Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor

The French military's current campaign to dislodge jihadist militants from northern Mali and the recent high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign powers' decision not to intervene in Mali when the military conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in Moammar Gadhafi's military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.
As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military intervention, like that taken against the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, or the lack of intervention seen in Mali in March 2012, the West -- and its Middle Eastern partners -- have pursued a middle-ground approach in Syria. That is, these powers are providing logistical aid to the various Syrian rebel factions but are not intervening directly. 
Just as there were repercussions for the decisions to conduct a direct intervention in Libya and not to intervene in Mali, there will be repercussions for the partial intervention approach in Syria. Those consequences are becoming more apparent as the crisis drags on.

Intervention in Syria

For more than a year now, countries such as the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and European states have been providing aid to the Syrian rebels. Much of this aid has been in the form of humanitarian assistance, providing things such as shelter, food and medical care for refugees. Other aid has helped provide the rebels with non-lethal military supplies such as radios and ballistic vests. But a review of the weapons spotted on the battlefield reveals that the rebels are also receiving an increasing number of lethal supplies.
Visit our Syria page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.
For example, there have been numerous videos released showing Syrian rebels using weapons such as the M79 Osa rocket launcher, the RPG-22, the M-60 recoilless rifle and the RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. The Syrian government has also released videos of these weapons after seizing them in arms caches. What is so interesting about these weapons is that they were not in the Syrian military's inventory prior to the crisis, and they all likely were purchased from Croatia. We have also seen many reports and photos of Syrian rebels carrying Austrian Steyr Aug rifles, and the Swiss government has complained that Swiss-made hand grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates are making their way to the Syrian rebels.
With the Syrian rebel groups using predominantly second-hand weapons from the region, weapons captured from the regime, or an assortment of odd ordnance they have manufactured themselves, the appearance and spread of these exogenous weapons in rebel arsenals over the past several months is at first glance evidence of external arms supply. The appearance of a single Steyr Aug or RBG-6 on the battlefield could be an interesting anomaly, but the variety and concentration of these weapons seen in Syria are well beyond the point where they could be considered coincidental.
This means that the current level of external intervention in Syria is similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The external supporters are providing not only training, intelligence and assistance, but also weapons -- exogenous weapons that make the external provision of weapons obvious to the world. It is also interesting that in Syria, like Afghanistan, two of the major external supporters are Washington and Riyadh -- though in Syria they are joined by regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, rather than Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Americans allowed their partners in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to determine which of the myriad militant groups in Afghanistan received the bulk of the funds and weapons they were providing. This resulted in two things. First, the Pakistanis funded and armed groups that they thought they could best use as surrogates in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, they pragmatically tended to funnel cash and weapons to the groups that were the most successful on the battlefield -- groups such as those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose effectiveness on the battlefield was tied directly to their zealous theology that made waging jihad against the infidels a religious duty and death during such a struggle the ultimate accomplishment. 
A similar process has been taking place for nearly two years in Syria. The opposition groups that have been the most effective on the battlefield have tended to be the jihadist-oriented groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Not surprisingly, one reason for their effectiveness was the skills and tactics they learned fighting the coalition forces in Iraq. Yet despite this, the Saudis -- along with the Qataris and the Emiratis -- have been arming and funding the jihadist groups in large part because of their success on the battlefield. As my colleague Kamran Bokhari noted in February 2012, the situation in Syria was providing an opportunity for jihadists, even without external support. In the fractured landscape of the Syrian opposition, the unity of purpose and battlefield effectiveness of the jihadists was in itself enough to ensure that these groups attracted a large number of new recruits. 
But that is not the only factor conducive to the radicalization of Syrian rebels. First, war -- and particularly a brutal, drawn-out war -- tends to make extremists out of the fighters involved in it. Think Stalingrad, the Cold War struggles in Central America or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans following the dissolution of Yugoslavia; this degree of struggle and suffering tends to make even non-ideological people ideological. In Syria, we have seen many secular Muslims become stringent jihadists. Second, the lack of hope for an intervention by the West removed any impetus for maintaining a secular narrative. Many fighters who had pinned their hopes on NATO were greatly disappointed and angered that their suffering was ignored. It is not unusual for Syrian fighters to say something akin to, "What has the West done for us? We now have only God."
When these ideological factors were combined with the infusion of money and arms that has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria over the past year, the growth of Syrian jihadist groups accelerated dramatically. Not only are they a factor on the battlefield today, but they also will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.

