Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Is America Engaged In A Huge Piece Of Grand Strategy Across the MENA In Support Of The War On Terror?

     What links Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Seychelles, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? The US military and/or the CIA is active in every one of them.

     It has now become apparent that the US is far more involved in Yemen then they care to openly advertise. Firstly, the have deployed both Predator and Reaper UAVs to support the Yemeni military in their fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP). It is also widely believed that F-15Es of the 338th Expeditionary Squadron have been conducting air raids in Yemen from the huge base at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

     Not only does the US allegedly have both manned and unmanned missions taking place in Yemen but it has now been announced that 'dozens' of US troops are operating from al-Annad air force base inside Yemen, about 45 miles behind the lines of the latest big push against AQAP. There purpose is to co-ordinate air strikes in support of the Yemeni push centred around the city of Zinjibar. In addition, Washington announced in was sending training troops back into Yemen to help bolster the under-equipped national armed forces.
     I would argue that it is not going to far to state that the US is involved in a full-scale proxy war in Yemen. Using the national army as ground forces to control captured territory and to contain the AQAP, Washington has created an efficient and cheap method of furthering the Global War On Terror (GWOT). However, with unmanned and manned aircraft, training and logistics units in-country and naval forces off the coast this is not a small skirmish into enemy territory, this is war.

     It would appear that the US is systematically dominating the entire Arabian and North/East African arena to target the threats of Al Qaeda affiliates. The tiny state of Djibouti forms a major part of that network. It is the centre for most of the UAV, air strike and special forces capabilities across the whole region. It has also been widely reported that another UAV base is being built on the island nation of the Seychelles to target pirates and the terrorist group al Shabab in Somalia.
     Somalia is a major target for the war on terror. Al Shabab have been implicated in various international terrorist attacks, especially in the surrounding countries of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The US has repeatedly used drones to strike at this al Qaeda affiliate as well as deployed strike aircraft into the country. Special Forces have also been sent into the region. SEAL Team 6 were used to recently rescue two western aid workers captured by al Shabab in a raid similar to that against Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. In February, a U-28 spy plane crashed in East Africa on its return to Lemonnier though its crew were listed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

     Heading north, the US military is also involved in a long-running but little known war in the border regions of Turkey and Iraq. US Predators are being used to support the battle between Turkey and Iraq on one side and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) a nationalist, secular group attempting to create a break away Kurdish state. Designated as terrorist by Turkey, the EU and the US they only vaguely fall into the limits if the GWOT. This military alliance seems to be in motion to shore up relations between the three countries. The US is trying to gain allies and more importantly staging grounds across the Middle East. Djibouti, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Turkey and the Seychelles; a system of bases and allies designed to dominate any area where al Qaeda or its affiliates may attempt to set up. This is not just a shadow war, if the US continues with this power building this could turn into a shadow occupation.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

US Gay Marriage: The Sun Is Setting On The Opposition

This week North Carolina constitutionally banned gay marriage and civil unions; it becomes the 31st state to do so either legally or in their constitution. In total nine states have openly accepted gay marriage (New York, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, DC, Maryland, Connecticut and Washington). By simply looking at the numbers it would appear that gay marriage support is localised to a small northern enclave while outright condemnation holds sway over much of the south of the country. However, while the numbers look very one-sided there is cause for hope.

President Obama joined other prominent figures including his own VP, in supporting gay marriage. Stating 'same sex couples should be able to get married,' on ABC, the broadcast was watched as avidly as 'the moon landing.' Even though this can be interpreted as a move to win over liberal voters for the presidential elections in November he is the first President to come out in support of gay marriage and adds an impetus to the debate.

Gay marriage also has wide support from both traditional and new media. As Rob Dreher, editor of the American Conservative, states on the BBC's website 'it is impossible to overstate the depth and breadth of media support for same-sex marriage. In my newsroom experience, it is taken as given that any opposition to gay marriage can only come from rank bigotry.' Links are clearly drawn between traditional marriage and segregationist beliefs meaning that the media tends to vilify any attempt to defend 'traditional' values and religious beliefs as out-of-touch or actually bigoted. A whole new generation of journalists wish to experience their own version of the black civil rights struggle. This media attitude means that it may become the norm to vilify the opposition and see their religious and conservative views as bigoted.

There is also a generational divide when it comes to the support, or otherwise, of same-sex marriage. Polling data shows a stark difference between the views of millennial young adults and the older generations. Indeed they show a 26% increase in support and a 20% drop in opposition! As a twenty year-old, I cannot remember a time where race or sex was openly used to discriminate. It is quite possible that the children of today will grow up not remembering a time when sexual orientation was such a reason and I hope with all my heart that it happens as soon as possible.

