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The New US Plan to Combat Al-Qaeda - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The New York Times recently published a report about what it considered to be a new plan by General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, to halt the spread of Al-Qaeda and destroy it in the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, and East Asia. The plan provides for the use of Special Forces, the intelligence services, indigenous forces, businessmen, “tourists,” and various possible elements and means. Observers consider that the fresh outbreak of violence in Somalia and what happened in Marib, Yemen, and the reaction to the agreement on the [uranium] enrichment swap that was concluded between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil to be linked parts of the plan in question.

In Somalia, there has been a surge of Ahl al-Sunnah combatants who have allied themselves with the provisional government to counter the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin, who in turn are Al-Qaeda allies. The Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin retaliated by targeting the Republican Palace. In Yemen, a helicopter in the Marib Governorate attacked two cars, killing the deputy governor of Marib who allegedly was negotiating with Al-Qaeda elements in the region for them to surrender to the government. The Ubaydah tribe in Marib retaliated against the military helicopter attack by clashing with the government forces in the region and blowing up an oil pipeline there. When Turkey and Brazil succeeded in persuading Iran to swap uranium enrichment outside its borders at last, which is what the US and the international community want, the United States responded by presenting the existing sanctions plan to the Security Council for it to debate, instead of welcoming what happened. As if all this is not enough, the United States and South Korea engaged in large-scale maneuvers in the China Sea in retaliation for the sinking of a South Korean ship by North Korea. The latter considered that the ship had violated its maritime waters. Moreover, the US and NATO forces are preparing for an attack that has been expected for months to cleanse Kandahar and areas around it in Afghanistan of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, clashes are still going on in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. For its part, Israel has engaged in large-scale maneuvers that are full of threats concomitantly with indirect negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. This coincided with reports about former nuclear cooperation in the seventies between Israel and the then racist South Africa. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that it intends to discuss the Israeli nuclear dossier at its forthcoming meeting.

Whatever the degree of links between these events and incidents, it seems that these explosions in several remote locations which are out of General Petraeus’s control have come as a result of secret and open pressure to contain and counter the manifestations of spreading movements, rebellion, and obduracy behind which lie “sleeping cells” or rogue states. The fact is that the early months of 2010 have witnessed serious obstruction of US control in the region and the Middle East. Al-Qaeda has settled down in Somalia and Yemen, while Iran and Israel have resisted all efforts to bring them to the negotiating table. Moreover, violence has not died down in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Sudan. Naturally, one should note that the United States can do everything, whether militarily or by diplomacy, but it seems that the Obama administration is using a tactic that the Bush administration despised and ignored. The Bush administration resorted to direct military and political intervention everywhere. First it seemed that it achieved considerable successes, but from 2005 abuses and setbacks started to appear.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission was formed in 2006 to review politics and strategies, and the impact of its proposals began to be seen in Iraq in 2007 when General Petraeus, who at that time was commander of the forces there, invented the Awakening movement. The Awakening movement involved tens of thousands of local tribal elements who were tasked with confronting the Al-Qaeda cells and their activities. In this respect, we should not forget that Gates, the current US secretary for defense, was a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. He succeeded Rumsfeld to implement the new plans. The new plans or plan is based on cooperation with indigenous elements to face up to the manifestations of violence and rebellion, and make those who are hostile to the United States and opposed to its control think twice or face death. Alongside Gates and following receding violence in Iraq, Petraeus became head of Central Command to carry out the policies of using indigenous elements everywhere, not only in Iraq. These plans were laid down by US military men in Bush’s last days, and they are the ones implementing them now. There is not one civilian among them, apart from George Mitchell who has been negotiating over the Palestinian-Israeli dossier.

The indigenous elements in Somalia are the forces of the provisional government and the other small organizations that have been harmed by the Al-Shabab al-Mujahidin taking control of the scene and land. Some have suggested to bring back the Ethiopians to Somalia or to increase the number of African forces there, but the Americans want to test the use of indigenous elements that was successful in Iraq. In Yemen the Americans resorted to the Special Forces method and secret actions where government forces are useless. They are expected to win over some tribal forces in the areas where Al-Qaeda is deployed, as happened in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, even if this appears to be difficult so far in Yemen.

Concerning the two dossiers of negotiations in the Middle East (with Iran and Israel) a local or regional force was used, namely Turkey. The latter has made several achievements to date: it brought the Syrians and the Israelis to indirect negotiations in 2007 and 2008, and it might succeed in doing the same thing again. Similarly, through its alliance with Syria, Turkey has made the Syrians feel secure and capable of some flexibility, and they have just achieved success with Iran even though the United States does not see this as sufficient. The point is that this method is the only way out of the crisis, and failing this the dangers of war will loom again. They have brandished nuclear power at Israel and they might put pressure on Netanyahu with the use of local elements like Baraq and Levy if negotiations do not go well. In fact, when Netanyahu complained about Mitchell’s pressure a few months ago, he was told that the pressure is for peace for Israel and for securing its future. Failing this, he was told, there will be wars, which Israel has won before but without securing its safety to date, let alone in the future!

The new US approach to all dossiers, including those related to Al-Qaeda and the war on terrorism, has reaped some fruitful results to date, but failed when applied to other issues. This is why General Petraeus’s new plan, as part of the general approach, obviously comes as an attempt to overcome impediments, especially concerning Al-Qaeda’s continuous spread and the failure to liquidate its leading figures outside Iraq. Gates and Petraeus (especially Gates) say they are giving themselves a chance until the end of this year. Some are banking on a new Palestinian state being declared internationally in November this year, and on the situation tangibly improving in Somalia and Yemen (and perhaps Afghanistan too) in the same period of time.

Relations with Iran may not be repaired in six months, and similarly other expectations may fail to materialize tangibly. However, the scene in the region and its vicinity will no doubt be largely different.

Radwan Elsayed

Radwan Elsayed

Dr. Radwan Elsayed is a prominent Lebanese intellectual and a professor of Islamic studies at the Lebanese University.

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