The Saudi Gambit

Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S. forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra -- the Saudi government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria is worth the inherent risk.
There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be able to break the arc of Shiite influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.
Supporting the jihad in Syria as a weapon against Iranian influence also gives the Saudis a chance to burnish their Islamic credentials internally in an effort to help stave off criticism that they are too secular and Westernized. It allows the Saudi regime the opportunity to show that it is helping Muslims under assault by the vicious Syrian regime.
Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey, where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with fresh troops.
The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as "tactical Darwinism" the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.
But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah's fall in 1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was egregious.
Now we are seeing that the jihadist militants in Libya pose a threat not only to the Libyan regime -- there are serious problems in eastern Libya -- but also to foreign interests in the country, as seen in the attack on the British ambassador and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Moreover, the events in Mali and Algeria in recent months show that Libya-based militants and the weapons they possess also pose a regional threat. Similar long-lasting and wide-ranging repercussions can be expected to flow from the intervention in Syria.

Read more: The Consequences of Intervening in Syria | Stratfor 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

U.S. Official: Mali Success Should Be Shaped by Somalia - US News and World Report

A State Dept. official says efforts in a former terrorist haven should be a model for action in Africa

January 16, 2013 RSS Feed Print
French soldiers prepare material to be loaded into a British army Boeing C-17 cargo aircraft arriving from British Brize Norton base en route to Bamako, Mali.
French soldiers prepare material to be loaded into a British army Boeing C-17 cargo aircraft arriving from British Brize Norton base en route to Bamako, Mali.
A top State Department official indicated Thursday that the U.S. should shape its presence in Mali based on previous efforts in Somalia, a former war-torn haven for al Qaeda he says is now one of the continent's greatest success stories.

U.S. officials are still considering support requests from the French for support following their military incursion into Mali recent days, said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for African Affairs. The Economic Community of West African States also continues to determine how neighboring countries will contribute to the fighting between French forces and a coalition of Islamic extremists.
The situation in Mali is reminiscent of Somalia in recent decades, says Carson. What was a haven for al Qaeda and home to the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993 is now a successfully burgeoning democracy.
"The kind of support we would give to the ECOWAS states and others in the African theater [in Mali] is very, very similar to what we have done in support of the [African Union Mission in Somalia] effort in Somalia," he says of support given to African countries who contributed to security operations.
The U.S. State Department, working with groups such as AMISOM, USAID and peacekeepers from regional countries, successfully propped up a transitional government in Somalia under then-president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Carson said, and defeated al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that previously controlled significant portions of the East African nation.
Islamic extremists in Somalia made headlines following the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993, and for harboring terrorists who destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998.
Carson's comments come days after the disastrous French rescue attempt of an intelligence officer held captive by al Shabaab last week. At least one French commando died in the raid, in which the U.S. military offered air support.
Carson credits much of the success in turning Somalia around to the inclusion of regional governments.
"Just four years ago, al Shabaab controlled most of Mogadishu and most of south and central Somalia," he said. "Today, AMISOM and Somali national security forces have rolled back al Shabaab from Mogadishu and every other city in south and central Somalia."
"For the first time in two decades, Somalia has a representative government with a new president, a new prime minister, a new parliament and a new constitution," he added. "Its success is remarkable."
More News:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

