U.S. vs. al Qaeda: Spring offensives planned

Both the United States and al Qaeda are planning spring offensives. America because it can, and al Qaeda because it must.

The United States is planning a spring offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for the U.S. military said America’s armed forces are “sure” they can catch Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar “later this year.” Unfortunately, al Qaeda likely has a spring offensive of its own in the plans.
But first, confirmation of the American plans from Stratfor:

Former Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul (Ret.) has told the daily _Nawa-I-Waqt_ that reports of a planned U.S. offensive against al Qaeda in the spring were true. Gul said CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid had asked countries bordering Afghanistan for permission to carry out operations within their borders. Gul implied that Pakistan had not granted its consent. In further comments, he said Washington would postpone elections in Afghanistan in order to conduct this operation and had been pressuring Islamabad regarding its nuclear program to coerce its cooperation.

Pakistan has already apparently taken the lead on this offensive. On Jan. 13, according to the _Pakistan Daily Times_, about 250 commandos from the Pakistani military’s elite Special Services Group (SSG) along with regular infantry troops were shifted from North Waziristan to the Wana area in South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, notes Stratfor.
The goal of both America and Pakistan will be to root out al Qaeda’s entrenched positions in the lawless Northwest Territories. Ideally, Pakistani troops will be used for the bulk of the fighting, and this is the reason for Gul’s denial to the United States.
However, Pakistan’s refusal should be seen as a net gain for both countries. The United States has apparently been planning this offensive for some time, and with the Bush administration’s history of unilateral action at the expense of other countries’ sovereignty pretty well known, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has some cover for going into a region hostile to outside control. He can’t be seen by his people as acquiescing to the Americans’ wishes, so he denies them access and moves his own troops into the region as a show of strength and sovereignty. He knows full well that the United States will move into Pakistani territory anyway, and his thinking is that there’s not a lot the Pakistanis can do to stop Washington. At the same time, because Pakistan is making an effort to to root out bin Laden and his jihadists, the White House can’t accuse Musharraf’s government of not stepping up to the plate. And — bonus! — any pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear program from Washington will probably ease a little bit. The upshot? Washington gets to act against its real enemies without destabilizing Musharraf, and he doesn’t look like a patsy to his own people. Also, Islamabad gets to keep the Bomb, a source of great national pride in Pakistan.
With this strategy, the goal is to have the war against al Qaeda wrapped up some time in 2005.
But back to bin Laden. What will be al Qaeda’s response? Three things: It will to 1) destabilize or overthrow the Saudi Arabian royal family (a long-held goal), 2) destabilize Pakistan or 3) weaken U.S. resolve by massive attacks inside the United States, possibly with WMD. These strategies could be — and likely will be — used together.
In Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda could build on its string of bombings and attacks to such a degree that the survival of the current regime in Riyadh is in doubt. The U.S. would be forced to intervene, using the military hardware it has and will have in Iraq once the March rotation is in motion. (Riyadh is already on high alert for terror attacks during the hajj.) If al Qaeda can bog down the United States by causing it to stretch its already thin forces in Iraq into Saudi Arabia, it will strengthen its hand in Pakistan, too.
By destabilizing Pakistan — the two recent assassination attempts against Musharraf are probably just the first of many to come — al Qaeda makes the United States’ war infinitely more difficult. With Musharraf in control, the U.S. can cut backroom deals that allow it to operate in Pakistan to attack al Qaeda positions with relative freedom, as discussed above. With a militant Islamist _junta_ ruling from Islamabad — a nuclear-armed _junta_, mind you — that’s no longer an option. Can the United States occupy Afghanistan, Iraq _and_ Pakistan? No.
Finally, al Qaeda may attempt another massive attack on the scale of 9/11. Would massive American casualties sap the will of the United States? Possibly. Or maybe not; Sept. 11 didn’t cause the United States to cut and run. Instead, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon propelled the United States into a war with militant Islamists and the fallout — Iraq, most notably — has divided the West internally and pitted the United States against the Muslim world. This may have been bin Laden’s main goal all along. What would be the result of another massive attack? The answer depends on how much sympathy the U.S. could garner from a world that may have exhausted its supply of goodwill toward America. Instead of a replay of 2001’s season of solidarity, would the United States be seen as reaping what it has sown? The Axis of Evil 8-Ball on this one says, “Sources cloudy; ask again later.” If its any consolation, bin Laden probably doesn’t know either. What is known is that _nothing_ would stop an enraged and wounded America from hellish retaliation.
So for the moment, that’s where all the players stand. Al Qaeda has to demonstrate its effectiveness before the United States starts its offensive this year to preemptively stall any momentum Washington may gather. It also has to show its members and supporters that it still has the capability to lead the jihad against the West. I predict intense attacks in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, the United States will attack in Pakistan and al Qaeda likely will be dealt a death blow and bin Laden captured or killed. That would be a stunning setback for militant Islam, what with its spokesman and folk hero felled by the infidel.
That won’t spell the end of militant Islam of course, nor will it mean the end of the terror threat against the United States and the West. Al Qaedaism is more than just the group and it’s more than bin Laden. Smaller groups will continue to exist, operate and network. But without the charisma of bin Laden — and his web of financing — terror groups affiliated with al Qaeda can be reduced to a chronic, but manageable, problem.

