Australian troops on the front lines in Afghanistan have seen their fair share of the horrors of war. But if there's one thing they won't put up with, it's European cuisine:
Troops [in the Oruzgan province] had passed on complaints about the "lousy" food, Senator Johnson says, to both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon on recent visits.
Food is mainly supplied by the Dutch, which commands the provincial reconstruction taskforce in the province.
Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston defended the soldiers' diet.
"Our soldiers all the way through have had the required amount of calories and the food has been of a very high standard," he said.
"I think the issue is, it's not Aussie food, it's European food and it's pre-prepared.
Worse, getting a taste of home seems to be a status symbol in the Aussie army:
A major issue seems to be that while general troops are taking their supplies from the Dutch, their colleagues in the elite special forces have their own cooks dishing up the grub.
"Essentially, special forces have been eating Aussie food," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
Top brass insist that the soldiers are getting good food, but "in total, 10 cooks will eventually be deployed to vary the diet of the soldiers." Whether they will be followed by an elite "Grandma's pies" batallion is at this point unconfirmed.
AWAD AWAD/AFP/Getty Images
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct joint military exercises in August-September in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the Belarusian defense minister said on Wednesday.
The defense ministers of the post-Soviet security bloc comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan held a regular meeting in Moscow on June 3.
"The joint drills will be held in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to practice the deployment of CSTO's joint rapid-reaction force," Leonid Maltsev told reporters after the meeting.
He said the exercises in Belarus will also involve the Russia-Belarus joint military grouping created within the framework of the CSTO.
According to media reports, Russia is planning to build a strong military contingent in Central Asia within the CSTO comparable to NATO forces in Europe.
Russia was highly irritated by 19-country NATO war games held in Georgia last month. Interestingly, Kazakhstan, where part the CSTO drills are to take place, was one of the countries invited to participate in the NATO exercises but declined in solidarity with Russia.
The exercises in Belarus, right on NATO's eastern border, are likely to be seen as a response to NATO's actions in Georgia.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this is still not exactly the Russian navy's finest moment:
A Russian warship has mistakenly shelled a village near the northern city of St Petersburg, officials say.
They say the small anti-submarine vessel fired up to 15 artillery rounds at Pesochnoye during target practice late on Thursday.
Some terrified villagers said they thought a war had started, Russia's Ria Novosti news agency reports.
How's that "smaller smarter military" thing going?
This seems too good to be true, but for what it's worth, Canadian defence reporter Dave Pugliese passes along a report that the planned sale of Russian nuclear submarines to Venezuela was scuppered after Hugo Chavez's bodyguards mixed it up with some Russian sailors:
...the KILOs (the subs) destined for Vietnam were originally to be purchased by Venezuela but that deal collapsed after a fistfight on board the Russian cruiser “Peter the Great” when it and other warships were visiting Venezuela.
Venezuela’s leader Chavez was in the process of visiting the Russian flotilla but his bodyguards were prevented from boarding. A fistfight then broke out between the Russian sailors and the bodyguards. The nose of one Russian was broken.
That ended the sub purchase.
Robert Farley notes that the deal is indeed off, and it's certainly not out of the question that the fight took place. But it's likely that the bigger reason Chavez balked at the deal is that his government is low on oil money these days.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post reports that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be replacing Gen. David McKiernan as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan:
The leadership shift comes as the Obama administration has voiced increasingly urgent concern about the surge in violence in Afghanistan as well as unrest in neighboring Pakistan.
"We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed," Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.
"I think these two officers will bring . . . a focus which we really need in 2009. And I just didn't think we could wait until 2010," Gates said.
Gates praised McChrystal [for] "a unique skill set in counterinsurgency" as well as "fresh thinking."
A few important things to note about the Petraeus confidante.
First, most bloggers and news outlets seem to concur that the suddenness of the decision -- the "hastily convened" press conference, for instance -- underscore the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan and the need for a "nonconventional" approach.
McChrystal has experience in that approach. He led the covert special forces, which, in the evocative phrasing of the AP, "[fight] in the shadows of battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond." McChrystal commanded the black ops unit responsible for the manhunt and death of Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (That same unit allegedly abused detainees in a U.S. facility in Iraq, Joshua Foust notes -- something McChrystal might have to answer for in his congressional review.)