France bombs Islamist strongholds in north Mali - Yahoo! News

BAMAKO/PARIS (Reuters) - French fighter jets pounded Islamist rebel strongholds deep in northern Mali on Sunday as Paris poured more troops into the capital Bamako, awaiting a West African force to dislodge al Qaeda-linked insurgents from the country's north.
The attacks on Islamist positions near the ancient desert trading town of Timbuktu and Gao, the largest city in the north, marked a decisive intensification on the third day of the French mission, striking at the heart of the vast area seized by rebels in April.
France is determined to end Islamist domination of northern Mali, which many fear could act as a base for attacks on the West and for links with al Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France's sudden intervention on Friday had prevented the advancing rebels from seizing Bamako. He vowed that air strikes would continue.
"The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe," he told French television.
Residents and rebel leaders had reported air raids early on Sunday in the towns of Lere and Douentza in central Mali, forcing Islamists to withdraw. As the day progressed, French jets struck targets further to the north, including near the town of Kidal, the epicenter of the rebellion.
In Gao, a dusty town on the banks of the Niger river where Islamists have imposed an extreme form of sharia law, residents said French jets pounded the airport and rebel positions. A huge cloud of black smoke rose from the militants' camp in the city's north, and pick-up trucks ferried dead and wounded to hospital.
"The planes are so fast you can only hear their sound in the sky," resident Soumaila Maiga said by telephone. "We are happy, even though it is frightening. Soon we will be delivered."
Paris said four Rafale jets flew from France to strike rebel training camps, logistics depots and infrastructure around Gao with the aim of weakening the rebels and preventing them from returning southward.
"We blocked the terrorists' advance and from today what we've started to do is to destroy the terrorists' bases behind the front line," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told LCI television.
France has deployed about 550 soldiers to Mali under "Operation Serval" -- named after an African wildcat -- split between Bamako and the town of Mopti, 500 km (300 miles) north.
In Bamako, a Reuters cameraman saw more than 100 French troops disembark on Sunday from a military cargo plane at the international airport, on the outskirts of the capital.
The city's streets were calm, with the sun streaking through the dusty air as the seasonal Harmattan wind blew from the Sahara. Many cars had French flags draped from the windows to celebrate Paris's intervention.
"We thank France for coming to our aid," said resident Mariam Sidibe. "We hope it continues till the north is free."
More than two decades of peaceful elections had earned Mali a reputation as a bulwark of democracy, but that image unraveled in a matter of weeks after a military coup in March which left a power vacuum for the Islamist rebellion.
France convened a U.N. Security Council meeting for Monday to discuss Mali. French President Francois Hollande's intervention has won plaudits from leaders in Europe, Africa and the United States but it is not without risks.
It raised the threat level for eight French hostages held by al Qaeda allies in the Sahara and for the 30,000 French expatriates living in neighboring, mostly Muslim states.
Concerned about reprisals, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport. It advised its 6,000 citizens to leave Mali as spokesmen for Ansar Dine and al Qaeda's north Africa wing AQIM promised to exact revenge.
In its first casualty of the campaign, Paris said a French pilot was killed on Friday when rebels shot down his helicopter.
Hours earlier, a French intelligence officer held hostage in Somalia by al Shabaab extremists linked to al Qaeda was killed in a failed commando raid to free him.
Hollande says France's aim is simply to support a mission by West African bloc ECOWAS to retake the north, as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution in December.
With Paris pressing West African nations to send their troops quickly, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who holds the rotating ECOWAS chairmanship, kick-started the operation to deploy 3,300 African soldiers.
Ouattara, installed in power with French military backing in 2011, convened a summit of the 15-nation bloc for Saturday in Ivory Coast to discuss the mission.
"The troops will start arriving in Bamako today and tomorrow," said Ali Coulibaly, Ivory Coast's African Integration Minister. "They will be convoyed to the front."
The United States is considering sending a small number of unarmed surveillance drones to Mali as well as providing logistics support, a U.S. official told Reuters. Britain and Canada have also promised logistical support.
Former French colonies Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso have all pledged to deploy 500 troops within days. In contrast, regional powerhouse Nigeria, due to lead the ECOWAS force, has suggested it would take time to train and equip the troops.
France, however, appeared to have assumed control of the operation on the ground. Its airstrikes allowed Malian troops to drive the Islamists out of the strategic town of Konna, which they had briefly seized this week in their southward advance.
Calm returned to Konna after three nights of combat as the Malian army crushed any remaining rebel fighters. A senior army official said more than 100 rebels had been killed.
"Soldiers are patrolling the streets and have encircled the town," one resident, Madame Coulibaly, told Reuters by phone. "They are searching houses for arms or hidden Islamists."
Analysts expressed doubt, however, that African nations would be able to mount a swift operation to retake north Mali -- a harsh, sparsely populated terrain the size of France -- as neither the equipment nor ground troops were prepared.
"My first impression is that this is an emergency patch in a very dangerous situation," said Gregory Mann, associate professor of history at Columbia University, who specializes in francophone Africa and Mali in particular.
While France and its allies may be able to drive rebel fighters from large towns, they could struggle to prise them from mountain redoubts in the region of Kidal, 300 km (200 miles) northeast of Gao.
Human Rights Watch said at least 11 civilians, including three children, had been killed in the fighting. A spokesman for Doctors Without Borders in neighboring Mauritania said about 200 Malian refugees had fled across the border to a camp at Fassala and more were on their way.
In Bamako, civilians tried to contribute to the war effort.
"We are very proud and relieved that the army was able to drive the jihadists out of Konna. We hope it will not end there, that is why I'm helping in my own way," said civil servant Ibrahima Kalossi, 32, one of over 40 people who queued to donate blood for wounded soldiers.
(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra, Tiemoko Diallo and Rainer Schwenzfeier in Bamako, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Catherine Bremer, Leila Aboud and John Irish in Paris and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Will Waterman and Roger Atwood)