Whispers of Revolution

Whispers of revolution are in the air in Baghdad, according to the Miami Herald.

British Major-General Stanley Maude enters Baghdad in March 11, 1917, capturing the province of Mesopotamia from the Ottoman Empire. (NYT)

The _Miami Herald_ runs a piece today on whispers of “revolution” filling the cafes of Baghdad this month as Iraqis look back on the rebellion of 1920 with pride and growing anger.

Whispers of “revolution” are growing louder in Baghdad this month at teahouses, public protests and tribal meetings as Iraqis point to the past as an omen for the future.
Iraqis remember 1920 as one of the most glorious moments in modern history, one followed by nearly eight decades of tumult. The bloody rebellion against British rule that year is memorialized in schoolbooks, monuments and mass-produced tapestries that hang in living rooms.
Now, many say there’s an uncanny similarity with today: unpopular foreign occupiers, unelected governing bodies and unhappy residents eager for self-determination. The result could be another bloody uprising.
“We are now under occupation, and the best treatment for a wound is sometimes fire,” said Najah al Najafi, a Shiite cleric who joined thousands of marchers at a recent demonstration where construction workers, tribal leaders and religious scholars spoke of 1920.

Could be bad. Could be hyperbole. We’ll have to see.

David Kay: We Was Wrong

David Kay says the entire world was wrong about WMDs in Iraq.

Oops! We were all wrong. Our bad.
That’s essentially what David Kay, former chief weapons inspector, said today when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.
Sen. [Edward] Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction.
I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war — certainly, the French president, [Jacques] Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq’s possession of WMD.
The Germans certainly — the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.
It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

No one was pressured, he said, to come up with evidence that wasn’t there. “Never — not in a single case — was the explanation, ‘I was pressured to do this,'” he said. “The explanation was very often, ‘The limited data we had led one to reasonably conclude this. I now see that there’s another explanation for it.'”
And Iraq was in violation of some aspects of “UNSCR 1441”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000085.php#000085, which required Iraq to make a full disclosure of its unconventional weapons and programs.
One violation included the discovery of dozens of rockets capable of carrying chemical warheads and of flying farther than allowed by the United Nations. “There was no evidence the warheads themselves had ever been filled” with chemicals, but the rockets should have been reported to U.N. inspectors and destroyed, Kay said.
OK. Most of the West’s intelligence services were wrong. No doubt about that. For the record, “I thought Saddam had chems and bios, too.”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000112.php#000112 But — and this was probably the thinking of the French and the Germans — _what remained of the weapons and programs didn’t warrant going to war._ Saddam was contained, his striking power was laughable. He wasn’t going to hook up with al Qaeda.
Kevin Drumm over at Calpundit has assembled a collection of statements from people who weighed on on the WMD issue before the war. Some of them include:
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in his March 2003 resignation speech:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of that term — namely, a credible device capable of being delivered against strategic city targets. It probably does still have biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions. But it has had them since the 1980s when the US sold Saddam the anthrax agents and the then British government built his chemical and munitions factories.

As Kevin notes, the assumption is that Saddam had the WMD, but that they weren’t very dangerous.

Australian Intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie in March 2003:

Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program is, I believe, genuinely contained. There is no doubt they have chemical and biological weapons, but their program now is disjointed and limited. It’s not a national WMD program like they used to have.

Again, the WMDs are there, just not much of a threat.
And so on, with the most skeptical voice coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in October 2002 that it’s unlikely that any weapons exist, but even so, the Russians worry that they might.
So everyone thought they were there, but only the Bush administration thought they were an imminent existential threat to the United States. (And for those who said the White House never said Iraq was an “imminent threat” because they didn’t utter the _actual words_ “imminent threat,” I roll my eyes at you. Just read this collection of statements from members of the administration.)
The question that we have it answer is why did everyone else think Iraq was manageable while Washington didn’t? Sept. 11? Greed for Oil? Strategic positioning in a new Great Game? Personal grudges? Manifest destiny in the sands of Arabia? I think it’s all of those and more. The Bush administration believed the worst about Iraq not because they had to but because they wanted to. For all of those reasons and goals, Iraq had to become the number one target. Was it a legitimate one? In hindsight, obviously it appears no. At the time, I and others smarter than me argued that it wasn’t worth going to war over it. That the threat wasn’t imminent, that Iraq wasn’t worth the blood and treasure that would be paid.
The Center for American Progress has put up a devastating critique of the White House’s willful ignorance regarding Iraq’s weapons. David Kay is, at best, playing the loyal soldier with this “faulty intelligence” meme. “A review of the facts,” the Center says, “shows the intelligence community repeatedly warned the Bush Administration about the weakness of its case, but was circumvented, overruled, and ignored.”

