[Can You Say, the “L” Word?]
Syrian Jihadi Captors ‘Spoke English With Midlands Accents’
Obama and his British masters’ war against the Syrian government of Bashar Assad has spawned a new war in the Middle East, this time where its “sub-contractor” Turkey finds itself battling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The latter has now launched a major offensive inside Turkey, where in the last two weeks government troops have killed 115 PKK members according to Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin. Battles are taking place in Semdini in Hakkari province on the border with Iraq. There are as many as 10,000 Turkish troops involved in the bloodiest fighting in years.
The Turkish opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) sent a delegation to the region and demanded more transparency on what is actually happening. The operation has been going on for three weeks. The CHP members went to Semdini, the capital of the region, where the operation is taking place. While the city itself was calm, one could hear sounds of military operations. The PKK had claimed they captured the town, which was obviously untrue.
The Turkish press across the political spectrum is filled with editorials and commentaries critical of the government’s policy. One example is a commentary in Today’s Zaman by Omer Taspinar, who writes under the headline “Syria Lessons for Turkey,” that the ruling Justice and Development Party policy of trying to be the “most important central player” in the region is “now history” as a result of events in Syria. He writes that it was “naive” and “absurd to believe that Turkey could replace Iran’s influence over Syria.” Another lesson was a failure to see the relationship between the Turkey’s backing of the Saudi-financed Syrian opposition, and the Kurdish problem inside Turkey itself, which has now led not only to the prospect of a PKK-controlled region within Syria bordering Turkey, but also to the current upsurge of attacks by the PKK within Turkey itself.
Yet another failure is to see the that the Sunni-Alawite conflict, between the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Sunni opposition and the Alawite minority that is part of the current Syrian government, will blow back against Turkey itself. Indeed Turkey has 15-20 million Alawite citizens who now fear that sectarian violence will spread from Syria to Turkey itself. He writes that it is disturbing to see that today “Turkey is perceived in the region and by its own population as a Sunni actor that is particularly close to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
This commentary should be seen as particularly biting since Today’s Zaman is itself linked to Turkish Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic movement close to the AKP party.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded with a flight forward that promises to bring even greater disasters. Speaking on Turkish television, he blamed the Syrian government, claiming that it is supporting the PKK, and warning that Turkey could launch military attacks against the PKK inside Syria to stop its alleged infiltration into Turkey from Syrian territory. These allegations have been coordinated with the Turkish- and Saudi-backed Syrian opposition. Khaled Abu Saleh, spokesman of the so-called Homs Revolutionary Council, claimed that Damascus released 1,200 PKK terrorists from Syrian jails.
In late July a top Mexican government official made headlines around the world by accusing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of playing a key role in facilitating the international drug smuggling trade. On July 27, AMERICAN FREE PRESS spoke with former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Michael Levine, who said this confirms what he’s been saying for decades.
In an interview with Arab news outlet Al Jazeera, Guillermo Terrazas Villanueva, an officialspokesman for the state government of Chihuahua, told reporter Chris Arsenault that the CIA and other international security forces “don’t fight drug traffickers,” but rather “try to manage the drug trade.”
According to Villanueva, the CIA operates “like pest control companies. If you finish off the pests, you are out of a job. If they finish the drug business, they finish their jobs.”
The CIA has thus far refused to directly comment on the allegations. However, Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser to the White House on drug control policy, dismissed Villanueva’saccusations as nothing more than “conspiracy theories.” ”Statements should be backed up with evidence,” Sabet told Al Jazeera.
Apparently, Sabet has not read Levine’s New York Times bestseller, Deep Cover.
“That book gives a firsthand account of what we are talking about right now,” Levine said during a recent interview with this AFP reporter. “It tells the story of a [DEA] operation I led [in 1987] called ‘Trifecta,’ where our undercover team posed as a [U.S.] Mafia family and dealt with factions of the Mexican government to set up a 15-ton cocaine deal.”
Levine went on to describe the elaborate scheme, and the damning evidence that his teamuncovered as a result.
“With the help of the Mexican military, we were to transit cocaine from Bolivia, through Mexico, into the United States,” Levine explained. “We had hidden videos of Mexican Colonel Jorge Carranza—bodyguard of incoming Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari—telling me that once our deal went through, we would have an open door into the U.S. through Mexico.”
Levine continues: “We immediately sent the videos to then-Attorney General Edwin Meese. But Meese blew our cover. He called the attorney general of Mexico and warned him about us. Why? As we found out, the CIA was behind the whole thing. The people we were about to lock up were CIA assets.”
According to Levine, colluding with criminals is a standard procedure the CIA continues to practice. “You can be the biggest drug dealer in the world,” says Levine, “but if you have any political influence in your country, which most drug dealers do, the CIA will hire you.”
When asked why the U.S. government allows this criminality to go unchecked, Levine replied: “The CIA and other intelligence agencies, right down to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, have a vested interest in maintaining a global drug problem. That’s what they live for. They pretty much rely on drug proceeds to fund their operations.”
And these operations are not just confined to countries south of the border. According to Levine, “Take Afghanistan for example, where all of our [CIA] assets are tribal leaders who are allowed to traffic in heroin because they’re anti-Taliban. The CIA is supporting these people, and making sure they don’t get arrested or indicted.”
Levine went on to explain: “What the CIA’s motivation is in many cases, even going back to the Vietnam War, is to support these people because they are our allies. In the case of Vietnam, it was to fight communism. In Mexico—as I pointed out in Deep Cover—it was the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA].”
At the time Levine was leading Operation Trifecta, NAFTA was on the congressional agenda. It was already a highly controversial issue among voters and would have likely not passed if Levine’s investigation had been broadcast to the American people.
