, and still haven't totally recovered--last time I checked.

You see the rising networks and the incredibly vulnerability and you think, this is where terrorism will go in this century.

12:10AM

The IED killer we've been waiting on?

USA Today article with very good news:  “The military has developed technology that uses a high-tech beam to detonate hidden IEDs . . ..”

The only downside: it seems to operate on a wide space, revealing the bombs in the process and—under the right conditions—puts locals in danger IF they’re not forewarned about such countering operations (you know, a blaring voice in the local language announcing that in the next five minutes, everybody should stay clear of roads).

US Marine Corps general James Mattis says, “This is an offensive capability that will change the face of this war.”

I wouldn’t call it “offensive” but resiliently defensive—in effect, we tell the enemy, “All your long and hard and stealthy work gets negated by the flip of our switch, meaning you kill nobody in the process.”

But the “offensive” part comes in the beam’ ability to trigger IEDs while insurgents/terrorists are potentially carrying them or even when they’re under construction.

Mattis advocates putting the technology on aircraft (presumably drones too) and having them sweep areas proactively.

Naturally, the Pentagon announces the capability while providing no details, as countering tactics will invariably ensue.  To what effect?  We shall see.

But this is indeed good news and a development that bears close watching.

The Office of Naval Research is credited with the development.

12:10AM

The Politics Blog: 5 Things You Didn't Know About the Next Al Qaeda

Two Jersey boys by the names of Carlos Eduardo Almonte and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa were arrested over the weekend at JFK Airport as they sought to begin their jihadist pilgrimage to Somalia via Cairo. Before getting on the plane, they had dutifully lifted weights, played paintball, and — unfortunately for them — unwittingly bragged to the Feds about their dreams of killing Americans. Their training was to be completed by al Shabaab, the infamous hardcore "youth" militia that owns south-central Somalia. Because al Shabaab made our State Department's terrorist organization list in 2008, these lost boys face enough "conspiring to..." terror charges to land them in jail for the rest of their lives.

Setting aside your natural fears that America is suddenly crawling with any number of Islamic sleepers, here's five things you should know about al Shabaab.

Read the full post at Esquire.com's The Politics Blog.

NOTE:  Got this assignment Monday morning as I flew out to Baltimore.  Vonne pushed cites to me, and I wrote it on my laptop while sitting alongside the Pentagon on a beautiful sunny day.  Sent it off that night and it went up yesterday morning, while my travels continued.

12:07AM

The ally we rely upon to save our bacon in Afghanistan

NYT story about Pakistan's vibrant and debilitating conspiracy culture.

America competes with India and Israel as the source of all perceived woes and indignities and injustices in Pakistan--in addition to the wider Muslim world.

This is the country we're betting on to make our withdrawal from Afghanistan work.

Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association here in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.”

That is seriously infantile thinking from a group one would assume represents the best thought leadership in the country.

But it appears to be perfectly acceptable public dialogue inside Pakistan.

“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.

The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.

The crux of the problem:

It does not help that no part of the Pakistani state — either the weak civilian government or the powerful military — is willing to risk publicly owning that relationship.

One result is that nearly all of American policy toward Pakistan is conducted in secret, a fact that serves only to further feed conspiracies. American military leaders slip quietly in and out of the capital; the Pentagon uses networks of private spies; and the main tool of American policy here, the drone program, is not even publicly acknowledged to exist.

The sad truth is that we are limited in our interactions with Pakistan to the tools and methods employed by that regime in its governance of the country.

The alternative is India, which has its own psychological peculiarities, like any long-abused colony.

But there are nothing in comparison, and virtually all of India's internal evolutions are trending in the right direction--unlike Pakistan, which seems to be regressing by the day (despite its bright future of just a few years ago).  Some of that dynamic, stretching back decades now, can certainly be blamed upon the United States.

But it would appear that we are past the point of reason with this "ally."

12:07AM

AQIM as an organizing principle for West African security cooperation

Theme of mine going back to Blueprint: You squeeze al-Qaeda out of the Middle East progressively (thanks in large part to the middle-aging of the population and globalization's penetration and whatever success in democratization out of the Big Bang beyond Iraq) and it naturally gravitates in two directions (paths of least resistance--namely to the NE and Central Asia via Af-Pak or to Africa.  These two regions provide the bulk of Paul Collier's "bottom billion," and many are, in my vernacular, "fake states" created by outsiders (Europeans in Africa, Brits and Stalin in SW/Central Asia).

So you get two similar strategic flanking maneuvers by great powers:  Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia (Russia and China lead) and America's Africom in Africa.

For a long time, even the precursor US effort in Africa (Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which I wrote about in Esquire (see "The Americans have landed")) was considered a bit of overkill.  Simply put, there weren't hardly any terrorists to work, outside of the foreign fighters in Somalia by way of Yemen.

