Monday, October 27, 2008 

Just another act of terrorist aggression.

Why is it that whenever the need to strike out against ones foes becomes paramount is it that those damn civilians always seem to get in the way? Another 7 civilians were slaughtered by the United States on Sunday, in what has hardly been unfairly described by the Syrians as an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression". Throughout the last couple of months more and more Predator air drones, piloted back in cosy United States control rooms, have brought swift death to the tribal areas of Pakistan, routinely killing civilians, as well as or instead of those that they were targeting. Now Syria has become the latest victim to start bleeding.

Reputedly aimed at killing Abu Ghadiya, an ISI operative smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, the images that flashed round the Middle East were undoubtedly those of the innocents caught in the crossfire, that the United States has typically made no comment on. The obvious question, like on the previous post, is why now? After all, while there once most certainly was problems along Syria's border, with foreign fighters able to more or less come and go as they pleased, not only have those wanting to fight their holy war instead increasingly plumped to go to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or one of the other theatres, abandoning Iraq as the "Islamic State" has been diminished, but Syria itself has clamped down on the practice, with even the Americans themselves admitting such. The intelligence this time round may well have been overwhelming, but has it not also been over the past 5 years, especially when disrupting the foreign fighters would have had far more of an impact?

For all the talk of legal justifications for the strike, there was just the one reason why this went ahead, just as it also the reason why the number of strikes within Pakistan has increased: both countries are becoming weaker, and while Pakistan is an ally and therefore unlikely to respond, Syria is simply unable to respond. Bashar al-Assad has faced one setback after another, with the loss of face increasing each time. While it is still disputed who killed Rafik Hariri, the withdrawal of the Syrian security apparatus from Lebanon was the undoubted result. Over the last few years, Syria's hosting of Hamas and Hizbullah and relationship with Iran has started to pall; being part of the second half of the "axis of evil" is taking its toll. Syria's hosting of the hundreds of thousands if not more Iraqi refugees has put serious constraints on the country's finances, further pushing it towards reconciliation with Israel and renewed although secret talks over the Golan Heights. The Israeli strike against the alleged nuclear facility, followed by the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, has only further pushed the state towards a deal and a form of peace. The implication that what could follow is attacks on fighters being trained in Iran is therefore wishful thinking, because Iran has both the means and will to respond, overwhelmingly

Sunday's strike will then hardly change anything in the long term as far as Syria itself is concerned. It would also be too nice to believe though that the outbreak of cross-border attacks is a symptom of the last days of the Bush adminstration. Even if we assume that Obama wins the presidency next Tuesday, there is little to suggest that he will order any drastic change in military policy, especially towards Pakistan, considering he has personally raised the spectre of increasing activity within that country. Pakistan itself is caught in the middle: looking for peace while knowing that any ceasefire is destined to be only temporary, with a foreign power that cares nothing for any internal deals and only for what might be being hatched in its autonomous regions. Whilst it may be that the US military is striking now before the change takes place as a contingency plan, there's more than a hint, as Juan Cole alludes to, of this being staged as a sop to McCain to show that Iraq is not over yet. There are also the domestic issues within Iraq itself to be considered, as a deal over keeping the US forces in the country post the end of the year continues to be fought over. A shot across the bows to suggest to the Iraqi politicians themselves that whatever they decide, the US will reserve the right, as ever, to do whatever the hell it pleases?

Whatever the case may be, innocents have once again been killed for no great reason. Again, for no great gain anti-Americanism has been inflamed. Again, those recruiting to extremist causes will be praising the actions of those that care only for the short-term. And no one has any hope that this will be anything like the end of it.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007 

Proving the raving lunatic right.

One thing we know for certain is that Ayman al-Zawahiri is a ranting demagogue, who like all religious extremists distorts and selectively quotes from his favoured text, justifying murder and violence along the way. One thing he isn't regarded as being is a soothsayer.