Second, McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation given posthumously to Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed in action in Afghanistan. The award cited Tillman's heroic conduct in "devastating enemy fire."
But, at the time, McChrystal had already guessed that Tillman was accidentally killed by U.S. troops. He sent a back-channel memo advising then-President George W. Bush to avoid speaking about the "enemy fire." Pentagon officials questioned McChrystal over his conduct, though, he ultimately wasn't punished.
Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images
News today that Ireland has banned its troops in Chad from playing soccer hits particularly close for me. You see, I was reporting from Chad about a year ago -- and by coincidence, I stayed in the same hotel as the initial forces for the EU peacekeeping force now deployed there. So I have to say that I agree with Irish Defence Minister Willie O’Dea:
The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard. Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland, where the ground is not nearly as hard"
All true. My running took a serious hit during my stay in N'Djamena (though I had always attributed this more to the fact that a rebel incursion had shut down the city streets. Not really ideal conditions.)
Come to think of it, Chad is a pretty dangerous place for sports. Alas, the dirt in the country is hard. Minister O'Dea could also have cited concerns about dust -- since you would have to shower 5 times a day not to end up covered in silt. Not good for the health of ones eyes. The hotel pool by which many of the EU soldiers reclined was a breeding ground for mosquitoes (read: malaria).
Of course, the good news it that less soccer, pool, running, and general revelry might leave more time for the business of peacekeeping. But watch out -- those rebels are hardly better for one's constitution.
Despite Russian annoyance, NATO is conducting military exercises in Georgia today. But not all states that are elligible to participate are taking part. As Stratfor notes in its (annoyingly gated but possible to get for free) analysis, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia and Latvia are all staying out of the drills. The first four countries all have good relations with Russia and aren't that surprising, but Estonia and Latvia have tradionally relished a good chance to thumb their noses at Moscow. What gives?
Stratfor says it's a sign of the times:
Estonia and Latvia have been severely affected by the ongoing economic crisis, with both countries facing double-digit drops in gross domestic product forecast for 2009 (-10.1 percent and -13.1 percent, respectively) as a result of foreign capital flight and exports that are in free fall. Extreme social tension has set in as a result of the harsh economic realities, with both countries witnessing violent protests in January. In the meantime, the Latvian government collapsed early in 2009, and Riga has had to take out a $2.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Estonia’s government is set to face a vote of no confidence this week, and a similar loan from the IMF is likely later in 2009.
These conditions have caused Estonia and Latvia to temper their aggressive stance toward Russia. While the two countries are typically vocal and eager to take advantage of Russia’s weaknesses for media attention, they are now backing down as they realize their own positions are weak while Russia’s position is growing stronger. This explains Estonia’s and Latvia’s withdrawal from the NATO exercises, as they realize that their participation would be far more damaging to their relationship with Russia and that their financial situations would make joining in on the drills even more difficult. For these two countries, showing solidarity and support for Georgia makes a great deal of sense in theory (i.e., supporting in principal Georgia’s struggle against Russian influence). But it becomes increasingly hard to justify in practice when Russian influence is being felt in a real sense on their home turf.
As FP's own Evgeny Morozov wrote in Newsweek recently, Estonia has also toned down its cyberwarfare rhetoric directed at Russia. Real rapprochement between the Baltics and Russia is probably still a ways off, but this is an interesting development to watch.
(Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List)
The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:
The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain's sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:
"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But it's not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers "caught on camera" in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it's against military rules.
As for the bibles in Dari and Pashto, the conversations in the video actually seem to better support the military's explanation that a soldier had "showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them."
Afghanistan's former prime minister has called for an investigation after seeing the segment. This is a serious issue and one that has gotten the military into trouble before. But without more evidence, this particular case seems like a manufactured controversy.
The Washington Post mothership has put up a very interesting piece from CFR's Julia Sweig scheduled for this Sunday's Outlook section which proposes a novel idea for breaking the U.S. stalemate with Cuba, giving them back Guantanamo Bay:
Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently -- with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government -- outweigh the benefits.
The time to begin this transition is now. By transforming Guantanamo as part of a broader remaking of Washington's relationship with Cuba, the Obama administration can begin fixing what the president himself has decried as a "failed" policy. It can upend a U.S.-Cuban stalemate that has barely budged for 50 years and can put to the test Raul Castro's stated willingness to entertain meaningful changes.
Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America's credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government's apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States -- and gauge the regime's willingness to move the ball forward even more.
"As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay," Raul Castro quipped last year. It's hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.
I don't completely understand Sweig's desire to "test" or "guage" Raul Castro's intentions. The Obama administration's recent moves to lift some restrictions on Cuba could be viewed as a test as well, and Raul Castro has dismissed them as minimal and indicated no intention of reciprocating with political reforms. Following up minor concessions on travel and money transfers with something as big as closing Guantanamo would be a bit like handing a teenager the keys to a Porsche after he crashes the family station wagon.
The best case for engagement with Cuba is not that it will turn the island into a democarcy (it most likely won't) it's that after five decades we can fairly safely say that not engaging them isn't accomplishing a whole lot. Likewise, if, as Sweig argues, the U.S. presence in Guantanamo has outlived its strategic usefulness and serves only as a diplomatic and public relations liability, that alone seems reason enough to close it.
In any event, I'd be interested to see the military's case for why the base remains necessary.
Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images
Earlier today, I spoke with veteran Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. My question was simple: At what point did it become clear that the United States' treatment of detainees in overseas prisons was harsh, and possibly illegal? (For more FP torture coverage, see here.)
Allegations of detainee abuse first started trickling out in January 2002 -- in essence, as soon as detainees came into U.S. custody. But it wasn't until eleven months later that Priest and fellow Post reporter Barton Gellman wrote the first definitive account of such abuse. On the day after Christmas, 2002, the Post described "stress and duress" tactics, extraordinary rendition to countries like Syria, and the harsh treatment of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda. The article used the word torture -- saying that the United States harshly interrogated prisoners, and sent them to foreign prisons to gain the "fruits" of torture without having to do it themselves.
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
Back then, the CIA was Priest's beat. She says her tip-off on the "stress and duress" story came when she noticed a separate, unmarked compound near the main Bagram holding facility. "It wasn't in the military compound," she says. "But it was surrounded with triple concertina wire," the type used in high-security prisons. "I thought -- they have a separate facility, so are they working under separate rules? I knew the CIA and military were working in teams together, but at what?"
She and a team of Post reporters, among them Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Barton Gellman, working in parallel and in competition to New York Times writers like Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall, started piecing the stories together. "Really, there were just a handful of reporters who could make inroads on the subject," she says.
The reporting was painstaking. "It was a very decentralized thing. You weren't even sure what the questions were," she says. "We couldn't connect it up. We couldn't see the big picture. And there was no past reporting to go on. Everyone was making it up. We'd follow these little reports from Afghanistan, about people disappearing. That was it."
Crucial to the success of the early reporting were the teams of lawyers at organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights struggling to glean information on detainees. "We were all getting little teeny scraps and putting it together painstakingly," she says. "Nobody told you the whole story, or even a quarter of a story." One Post article on an extraordinary rendition came together because a someone happened to write down the number on the tail of an airplane. "You needed to keep those little scraps in your head," Priest notes.
Another big break -- for which she won a Pulitzer Prize -- came when she completed a story about the black sites, secret overseas prisons. The story took more than two years to report, and, she says, reporting on the subject still didn't get much easier -- it took years for Congress to devote as much attention to it as reporters and defense lawyers were.
"Congress did nothing," she says, "until political winds had changed, and the Democrats were feeling a little more at ease in the world. It's a new feeling for them. Because, before, there were Democrats in those meetings saying, ‘Do what you've got to do.'"
Alex Wong/Getty Images
With the glut of new information about "enhanced interrogations" and the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody -- the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee reports especially -- it's been very hard to keep track of who knew what and when.
To help sort it all out, I created a timeline showing new information in italics.
Look for more today...
By Mark Leon Goldberg
Hi Passport readers. I write the U.N. and global affairs blog UN Dispatch. The good folks at Passport asked me to respond to Matthew Russell Lee's selective lobotomy of U.N. Secretariat offices and functions.
Matthew and I have history. Every other week for the past two years we have sparred on BloggingHeads about U.N. issues and foreign policy more generally. I'm sure we'll take this beef to the airwaves this weekend when our program goes online. For now, though, it's to the keyboard. And in the interest of brevity, I'll limit my response to Matthew's recommendation that the U.N.'s Ethics Office be abolished in favor of a new "Office of Discipline" in order to punish miscreant peacekeepers.
