Posts Tagged ‘US foreign policy’

Another radio piece, this time in English, for something called War News Radio an independent US channel. Focused on my thoughts on China-Afghanistan, a subject I have looked at a bit and will try to look at more once I come up for air from my current workload.

WNR Top Story: Chinese Investment in Afghanistan

U.S. Geological Survey geologist Mike Chornack scales a hillside during a site survey outside Sukalog, Afghanistan, in hopes of finding strong metallic minerals, which may result in mining jobs for Afghans. (U.S. Marine Corps photo) 

A 2010 report by the US geological survey and the Pentagon reported that Afghanistan may contain nearly 1 trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral deposits.  This mineral wealth has the potential to transform the country, and foreign investors are eager to exploit this investment opportunity.  Caroline Batten has more on one specific country’s involvement – China.

http://warnewsradio.org/wp-content/audio/WNR110401/2-Chinese.mp3
(download mp3)

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A new article for the Guardian exploring an issue I have had knocking around my head for a while, the issue of the use of informants in U.S. terror cases. It is a complex question, as it is hard to know what the alternative is sometimes. Being on the Guardian’s website, this has awakened a storm of comments on their page, some of which are rational but many are pretty off-the-wall. Once I have gotten over my current large writing hump I will try to return to this subject in some sort of a more academically useful way. Any pointers for longer pieces on this topic would be warmly welcomed.

Counter-productive counter-terror

Is entrapping low-level wannabe jihadists with elaborate FBI sting operations the best way of handling domestic radicals?

Raffaello Pantucci

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010 18.30 GMT

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Christmas tree bomber, Portland Oregon Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who has been dubbed ‘the Christmas tree bomber’, after his arrest in an FBI sting operation for attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in Portland Oregon. Photograph: AP Photo

The latest attempt by an American Muslim to wreak havoc in America is a depressing indictment of two things: of the fact that there continue to be young Americans eager to kill their fellow citizens in the name of extremist ideas, and of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s eagerness to launch counter-intelligence operations to trap such people.Attorney General Holder may be correct that “there is no entrapment here, and no entrapment claim will be found to be successful,” but what is unclear is the degree to which efforts to catch people may well be exacerbating the problem.

In the UK, counter-terrorism experts mutter sniffily about how such an approach would never stand up in a British court of law. And in some recent cases, one has to wonder. Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani-American, appears to have been the only active plotter in a network of FBI informants who claimed to be al-Qaida. Ahmed thought he was plotting with them to launch a series of bombings on underground stations in Washington, DC, when, in fact, he was the only person whose intent was genuine among a unit of paid informants.

Now, there is the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali-American who drove and attempted to detonate a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Having attempted to make repeated contact with what he believed were extremists in Pakistan, Mahmud was finally contacted by a FBI agent who led him to believe that he was a fellow extremist. The two met in July 2010, and Osman appears to have decided this person was acceptably radical and to share violent ideas with him.

What follows is a scenario that is increasingly familiar in the US: the agents worked with the young man essentially to help him assemble a plot that would demonstrate his intent to carry out an attack in the US. Throughout court documents published after arrest, it is clear that agents made sure the individual knew what he was getting himself into, and what the likely consequences would be (innocent people would die). And at no point does the individual decide that, actually, this is something he would rather not do.

Instead, he continues down the path until, at a certain point, police decide that they have enough evidence and he is arrested. This has happened previously with Hosam Maher Husein Smadi and James Cromitie and his cell. In those cases, individuals are currently serving long jail terms, and given the weight of evidence that doubtless includes a lot of incriminating recordings, it is likely that Farooque and Mahmud are going to be following them.

But is this really a strategy that is improving the situation in the United States? Domestic radicalisation in the US is of increasing concern to American security planners, and rightly so, but such arrests have a questionable security benefit.

First of all, it is worth taking a step back to look at whether these individuals would have necessarily attempted to carry out their actions if it was not for the support of the network of agents who tasked with monitoring them. If these individuals continued as lone radicals who were unable to find individuals of equal determination to pursue a violent path, would they necessarily have attempted to carry out an attack?

As has been shown by Marc Sageman and others, domestic Islamist terrorists tend to be more effective (that is, dangerous) if they have others to bounce their ideas off. When we add to this the fact that, often, it is the security agents in the situation who have provided (or are offering to provide) the weapons or explosives, then this phenomenon is surely further accelerated.

Second, it seems of questionable utility to be continually incarcerating the sorts of individuals caught in these FBI stings. In the case of Mahmud, at least two undercover agents and numerous others’ time was used in catching him; while in Farooque’s case, at least three agents were directly involved. In either instance, might it not have been a more productive use of agents’ time simply to scare the individual off his chosen path with a menacing warning, rather than bothering with this long and expensive investigation? In neither case did they seem to have anything beyond peripheral contact with actual extremists. Had they been warned off, they might have ceased their efforts.