To conclude, while a state map would show a crushing defeat of same-sex marriage as it is crushed by the traditional southern states, other reasons show that such opposition is fighting a slow defeat. By coming out in support of gay marriage President Obama has confirmed the rise of support among the political and social elites in America. Coupled with this, the majority of mainstream media has also taken the side of the gay-rights activists and even openly condemn opposition views. These views are also on the way out with younger generations opening themselves to more and more liberal ideas, often not understanding the religious and traditionalist arguments presented by their elders. All in all it seems clear that the sun is sinking on the opposition to same-sex marriage in the United States and there is rarely been a prettier sunset.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

US Drones Making And Breaking Friendships

It is clear that Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) are swiftly changing warfare and intelligence-gathering across the world. Ranging from squad-level single use drones to the more well known Predator and Reaper drones used by the US and allied military forces. Recent news stories have demonstrated the wide geographical spread of drone use, in most cases by the US, from Yemen, to Somalia, to Pakistan. These UAVs have clear and impressive combat abilities, especially against individualised, non-conventional forces. However, what should be discussed more is the geo-political effects of the zealous deployment of UAVs. By glossing over the legal aspects of using unmanned vehicles, the US has annoyed and needled countries who are its allies in the Global War On Terror (GWOT). However, by deploying these UAVs to aid allies in their own battles can gain a great deal of political and public support. The lessons from the deployments need to be learned fast to limit any political damage in the USA's hunt for security on a global scale.
Perhaps the best example of the US being blinded by military possibilities and pursuing politically damaging actions is the controversial deployment of US drones into Pakistan to hunt Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fleeing from Afghanistan into the lawless border regions. Militarily, this has many advantages. With little or no anti-aircraft capabilities these combatants are easy targets for UAV strikes and by following them across the border it keeps pressure on them, refusing them breathing space to reorganise and resupply. However, both the violation of the internationally recognised border and the continuing deaths of both civilians and, occasionally even Pakistani troops, has managed to anger Islamabad and strain the alliance with Washington to the point that  embargoes on various US military and other movements have been imposed, almost in an attempt to retake the power from the US. As well as angering an important allied government the effect on Pakistan's population must be considered. As Donald Rumsfeld pointed out, winning the GWOT depends on the question 'Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?' In the case of Pakistan, no radical cleric is needed to ferment anti-American feeling in the population. As James Joyner of The New Republic ( pointed out:
  • 'A major survey conducted in Pakistan by the New America Foundation found that "nearly nine out of every ten people in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] oppose the U.S. military pursuing al-Qaeda and the Taliban in their region."' Also, more worryingly...
  • 'While only one in ten of FATA residents think suicide attacks are often or sometimes justified against the Pakistani military and police, almost six in ten believe these attacks are justified against the U.S. military.
It seems that, by not considering the political impacts, the US has managed to both alienate a potentially strong ally, at least in terms of the GWOT, and actually turning the population against them and towards the terrorists who would, under other circumstances, have been the alienated ones. In short, by enforcing the drone war in Pakistan they have hurt the terrorists but managed to simultaneously lose the battle for hearts and minds at both the local and state level.

However, the US has managed one political success with its UAV systems. By aiding Turkey and Iraq in their fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) America has reinforced a tentative alliance, especially with the former. The PKK are defined as terrorists by the EU, Turkey and the US and have been conducting a socialist, nationalist campaign for an independent Kurdish state since the mid-1980s. They are to Turkey what Al Qaeda are to the US and are a major part of Turkeys security environment. While they have been linked to Al Qaeda sponsored attacks against the US in Iraq, America has never paid a huge amount of attention to them. However, during both Gulf Wars the US has aided both Turkey and Iraq in combating the PKK. There has been some evidence of US weapons being used by the PKK and, along with the notorious 'hood' incident have made Turkey question the partnership. With the pull-out of forces from Iraq, Turkey feared that they were being abandoned by their ally and the popular perception of the US declined markedly. 
To lose such a valuable Islamic ally would have been criminally negligent of the US and it was its UAVs that were to prove a major part of the solution. As well as selling new Super Cobras to the Turkish military the US relocated four Predator drones from northern Iraq to Turkey. This made no real difference to the military capabilities of the US but made huge difference to Washington-Ankara relations. As Karen Kaya argued in the Small Wars Journal (, 'The drones are seen as a key weapon for the Turkish Armed Forces in fighting the PKK.  Enabling and improving Turkey’s capability for self-defense, modernization and regional security are important not just against the PKK; but also as a way to empower a regional Muslim ally to help influence the Arab countries in a volatile Middle East.' By helping in the fight against the nationalist Kurds it also undermines the accusation that the USA is waging war on Islam, and secures a powerful ally in a region dominated by Iran and Syria. 

In conclusion, the US drone war cannot simply be taken in military isolation, it has political consequences as well. As Pakistan exemplifies, blindly following a military strategy can do a lot of damage to allies whom you ride rough-shod over. It is important to show political wisdom as the UAV capabilities of the US, one of the worlds leaders in the technology can actually facilitate political support and alliances as the situation with Turkey demonstrates.