As Passport's own Elizabeth Dickinson documents so elegantly in the current dead-tree version of Foreign Policy, there are over 100,000 peacekeepers from dozens of countries deployed to 19 missions around the world. The vast majority of peacekeepers conduct themselves professionally, but there have been instances in which peacekeeper impropriety has threatened to undermine the credibility of the U.N. in the eyes of the population that it is meant to serve. This is serious problem-and it is taken seriously at the UN. (See, this 2005 report Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative from Jordan and a former civilian peacekeeper himself.)
There are, however, certain structural problems in dealing with peacekeeper accountability that go beyond setting up or dismantling offices at U.N. headquarters.
For example, when a U.S. Marine is accused of misconduct he or she is subject to Courts Martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The United Nations does not have a similar capacity to pursue criminal investigations against peacekeepers; there are no criminal prosecutors in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations nor are there judges, courts or prisons. Rather, when a peacekeeper is accused of misconduct, the most the U.N. Secretariat can do is send him or her home. It is the responsibility of the troop contributing countries to launch the criminal probes.
This is clearly problematic because it leaves open the possibility that peacekeepers accused of a crime may go unpunished once sent home. However, since 2007 the United Nations has used inserted provisions in Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between troop contributing countries and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations that compel the troop contributing country to treat the prosecution of repatriated peacekeepers as it would should a similar offense occur in its territory.
This is a welcome development, but the question of what to do should a troop contributing country violate this provision of the MOU remains. Should the UN summarily reject peacekeepers from countries that do not follow the letter of this MOU? If so, whole peacekeeping missions in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, and Haiti could threaten to fold should, say, Pakistan fail to prosecute a small handful of its approximately 11,000 blue helmets in the field. I would argue that this is a worse outcome than having a relatively few number of peacekeepers go unpunished.
What to do about civilians accused of misconduct on a peacekeeping mission is an even more difficult nut to crack. Many times, civilians operate under diplomatic immunity. Immunity can be waived by the Secretary General but then there is the problem of jurisdiction. Under what penal code should civilians be subject? Generally, an individual would be tried where the crime occurs. But peacekeeping missions are often in countries without a functioning judiciary or without one that is up to international standards.
The aforementioned Zeid Report recommends a number of ways in which this accountability gap can be closed. The most straightforward of these is setting up a new "convention on the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission," which spells out how nationals of states that are party to this convention could be criminally prosecuted.
A draft text of this convention exists, but has not yet been adopted by UN member states. And even if this convention were adopted, only nationals of countries that have ratified the convention would be subject to its jurisdiction. Does that mean the U.N. should prohibit civilians from states that are not party to the convention from participating in peacekeeping missions? Again, such a rule would prevent a number of civilian experts from lending their skills and expertise to peacekeeping operations.
The point is these are complex issues that cannot, contra Matthew, be fixed simply by abolishing the Ethics Office and setting up a new "Disciplinary Office." Rather, U.N. member states - not the UN Secretariat itself - must to take the initiative.
Like I said, stay tuned for a longer discussion about this and the other issues Matthew raises on BloggingHeads. Our diavlog will be posted on Sunday.
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
One of the most interesting things about the four newly released Bush administration memos on the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in overseas secret CIA prisons has been what isn’t in there, rather than what is. The truly grotesque caterpillar revelation aside, the memos weren’t very revelatory. We already knew about the SERE techniques. We knew that medical professionals attended them -- and that Jay Bybee, then an administration lawyer, now a federal judge, felt the presence of medical professionals meant it wasn’t torture.
But Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, pointed me to one truly new detail, in a footnote in the May 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer. Here’s footnote 28:
“This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information….On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [REDACTED PORTION.] At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”
Which marks the first time a memo has admitted that waterboarding was “unnecessary.”
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
There's a lot of competition for top crises these days -- what with Somali pirates going overboard, Pakistan and Afghansitan looking increasingly perilous, Mexico's chaos scarily peering over the border...
But I vote for adding Nigeria to that very pressing list of concerns.
A new report released today, puts last year's death toll from unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region at 1,000. The almost-guerrilla war dragged the economy down by $20.7 billion in lost oil revenue, with little sign of abating in 2009. With oil prices already lower, government revenues are falling. More worrisome -- the rebels in that region who earn most of their cash from oil bunkering will be short on dough, inspiring more of the kidnappings-for-ransom that already breached the 300 mark in 2008. NGO workers on the ground tell me that things will really heat up if the prices (or the oil production levels) drop much lower.