That though may be about to change. Last Friday, an audio-tape from everyone's favourite second-in-command of a terror "organisation" emerged from whichever cave it was recorded in, and he was quite clear on what's happening in Somalia:

While I am addressing you today, the Crusader invading Ethiopian forces are violating the Islamic land of dear Somalia. Moreover, the Security Council is plotting to approve this invasion by issuing its resolution to dispatch international forces to Somalia and by its failure to issue a resolution that calls for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces from Somalia. Here, I am urging the Islamic nation in Somalia to be steadfast in this new Crusader battlefield, which America, its allies, and the United Nations are waging against Islam and Muslims.


My Muslim brothers in Somalia: Do not be terrified by America's power as you have defeated it before, thanks to God and His grace.

Today, America is weaker than before as the mujahidin dealt a fatal blow to it in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence, it sent its slaves to you. Therefore, do not be affected by the first shock, it is just worthless propaganda, arrogance, and haughtiness. The real battle will begin by launching your campaigns against the Ethiopian forces with God's help and might. The faithful groups-- in their pursuit of death for the sake of God-- will devour the Crusader invading Ethiopian Army, which has launched an aggression against the lands of Islam, God willing.

Just to prove that this is entirely an internal matter in Africa, with Ethiopia having first moved its forces into Somalia back in July of last year and the Islamic Court Union formally declaring war on the 21st of December, followed by a hasty retreat which has turned into an apparent rout, the United States on Sunday/Monday ordered air strikes and attacks by AC-130 gunships on Ras Kamboni, a town near the Kenya/Somalia border. The target is said to have been the "big three", three al-Qaida members alleged to have links both with the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and with the attacks in Mombasa in 2002.

Reports continue to conflict as to whether any of the three were killed, whether the air strikes are on-going, despite an apparent denial by the US military, and what has actually been achieved by deciding to intervene in a conflict which has simmered in the region for decades, but one thing is undisputed: people died in the attacks. At least 27, according to the Guardian report. Other reports, notably one from Reuters, suggest another 22 to 27 died in an attack on Bankajirow, over 150 miles from Ras Kamboni, where the Islamic Courts fighters are reportedly sheltering.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed may be dead, he may not. "Very senior Islamist court leaders", not the same thing as alleged al-Qaida militants, may have died, they may have not. Four civilians, including a four-year-old boy may have been killed, they may have not.

The deaths will rightly obscure the bigger picture, but it's one that needs to be contemplated. An Islamic court union that had brought apparent security and stability to a nation that had been in a form of chaos for over a decade, which appears to have had at least a decent level of support from the people for doing so, although not so much for its less enlightened strict interpretation of Sharia law, which led to comparisons with the Taliban, has been more or less destroyed in just over two weeks by the army of a bordering nation, one that had been inside Somali territory since last July. With the the courts union cornered, the United States launches air strikes against them, with the support of the Transitional Federal Government, that up until a few days ago had not even stepped foot in the capital of Mogadishu, while Ethiopian air strikes seem to be following up those attacks. How does this do anything other than prove Ayman al-Zawahiri right?

Of course, this isn't actually about him, or al-Qaida in general. This is just another outpost in the war on terror, which the Bush administration appears determined to step up, or rather, in today's less than honest parlance, "surge". That it coincides with tonight's expected announcement that another 20,000 troops are to be sent to Iraq is just one of those things. This is why we're fighting will be the message. Nowhere will be safe, something that unfortunately works both ways. Iraq is just a part of this. Can't you see?

To take realpolitik to its most extreme conclusions, you might also wonder whether this opening up another front in the war on terror, or in al-Qaida's eyes, a front in the war against the crusaders, is some kind of ploy meant to thin out the numbers that are fighting their holy war in Iraq. Which front does the young, idealistic jihadist choose to go for in 2007? Chechnya? Kashmir? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? How does the heat of Somalia sound? It's the newest addition to the world tour. That sources are alleging those killed in the strikes had UK passports, forged or not, will of course excite the tabloids. Was the niqab wearing police murderer Mustaf Jama among those slaughtered? Find out in tomorrow's super-soaraway Sun!