This Economist article suggests that a critical mass is appearing in West Africa, or at least enough activity to become an organizing impetus for regional cooperation--naturally with Africom involved:

OPERATION Flintlock has begun. American special forces have been descending on Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal in a joint exercise, expected to last another week or so, to combat Islamist terrorism in the region. It is the latest stage of an evolving partnership between America and much of west Africa. Over several years, Americans have been training their counterparts in these countries in everything from marksmanship and parachuting to the more touchy-feely stuff of winning over hearts and minds.

When the Americans first started talking about al-Qaeda’s threat in the Sahara, many were sceptical. But a sharp increase in the rate of attacks in the past 18 months by what the jihadists call “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”, usually abbreviated to AQIM, have convinced even cynics that a threat of sorts does exist.

When AQIM emerged three years ago out of a ruthless Algerian guerrilla outfit called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, better known by its French abbreviation GSPC, it seemed intent on uniting north African jihadists to wage war on Europe. It has largely failed on that score, having been squeezed by Algeria’s security forces, who have broken up many of its cells. Instead, the group is now concentrating on softer targets in a belt of countries farther south.

Armies in the Sahel, that wide stretch of land just south of the Sahara, have increasingly often clashed with Islamist fighters.

A lot of AQIM activity is typically banal, as in, kidnapping Westerners for ransom (not exactly a new trick for the neighborhood), so we already see some obvious devolution into organized crime.  Then there's the usual drug trade.

What AQIM brings to the table beyond criminality is the playing on local grievances (there is never a shortage of causes "celebre").

To be monitored.

12:07AM

We will be played for fools by Pakistan--and by China by extension

From a WAPO article: 

A man who guided Shahzad from Karachi to the country's northwest, Pakistani officials say, was arrested this week at the mosque, which is affiliated with Jaish-i-Muhammad. The al-Qaeda-linked group is one in a mosaic of domestic jihadist organizations that were created or cultivated by Pakistan's intelligence services to antagonize Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir but have gone increasingly rogue.

U.S. officials say they are worried about these militant groups based in Punjab province, many of which are banned but still operate freely. The most prominent among them is Lashkar-i-Taiba, suspected in a deadly 2008 siege in Mumbai. The group has changed its legal name, but its leaders remain free.

Some elements in Pakistan's security establishment continue to view such groups as assets against India, and Punjabi politicians court them for political support. It is uncertain whether Pakistan would take aggressive action against the organizations, even if they are found to be definitively connected to the Times Square bombing attempt.

We are being held hostage to this fight.

And given the choices, why note choose India and force China to step up more and deal with Af-Pakistan?  Or should we fund all the security (or lack thereof) and let China build the ports and dig the mines?

12:05AM

The "what if?" counterfactual on the Times Square bombing

Mohammad al-Corey Feldman, according to Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update"; a "clean skin" according to AG Eric Holder. 

The bomb-training unit that supposedly prepped Faisal Shahzad was previously targeted by CIA drones, so there's that sense of payback.

The counterfactual to consider:  What happens if a max death count ensues?  Say, maybe a couple hundred bodies?

Well, first off, Obama is mercilessly targeted by the GOP in the usual, turnabout-is-fair-play mode.

Second, the Obama administration is required to make a big show of bombing the hell out of the direct links back in Pakistan.

Third, the US puts on a big show of calling Pakistan on the carpet.

Fourth, the US announces some sort of strategic review of our approach to NW Pakistan.

Fifth, we move according to the decisions of that review, and Pakistan counters with its own charges, moves, and diplomacy--likely to involve the Chinese?

Put the death total at a lot higher (better, bigger bomb and it works) and you just turbocharge that whole process.

But when the event fails, everybody breathes a sigh of relief--especially the Chinese!

And yet, if we move into the many-and-small-attacks world, every once in a while they will be successful, and so we'll need to get used to that, and develop some sense of proportional response that doesn't unduly freak out ourselves, the host nation, or its allies.

9:00AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Missing Links Between the Times Square Bomber and Pakistan, Connected

My first post to Esquire's group blog.

As useful idiots go, Faisal Shahzad is proving himself in all directions: the naturalized terrorist who stirs up anti-immigrant fervor; the ex-pat who puts Pakistan back on America's hot seat, the screw-up bomber who almost escapes President Obama's grasp only to be Mirandized (the horror!) upon arrest, the sleeper jihadist who scores a global media bonanza for his handlers back in Waziristan (not a fake name), and the super-talkative detainee still spilling his guts to the G-Men. This numskull's got something for damn near everyone. Hell, I even feel sorry for BP, fortunate as it was to have 53 hours and 20 minutes of semi-relief from non-stop media glare.

Read the rest at Esquire.com's The Politics Blog.

 

I got the heads up last night around 6pm and turned 725 in around 9pm. Was feeling decidedly under the weather (allergens are death right now in Indy), which is why it took so long. Still, fun to be included in this new group blog at Esquire.

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