To add another twist, the main rebel group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), today e-mailed a statement rejecting an amnesty offer that members of the ruling party allegedly proposed. In classic form, the rejection is colorful:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejects this evil agenda by the [ruling party] PDP and its cohorts and vow never to sell our birth right [to Nigeria's oil] for a bowl of porridge."
The deal itself was even more interesting: the government would provide fighter amnesty, prisoner release, and huge payouts to MEND in exchange for a rebel promise to help rig the coming elections in favor of the ruling party. That offer may well be an exaggeration on the part of the rebel spokesman. Then again, given Nigeria's rather wretched election history... it might not.
Why should this mess end up in the top echelon of global worries? Don't forget: Nigeria is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. And when regional powerhouses go down in flames, it can't bode well for any of the unlucky neighbors -- many of whom are recovering from their own bouts of conflict.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
Somehow I don't think this suggestion from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is going to go very far:
"I cannot condone violations of our sovereignty even when they are done by allies and friends. We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own."
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
Der Spiegel is reporting that a raid by U.S. Delta Force commandos in Northern Afghanistan this month was set up by an Afghan drug clan to eliminate a rival:
The Americans stormed a guesthouse belonging to the local mayor, who had previously been friendly towards German forces, killing his driver, cook and bodyguard, as well as two of his guests. The US commandos also seized four people. According to the US military, one of those captured was the "target" of the operation, a "high-ranking" member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida.
However, sources in the intelligence community have told SPIEGEL that the US forces were apparently used by a drug clan to take out one of its rivals, who was reportedly one of the men who was killed or detained. The tip-off regarding the location of the al-Qaida terrorist had come from a source close to a member of the Afghan government in Kabul who is reputed to be deeply involved with the illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan.
The German forces who operate in the area are now furious that they're being blamed for the incident.
With a NATO summit being held later this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will step up its training of Afghan police but ruled out committing more troops.
John Moore/Getty Images
Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder offers a peek into President Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy -- to be unveiled tomorrow. Among the highlights:
In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.
The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that's right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran's Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists' David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT's Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)
If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don't, yet.
The A.P. reports:
Two U.S. Navy vessels—a nuclear-powered submarine and an amphibious ship—collided before dawn Friday in the mouth of the Persian Gulf, one of the world's most important sea passages for oil supplies.
There was no damage to the sub's nuclear propulsion system and no disruption to shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes, said Navy spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen, with the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.
Still, the unusual collision between members of the same navy sparked a sudden rise in oil prices—which had been declining on the day—even though the strait remained open. [...]
The incident occurred around 1:00 a.m. local time Friday (5 p.m. EDT, Thursday), when the USS Hartford, a submarine, and the USS New Orleans, an amphibious ship, collided into each other in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the 5th Fleet said in a statement.
This is the second collision involving nuclear submarines in as many months. In February, British and French subs carrying nuclear warheads bumped into each other in the North Atlantic. Here's what Ian Bremmer wrote about that crash over at The Call:
First, this is not as unlikely an accident as you might think. These subs tend to pass through regions of the Atlantic where the Gulf Stream is strongest and they're, therefore, hardest to detect.
Second, both countries are extremely secretive about the positions of their submarines. On board, only the captain and senior officers generally know with much precision where they are. France will finally rejoin NATO's military structures this April, but that's unlikely to make them any more forthcoming about the nuclear submarine force.
Finally, stealth sonar technology works. Neither of the submarines would have detected the other--even at close quarters. These are the main reasons why this collision was merely really, really, really unlikely rather than virtually impossible.
Sounds reasonable. But I would imagine that it's even more unlikely for a submarine to crash into a ship from its own navy on the surface. The New Orleans doesn't look all that stealthy.
In case you missed it, Laura Rozen has updated her already blockbuster Cable post from yesterday on Christopher Hill's delayed appointment as Iraq ambassador with a devastating on-the-record quote from Defense Secretary Robert Gates' chief spokesman. Here's what Geoffrey Morrell had to say about the senators holding up Hill's confirmation:
“Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Amb. Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly. ...It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people.
“With regards to [Senate] members who have issues with him, I would say this," Morrell added. “We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
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