Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dirty Wars chapters 10 and 11, Somalia and Yemen

Chapter 10 details the US involvement in Somalia after 9/11, specifically late in 2002 when the US government officially threw themselves with the worst of the warlords that were running the country in lieu of a nearly non-existent central government. There is a little background to the beginning of US involvement with Somalia under Clinton.
The story of our involvement reads like any other US intervention, only the names and places change the practice is the same.  So, on one hand you have intelligence officers, CIA, military etc. talking up the idea that East African was becoming a haven for terrorists. On the other hand you have Somalia experts, i.e. academics, people who had spent their lives studying the country, questioning this narrative. Yes, maybe you had some AQ people running to Somalia from other places but there did not appear any kind of underlying support for radical Islam. You did have country that over the past 10 (now 20) years ravaged by war and a population (guessing here) mainly concerned with survival.
In theory you had a choice here, you could pay a major warlord to do your work.  This would be taking the risk that said warlord, now flush with unlimited cash and weapons support, might just take it upon themselves to interpret the “war on terror” in their own way. The other option might be the take that cash and, oh I don’t know, strengthen the central government? Increase safety, access to food and water, and in the process infiltrate the country to carefully weed out the terrorists that were never part of the community anyway. While the second option sounds more labor-intensive it would not have to be “nation-building”. The biggest issue with Somalia has always been safety; I’m thinking that plenty of international groups would do most of the heavy lifting if a skeletal military force were there and people were not worried about being killed-if the CIA was going to be all over anyway couldn’t they help out with this as well?
Needless to say the first option was exercised, and the warlords quickly engaged in the game of let’s grab anybody remotely Islamic or who we don’t like, and see if the Americans will give us a check. This, in addition to general destabilizing activities, made a bad situation worse. But, they hate us for our FREEDOM. The fact is you will get AQ recruits much faster in a destabilized, poor, under-attack community.  An interesting note in this chapter was a description of how, under Clinton, members of Islamic Jihad, including Ayman al Zawahiri (Bin Laden’s number two), were sent to Egypt through “extraordinary rendition” and tortured. Not long after al Zawahiri published a letter in a British paper vowing revenge against America in “a language they will understand.” Days later the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were carried out, killing 224 people (12 Americans).
It has to be asked, what if these guys were arrested, and put on trial? A public trial, with redactions, closed parts as necessary, but relatively open, so that the world could see were serious about our principles? Now I don’t have any illusions that such a case would be easy, nor do I have a good answer to what is an appropriate punishment for terrorists, and I do not think your committed AQ member can be easily rehabilitated if at all. But you have to wonder how that might “shake up the field” so to speak. If the US walked the walk when it came to bringing suspects to justice what kind of effect would that have on AQ recruits, and their support networks? I think trials need to be done on moral grounds but there are real, practical reasons to do them. Tragically I do not think these ideas ever enter the minds of those in Washington.
Chapter 11 Yemen
Chapter 11 describes the period in Yemen 2003-2006, beginning after the major terror attack in Saudi Arabia, which included the US defense contractor, the Vinnell Corporation. After the ensuing crackdown most AQ members fled to Yemen.
During this period the US took its eye off of Yemen, satisfied that the Saleh had arrested many key AQ figures, and the most elite hunter-killer forces of JOSC were in Iraq. But in 2004 there was a major uprising of the Houthi minority in the north, and Saleh utilized all he had to put in down, which included massive Saudi help as well as easing off AQ to put down the insurgency.
Saleh also used AQ suspects and members as leverage against the US, refusing to hand over suspects, prosecuting and sentenced in Yemen. Hundreds of Yemeni suspects would ultimately be released back into Yemen, essentially allowed to do what they wanted as long as it was not in Yemen. So really, this was period for AQ to gather strength, which I believe is still the case today.
As it has been for a while, Yemen is complex place. But, again, playing the “what if” game you have to wonder if military involvement has stopped at Afghanistan, and there could have been a proper focus on Yemen and Somalia. Now, you certainly could argue that countries are better off when the US ignores them but in both of these cases the US ‘s only interest in these areas would be getting the terrorists out. In theory the US could, especially in the case Yemen, put pressure on through Saudi Arabia to get the terrorists out and possible help broker something of a peace agreement between the various groups. Yes, I know, there is not really any history of the US playing such a role in any conflict-that is usually the US pushes its agenda and tells everybody else to go fuck themselves. But I strongly believe you have to imagine what you want to see to make it happen, or even to try limit bad alternatives.
What if instead of looking inward after 9/11 the US had looked outward-tried to really mediate some of the conflicts that helped perpetuate the terrorists strength? What if the US had tried to demonstrate of the values of the constitution instead of tossing in the garbage? What if?

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