Of course, it can be argued that the harsh reaction to these individuals could be a purposeful effort by American services to send a strong deterrence message. But operations like these have been going on for years, and we continue to see new domestic radicals pop up.

It is also true that the US authorities are understandably concerned about the increase in unpredictable, “sole agent” attackers at home: Hassan Malik Nidal and Abdulhakim Mujahid are merely two of a number of Americans to have been drawn to Anwar al-Awlaki’s message of personalised jihad. Alongside aspirant attackers Faisal Shazhad or Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, who had some connections but acted alone, these men all appear to have operated in a vacuum, which the FBI had missed prior to their murderous attacks. That precedent is rightly alarming.

Still, questions must be raised about the value and utility of capturing such low-level aspirants as Farooque or Mahmud, who are both likely to receive long terms of incarceration at great expense to the taxpayer. Another way to address the threat might be to actively dissuade such individuals from getting involved in terrorist activity. This approach has not always met with success in the past: the British services made themselves known to Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza and other radicals in London, but this contact did not dissuade them from radicalising aplenty and supporting jihad internationally. But this still might be a more productive avenue in dealing with low-level aspirants (as opposed to hardened militant preachers), as an effective alternative to elaborate sting operations.

After all, both Farooque and Mahmud were gullible enough to believe that individuals they first met online were hardcore al-Qaida supporters – these are strictly amateurs. A dramatic intervention coupled with local monitoring could result in just as much security benefit, at a considerably lower cost. This strategy would have the bonus effect of helping to thin out the increasing number of Muslim “martyrs” sitting in American jails. Their growing presence suggests that lengthy incarceration has little, if any deterrent effect on America’s homegrown jihadis.

 

A short article for Foreign Policy, expanding on my previous Survival article looking at China’s relationship with Afghanistan. This is a subject I am going to do some more work on, including building on a fascinating set of interviews I recently did in Beijing. As ever, any thoughts or pointers hugely appreciated.

In Afghanistan, it’s only Chinese take-out

NATO wants more Chinese assistance in stabilizing the region. But as ever, Beijing won’t step up to the plate without a nod from Islamabad.

By RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI | NOVEMBER 29, 2010

U.S. and European generals and strategists are often decrying China’s increasing influence around the globe. But this March NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen took a different stance. “I think China could play a key role in civilian development in Afghanistan,” Rasmussen told China’s state media.

Eight months later, however, Beijing is no closer to playing that role than it has been throughout the nine-year war in Afghanistan. For all the recent media attention on China’s investment in Afghanistan’s mining wealth, the real question is why Beijing isn’t doing more. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai’s administration has long reached out to Beijing for money and political support, and both Afghan and NATO leaders think that China’s leaders, if they were so inclined, could do much to improve stability in Central and South Asia. Yet Beijing doesn’t want to play ball.

Not so long ago, it seemed China might finally be ready to take on a larger role. In late 2009 and early 2010, Western diplomats visiting Beijing were surprised at the level of interest and inquisitiveness from their Chinese counterparts when it came to the subject of Afghanistan. U.S. President Barack Obama had just announced the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, and concerned Chinese policy makers seemed to be trying to assess the impact of such a move on their near neighborhood. One op-ed that ran in the state-runGlobal Times on Dec. 24, 2009 suggested it might be time for the Chinese to send police forces to “help the Afghan government to safeguard the construction projects aided or invested in by the Chinese government.”

One clear signal China could give would be to finally open the Wakhan Corridor, the thin band of land extending some 200 miles from northeast Afghanistan, which links the two countries. China has kept the border virtually sealed for over 100 years due to political instability in Afghanistan. In June 2009, China announced it would look into the possibility of reopening the border road. Nothing has come of that inquiry so far.

China’s reluctance to act is largely due to its close relationship with Pakistan, the prism through which Beijing views much of the region. Beijing is likely aware that opening the Wakhan Corridor might disrupt lucrative regional trade routes through Pakistan, thus incurring Islamabad’s wrath and damaging other investments it has already made in the Gwadar port in southern Pakistan. Moreover, China has no desire to be dragged into the messy business of nation-building; even its existing investments now seem at risk. Key among them is the Aynak copper mine for which the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. paid more than $3.5 billion, while also offering to build a rail line and power station to support the province. Yet the expensive project has thus far proved to be a headache, plagued by schedule delays and local security problems. Archaeologists have raised concerns that an ancient monastery filled with historical artifacts sits atop the mine’s location. Such hassles have made the China Metallurgical Group reconsider whether it really wants to bid for theHajigak iron ore mine, which could contain, according to the Afghan government, up to two billion tonnes of high-grade iron ore that it had initially expressed interest in. Even the seemingly insatiable Beijing has begun to wonder whether mining in Afghanistan may be more trouble than it’s worth.