  • In 2001 and before, intelligence agencies noted that Saddam Hussein was effectively contained after the Gulf War. In fact, former weapons inspector David Kay now admits that the previous policy of containment – including the 1998 bombing of Iraq – destroyed any remaining infrastructure of potential WMD programs.
  • Throughout 2002, the CIA, DIA, Department of Energy and United Nations all warned the Bush Administration that its selective use of intelligence was painting a weak WMD case. Those warnings were repeatedly ignored.
  • Instead of listening to the repeated warnings from the intelligence community, intelligence officials say the White House instead pressured them to conform their reports to fit a pre-determined policy. Meanwhile, more evidence from international institutions poured in that the White House’s claims were not well-grounded.

(Thanks to Hesiod over at Counterspin Central for tipping me off on this timeline.)
Americans will forgive presidents their honest mistakes. But dishonest statements backed up by willful ignorance and an “I’m not listening, la-la-la-la-la!” attitude should never be tolerated or forgiven.
Bush lied. You know the rest.

Sistani, the UN and America

The violence in Iraq continues, and while the frequency of attacks may decrease, yesterday’s spree of bombings, which killed 6 troops and an unknown number of Iraqis, prove that the effectiveness may be increasing. It is this environment that United Nations will enter to mediate between the United States, the Governing Council and Iraq’s Shi’ites, led by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This was certainly not in the United States’ plans when it decided to invade Iraq last year.

The violence in Iraq continues, and while the frequency of attacks may decrease, yesterday’s spree of bombings, which killed 6 troops and an unknown number of Iraqis, prove that the guerillas’ effectiveness may be increasing. It is this environment that the United Nations will enter to mediate between the United States, the Governing Council and Iraq’s Shi’ites, led by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This was certainly not in the United States’ plans when it decided to invade Iraq last year.
Mass turnouts in Basra and Baghdad send a clear message to the CPA
However, as Stratfor notes, it must be sweet indeed for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who opposed the invasion and felt the United States has ignored the U.N., the Security Council and himself personally. But there is another man for whom the entry of the United Nations as an trusted broker is a welcome sight: Sistani.
He has proven himself a canny politician in demonstrating his power. On Jan. 15, on the word of the Ayatollah, tens of thousands of Shi’ites marched in Basra to support open elections to the national assembly. Last week, 100,000 Iraqis marched in Baghdad. And then, on Friday, Sistani turned off the spigot, telling his supporters not to march and giving the United Nations time to think. His point had been made: If George Bush doesn’t want the entirety of southern Iraq to burst into an intifada, he would do well to heed the Shi’ites’ desires.
Enter United Nations, stage left. And its entry is significant because it means the United States has been reduced from an all-powerful occupying power to a party in a dispute — and one that has already signaled its intentions to relinquish power. The only questions now are when and how.
According to Stratfor, the United Nations’ entry addresses three issues:

  1. Symbolism is important, and it’s got to stick in the craw of the White House to be coming to the UN to patch things up almost a year after it snubbed them. Have no doubt, this is a loss for Washington, and it undermines the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war.
  2. Political cover. Sistani will get what he wanted all along, which is a Shi’ite dominated Iraq. But now he will get it not by negotiating with the United States, but with the United Nations. His hand — and Shi’ites in Iraq in general — will be strengthened by this.
  3. Finally, we come to the issue of the U.S. troops. One of the primary reasons the United States invaded was to have a strategic base to project force throughout the region and pressure Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The future of the troops in Iraq is now in question.

Stratfor says that if the guerilla war were going better and the U.S. had not been forced to turn to the Shi’ites, the question of the troops would be moot. But until now the troops have been the big elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about. Sistani has not explicitly called for the removal of the troops, and he probably won’t as long as the insurgents are around. But Sistani will ask the United Nations to negotiate a mechanism for allowing a sovereign Iraqi state to determine rules for how the troops operate, where they’re based and when they leave. Look for Annan to be receptive to whatever ideas Sistani throws on the table.
This will throw a serious wrench into the plans that Washington had for Iraq. President George W. Bush and his advisors need a free hand militarily in Iraq if they’re going to move forward with their strategic rationale for the invasion. The negotiations between all the parties will likely result in a compromise, but they will be a long, hard slog. Sistani has yet to lose much in his dealings with the Americans.