Tag Archives: War on Terror

United Nations Intervention in Mali: The Changing Face of the “War on Terror”

Rebels in Northern Mali.

Rebels in Northern Mali.

The United Nations Security Council yesterday unanimously approved a resolution supporting an African-led military intervention in northern Mali intended to dislodge Islamic militants operating in the region. The resolution calls for nonmilitary measures, including political reconciliation, elections, and training of Mali’s military forces before as a precursor to deployment of a 3,330-strong force backed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The government of Mali has been struggling to counter the growing influence of al Qaeda-linked groups in the northern part of the country. Two groups, the National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) heave been pushing for greater independence.

Blogging at Turtle Bay, Colum Lynch notes that the Security Council resolution provides broad authorization for foreign governments to “take all necessary measures” and provide “any necessary assistance” in support of Mali’s fight against Islamic extremists. Such measures could range from the deployment of military advisors and the provision of training and material support, to the use of drones or other forms of direct military intervention in northern Mali.

The Security Council’s decision was somewhat surprising, particularly given the fact that the organization had been so hesitant to consider the situation in Mali previously. However, the decision also reflects a new tactic in the war on terror. Rather than engaging directly in operations against Islamic extremists, the United States and other western nations are deferring to local and regional governments in the region to address the issue. This tactic raises an interesting question. What happens if the regional peacekeeping forces are unable to address the threat? How far should U.S. support go? At what point does the United States transition from “advice and support” to “direct intervention”? Would such a (revised) role require Congressional approval? Would Congress even support such an initiative? And more generally, would such a move transition the role of the United Nations from peacekeeping to peacemaking? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Pakistan–Friend or Foe?

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's Army Chief

Two troubling pieces of news today highlight America’s frayed relationship with Pakistan and add to the growing questions about whether Pakistan can truly be viewed as America’s ally in the Global War on Terror.

News item #1: a Pew Research Center poll was released showing how the Pakistani public views America, President Obama, and Osama bin Laden, among other issues.  Some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective):

* only 10% of Pakistanis approve of the U.S. raid that killed Bin Laden

* only 12% have a favorable view of America

* a mere 8% have confidence in President Obama

* 79% say the military is having a good influence on the country

* only 14% believe President Asif Ali Zardari is having a good influence

If there is any good news from the American perspective from this poll, it is that only 12% of the public has a favorable view of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  The fact that the military is the most popular institution in Pakistan highlights the powerful role played by the military in Pakistani politics (recall that it was only in 2008 that General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, relinquished control to civilian authorities).  In a democracy, which Pakistan aspires to be, elected civilian officials must control the military, but Pakistan has little tradition of civilian control.  You can view the full poll here.

News item #2: a senior Pakistani army officer was detained on suspicion of ties to militant groups.  Brigadier Ali Khan was reportedly linked to Hizb-ul-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which distributed pamphlets in military encampments after the raid on Bin Laden’s compound calling for officers to establish an Islamic caliphate.  “A copy of the pamphlet, posted on Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s Web site in English, claims that the United States is behind attacks blamed on Islamist militants in Pakistan, and calls on the ‘military leadership to mobilize to protect the Muslims from further harm at the hands of the Americans.'”

This news comes on the heels of a string of troubling reports, from Pakistan’s arrest of five informants who helped the CIA locate Bin Laden, to a rumor that Pakistan has “lost the the paperwork that would explain how a compound was bought and built in Abbotabad to house Osama Bin Laden for over five years,” to the apparent “tipping off” of Pakistani militants that U.S. raids were coming.  The latter disclosure “prompted senior members of Congress on Sunday to accuse Pakistan of playing a double game by aiding the United States on some counterterrorism operations while also maintaining ties to violent, extremist organizations operating from its territory.”  As a result of this “double game,” the most serious (though often unstated) concern of many U.S. officials is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

What do you think?  Can Pakistan legitimately be called an ally or partner of the U.S. in the War on Terror?  Should the U.S. stop giving $2 billion in aid annually to a government that doesn’t have our best interests at heart, or is this fragile “partnership” actually much better than the alternative, as many experts believe?

Bin Laden and the War on Terror

Perhaps not surprisingly, the blogosphere has been dominated by discussion of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces operating in Pakistan. While the mission itself was clouded in secrecy, perhaps the most detailed description was offered by Marc Ambinder at the National Journal.

The news prompted spontaneous gatherings outside the White House in Washington DC and at the World Trade Center site in New York City. It also prompted Peter Beinart to assert “The War on Terror is over.”

But as several bloggers have been quick to point out, Beinart’s assertion may be a bit premature. As Daniel Drezner points out, bin Laden’s role in al Qaeda had been minimized. Although he continued to serve as its figurehead leader, bin Laden had little role in the organization’s operational side. Al Qaeda itself had long been fractured into separate commands, each operating essentially as franchises of the larger organization. Operations in Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere will therefore not be affected by bin Laden’s death.

The real question that bin Laden’s death does raise, however, centers on US-Pakistan relations. A number of bloggers, including David Rothkopf, Julian Borger, and Stephen Walt all note that given bin Laden’s location it is improbable in the least to think that he was not receiving support from elements within the Pakistani government. What this means for the future of US-Pakistani relations remains unclear. The United States, however, continues to need Pakistan’s assistance in the war on terror. Al Qaeda may not be the threat it once was, but terrorists nevertheless continue to be key actors on the global stage.