This is not to say that China has played no role in Afghanistan. Beijing recently pledged $75 million in aid to Afghanistan over the next five years and has already provided, according to Chinese figures, $130 million in aid since the fall of the Taliban. In July, China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechiannounced that Beijing would train 200 Afghan officials and technical personnel this year and was increasing the number of scholarships it offered to young Afghans from 30 to 50. But these numbers are small compared with what China could give and what it does gives to neighboring Pakistan. In the wake of the terrible floods this year, for instance, China quickly pledged $200 million in aid to Pakistan.

For now, beyond resource extraction and providing a minimum of diplomatic largesse, China refuses to become more engaged in Afghanistan. It is hard to see a way through the impenetrable fog of friendliness that is the Sino-Pak relationship, described by Chinese and Pakistani leaders as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.” And since Pakistan continues to hedge its position in Afghanistan, both supporting the government and supporting elements linked to the insurgency, it’s unlikely that Beijing will endanger its friendship with Islamabad and its potential partner in the wake of NATO’s departure by coming to NATO’s aid.

Ultimately, there is a great deal of common ground between Beijing, the West, and the Karzai administration: They all want to see a stable Afghanistan. But China’s wait-and-see strategy is not going to change anytime soon, something the Obama administration is going to have to accept as it figures out how it is going to extricate itself from Afghanistan.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a China program associate with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

A longer piece in Survival exploring the question of China’s interests and desires in Afghanistan. It was initially longer, so some detail has been lost, but at the same time I hope it captures the debate that I have encountered in some detail. This is a subject that I am thinking of exploring more and is going to be the first in a number of substantial pieces I have been working on about China while I am in the Middle Kingdom.

Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall, so if you want a copy drop me a note through the contact form and I can help out. In the meantime, here are the first 500 words.

China’s Afghan Dilemma

Survival 52-4 cover

by Raffaello Pantucci

Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 52, no. 4, August–September 2010, pp. 21–27

Order a copy of the issue here

The announcement that American forces in Afghanistan would start to draw down by July 2011 highlighted, for China, the need for a conversation about what exactly its interests in its neighbour are, and what it is willing to do about them. Beijing’s primary security concern with Afghanistan is the potential that instability and terrorism might be exported to China’s far-western Xinjiang province, where the ethno-separatist tendencies of the large Uighur Muslim minority have in the past been linked to al-Qaeda militancy. Currently, China is reliant on the United States and NATO to deal with Uighur separatists within Afghanistan, which occurs as a by-product of operations against the Afghan Taliban and related groups. Many Chinese analysts remain unconvinced that NATO will succeed. Most see Afghanistan as the ‘graveyard of Empires’, an assessment they gleefully share with foreign analysts, and which captures a residual sense amongst some Chinese planners who see the United States as an enemy whose losses are advantages to Beijing. Operating from this strategic calculus means that China must be prepared for the eventuality that NATO forces will leave Afghanistan in the control of Taliban or affiliated groups. Beijing has no interest, therefore, in appearing to take sides against the Taliban and finding itself in an awkward bargaining position after an American withdrawal. And beyond Afghanistan, there is the risk that China might be perceived as taking sides in the global conflict between Islam and the West.

China’s interests in Afghanistan extend beyond security considerations. In 2007 China Metallurgical Group won a contract for a 30-year lease on the Aynak copper mine in Logar province, south of Kabul. The site is believed to hold one of the biggest copper deposits in the world; the initial call for tenders cited Afghan and British Geological Survey estimates of some 240 million tonnes. The initial expectation in the press was that the sale would raise some $1.8 billion, but the Chinese offered almost $3bn, as well as to build a 400MW coal-fired power plant and other infrastructure which would supply both the mine and nearby villages. The total cost of the project to the Chinese firm has since been estimated to be as high as $4.4bn.

Aynak is likely to be the first in a number of large mining concessions offered in Afghanistan. Next is a 2bn-tonne iron mine in Bamiyan province northwest of Kabul, for which a Chinese firm, a Saudi firm and five Indian firms had bid (the call was extended for unspecified reasons). In an attempt to map Afghanistan’s natural wealth, the government commissioned the US Geological Survey to conduct a $17m survey of the nation. According to reports ahead of publication, the country is sitting on some $1 trillion in mineral and petroleum reserves.

However, it is through Xinjiang (literally ‘New Frontier’) that China’s interests in Afghanistan must be primarily understood. The province holds many of China’s natural resources and provides a gateway to access further resources from Central Asia and Russia. Some two-fifths of China’s coal is …

Get full article here

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), where he is currently based as part of the EU STF China Programme, and a former Consulting Research Associate at the IISS.