I may joke, but the latest developments in what has recently been rebranded as the "long war" highlight how there are two threads to it. From not wanting to be involved in "nation building", the United States has been sucked into two on-going conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, unable to bring peace to either. The other, more successful, but still horribly misjudged thread is the bombarding of "terrorists" with the apparent permission of the nation state in question. Last year's attempt to kill al-Zawahiri which instead blew apart civilians (Wikipedia claims some "terrorists" were also killed) was a previous instance. Sunday/Monday/Tuesday's strikes are of the same standard. While these attacks don't come close to the horror which Iraq suffers on a daily basis, they still have no regard for the nuances of the local populations they target, or the country's politics or make-up as a whole. Somalia has suffered from years of warlords imposing their own brand of terror. With them now likely to return to their previous stomping grounds, having been driven out by the Islamists, the country again descends into anarchy. Add to this that a call has now gone out for fighters to come and take part in the "jihad", even if the remnants of the ICU are eventually wiped out, and the country looks set to continue to bleed for a while yet.

This is without examining the world picture. The United States has again involved itself in a conflict in which it had no business in doing so. The Somalian transitional government and the Ethiopians may bleat that they needed the strikes because the area into which the ICU has retreated is a "no man's land" and "is forest", but it sounds less than compelling when the Ethiopian army has been more than capable of driving back the ICU from its previous strongholds, without major fighting or not. Their own aircraft also seem to be carrying out sorties. The world looks on, and the narrative is already written: US attacks Muslim fighters. Terrorists may be dead. Civilians killed.

Not that this affects one jot thinking back here at home from the usual quarters. If you can depend on one learned journal to always defend the latest foreign policy excursion from America, it's this one:


Freedom fight

THE world may be divided over Iraq, but every civilised nation should applaud America’s air strike against al-Qaeda in Somalia.

This is the failed state where Osama Bin Laden first declared war on the West in the 1990s.

He used it as a base for a sinister network of al-Qaeda dens across South Asia and North Africa.

Err, no it isn't. The Sun is mixing up Somalia with Sudan, where OBL was based for a number of years before going back to Afghanistan. The accusations of al-Qaida involvement in the Black Hawk Down disaster have never been proved. The only substantial link is that the US embassy bombings may have planned from where the US has now carried out air strikes.

Now for the first time since President Bill Clinton was humbled in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” catastrophe, America has struck back.

Right. The cruise missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan after the embassy bombings, which famously destroyed a medicine factory, wasn't striking back. The war on Afghanistan wasn't striking back. Numerous other strikes weren't striking back.

Two US gunships killed dozens of Islamist fighters — including top al-Qaeda leaders.

Not proved, and they were far from "top" al-Qaida leaders even if they were.

But this will not stop the multi-headed monster continuing to threaten Western targets.

Security chiefs say Britain and America are near certain to face attacks in the coming months.

Like those attacks that were going to happen at Christmas? No, this is just the Sun reminding everyone of the threat here at home. Stay scared everyone.

But nobody in the West — even France — can expect to escape extremist outrages.

You don't say? Combating the extremist threat is through removing the genuine grievances, explaining and defusing the perceived injustices, and greater integration, not through killing Islamist fighters in internal conflicts we have no business involving ourselves in.

The bloodshed in Baghdad is shocking. But whether the blame-mongers like it or not, we are at war with fanatics.

Cynicism towards President George Bush must not blind us to the much bigger threat facing the world this century.

This is the Sun signing up entirely to this re-marketed "long war". That the invasion of Iraq has made this threat far worse, has provided somewhere for these "fanatics" to train where there was not one before and has in the process killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention coalition soldiers, isn't mentioned, and for a good reason. The Sun was the newspaper that provided the most blatant propaganda for the government's case for war, and has continued to ever since. One day it might have to take some responsibility, along with the rest of the Murdoch media, for the bloodshed it helped start. Until then, its editorials and praise for "precision" missile strikes on terrorists should continue to be ridiculed.

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