Another post over at FreeRad!cals, this time drawn from a good article I read on a plane. It particularly struck me as it sparked off a long conversation about these issues with someone who really usually is not engaged in them – so it reached out. In retrospect it feels a little unfinished at the end, but oh well.

Bruce Hoffman in the National Interest

Filed under: Terrorism

Counter-terrorism sage Bruce Hoffman has an article in the latest issue of the National Interest which I would recommend as a sanguine assessment of the threat that the U.S. faces from domestic Islamist terrorists.

The article opens with a cold-eyed assessment based on insider conversations of the intelligence disaster that took place around Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to bring down an airliner in December 2009. Highlighting a number of missed connections that were likely in part for Admiral Denny Blair’s resignation recently, the main point appears to be that the dots were simply not put together in time to stop Abdulmutallab getting on the plane in Amsterdam. Apparently, preparations had been built around the assumption that AQAP was about to launch an attack on a U.S. target abroad, not that an attack was about to be launched on the homeland.

The broader point of the article, however, is the lack of imagination which has led the U.S. to treat a tactic as a strategy (Predator strikes) and a mistaken belief that America was somehow immune to the sort of domestic radicalization which has become the primary preoccupation of many European planners. A list of events, plots, and groups is provided showing how short-sighted this analysis has been, showing how links to various AQ affiliates can be found in a long list of plots, as well as a larger pool of low-level attempts all carried out by American citizens. A lack of imagination which is also found in the inability to recognize that AQ is a multifaceted organization with many different locations and iterations, rather than a monolith which can be focused on in an organized fashion in one location at a time, “we rivet our attention on only one trouble spot at a time, forgetting that Al Qaeda has always been a networked transnational movement.”

This is coupled with an ongoing failure to admit that the Predator strategy which is regularly trumpeted as crippling Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks has done nothing to stem the flow of foreigners going to train in the camps in Pakistan (he cites a figure of about 100 who have graduated from the camps and now returned home). Something that is only a tactic appears to have become the only show in town when it comes to strategic planning in addressing the threat from Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As has been repeatedly said by numerous experts, it is unlikely that you will be able to kill your way of this problem. As Hoffman puts it: “until we dissemble the demand side….we will never be able to staunch the supply side.”

So simply hammering AQ or its affiliates in local insurgencies abroad is not going to get rid of the problem, especially as the ideology continues to appear to have deep resonance amongst a community of individuals living in the West. Management is key, and making sure that we are able to contain the problem from exploding as it did in the case of Abdulmutallab or some of the other plots that have managed to come to fruition in the U.S., is likely the best we can do in terms of stopping AQ or the ideology it inspires. This is not going to eradicate the problem in the immediate term, but neither is the current approach. But admitting to this will hopefully open doors which maybe lead in a better direction.

There was one point in the article which bothered me, which was when he refers to Abdulmutallab’s profile as defying “conventional wisdom about the stereotypical suicide terrorist being poor, uneducated and provincial.” My question would be: whose conventional wisdom is this still? Given the laundry list of well-educated and assimilated terrorists, who out there still sees simpletons from the provinces as the main incubator of radicalization in the West? I do not actually disagree with what Professor Hoffman says, but it bothers me that there might still be those out there looking for such a profile.

One final point which struck me as interesting is the assertion that Lone Wolves might be part of a strategy by AQ to “flood already-stressed intelligence systems with ‘noise’.” The suggestion, if I am reading it correctly, is that low-tech attacks by “lone wolves and other jihadi hangers-on,” are more coordinated than one might think and are in fact an effort to keep security planners busy and distracted from focusing on serious directed plots from abroad.

This is a slightly older piece that I actually missed when it first ran, which I suppose is quite embarrassing. It was originally meant to run in the monthly magazine I write for Homeland Security today (www.hstoday.us), but in the end it got shunted to the website. It is in essence a counter-terrorism perspective from Europe on Obama’s first 100 days. Some of the information could do with a little updating, but frankly the things I would say probably appear in other things that I have written (or have coming up soon). I would be very grateful for any other thoughts on this one – especially from those who think I have left anything off.

http://www.hstoday.us/content/view/8275/149/
European Views on the First 100 Days

by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Europeans view Obama’s change initiatives on counter-terror front with hopefulness, and caveats.

Prior to his election, European expectations of Barack Obama’s presidency were at almost stratospheric levels. Across the continent, European leaders and publics salivated in anticipation of the new president – and nowhere was this more true than in the United Kingdom, where celebrations of the Obama victory resonated on all sides of the political aisle.
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