“International trade agreements are much more important than the war on drugs,” said Levine. “So the choice was made to stick the powder into the brains and veins of America’s children so long as they got their trade policy passed—that was more important.”
Operation Trifecta is not the only case that exposes CIA complicity in drug trafficking. In a later book, entitled The Big White Lie, Levine detailed the CIA’s role in creating La Corporacion, the “General Motors of cocaine,” which was directly responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States.
He also exposed the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group that brought down the pro-DEA Bolivian government, as well as the story of Sonia Atala, Bolivia’s “queen of cocaine,” whom the CIA protected from prosecution as she dealt drugs to American citizens during the 1980s.
[There can be no peace in Afghanistan until Pakistan allows it.]
Former Defense Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak-Creative Commons
Ministers blamed for not doing enough to prevent rockets raining down from neighbouring Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has resigned after parliament called for him to go, along with Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.
Wardak’s announcement on July 7 came four days after legislators passed a vote of no confidence in him and Mohammadi, whose ministry controls the Afghan National Police.
President Hamid Karzai said he would respect parliament’s views and remove the two ministers, but he asked them to stay on in a caretaker capacity while he found replacements. Wardak refused to carry on in this lesser role.
The two security-sector ministers had faced mounting criticism for their apparent failure to counter cross-border attacks from Pakistan.
Rockets continued to fall on the eastern Kunar province throughout July, as senior Afghan officials pointed the finger at the Pakistani military rather than Taleban militants, saying that only Islamabad had access to the munitions used.
Pakistan has denied the allegation, while the United States Defence Department and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, have indicated that insurgents may be to blame.
On July 20, rockets killed three men and a woman in Kunar province, according to the Afghan foreign ministry. On July 22 and 23, nearly 400 rockets were fired from Pakistani territory into Kunar’s Dangam district. More have fallen since.
Kabul has previously threatened to refer Islamabad to the United Nations Security Council if the bombardment, which began in May, does not stop. (See Afghans Say Pakistan Behind Cross Border Fire.)
Kunar provincial governor Fazlullah Wahedi said nearly 2,000 rockets had landed in recent months. As well as killing civilians, the attacks had displaced hundreds of families.
“The central government should address this issue seriously. The bombardment has made the public very anxious,” Wahedi told local media.
This week, Afghanistan’s interior minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and army chief-of-staff Sher Mohammad Karimi, appeared before the Meshrano Jirga, or upper house of parliament, to discuss the Kunar attacks.
Mohammadi presented photographs of munitions that had landed and claimed that only the Pakistani military possessed armaments of this type, including 155-mm artillery shells.
Karimi assured senators that the Pakistani military was behind the shelling, and claimed the assault was intended to pressure Kabul into accepting the Durand Line, a poorly-defined border established by an 1893 agreement. Kabul does not recognise the line, which Pakistan would like to see formalised as the official frontier.
Karimi also questioned why the US was not doing more to address the situation.
“I don’t know why the Americans are ignoring this issue,” he told the Meshrano Jirga. “Maybe the Americans are afraid because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, or maybe they are old friends and [America] doesn’t want to clash with them.”
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said America was working closely with Afghanistan and Pakistan to try and limit violence along the border. Little suggested that insurgents were to blame, according to press reports on July 25.
“We have obviously been in constant contact with the Afghan government to work on these issues and we have put pressure on the enemy that operates along the border,” Little told a press conference in Washington.
The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the issue, saying it fell within ISAF’s remit.
On July 24, ISAF condemned what it called “cross-border insurgent indirect-fire attacks” and said it was working with the Afghan defence ministry and the Pakistani government to stop them.
The Pakistani embassy in Kabul has denied any state involvement in the attacks. Embassy press officer Akhtar Munir said insurgents operating on either side of the border could be firing the rockets in the hope that Afghans would blame Pakistan.
Kunar is mountainous and heavily forested, and borders Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, over which Islamabad has limited control.
Officials in Islamabad have accused insurgents of staging attacks into Pakistan from Kunar. They say the Pakistani Taleban have found refuge in parts of eastern Afghanistan from which most Afghan and American forces have withdrawn over the last two years, and are now using the area as a springboard for cross-border attacks, according to a New York Times report.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on July 24 that “terrorists” had launched 15 attacks from Kunar and Nuristan provinces against Pakistani border posts and villages over the last year. The newspaper claimed that 105 soldiers and civilians had been killed in the attacks.
Kabul has largely confined its response to the shelling to formal diplomatic channels.
President Hamid Karzai and the incoming Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told a press conference in Kabul in July that they had discussed the attacks, though a more junior Afghan official was left to issue a sterner public statement.
Jawed Ludin, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, conveyed Kabul’s “serious concerns” to Pakistani ambassador Mohammad Sadiq on July 22. He warned that the bombardment “would have a significant negative impact on bilateral relations, especially in light of the broad range of important issues related to peace, security and economic cooperation”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said the administration understood the public’s concerns, but was keen to avoid reacting emotionally to what was a complicated issue,
“We understand our people’s feelings but the issue is very complex…. We are doing whatever is in the country’s national interest,” he said. “Some decisions have been made in this regard and some orders have been issued to the security agencies, but we cannot divulge the details.”
Some Afghans are frustrated that their foreign allies have not done more to stand up for Afghanistan, especially after Karzai and US president Barack Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement earlier this year. In the agreement, which paved the way for continued cooperation until 2024, the US said it would view any external aggression against Afghanistan with “grave concern”. (For more on the deal, see Afghan Parliament Approves US Partnership.)
Faizi said Afghan officials had raised the Kunar bombardment several times in meetings with senior NATO and ISAF officials, while interior ministry spokesman Mohammad Sediq Sediqi confirmed that officials had presented evidence of Pakistan’s alleged involvement to their foreign allies.
But according to an official in the presidential office, the commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, remains unconvinced. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Allen had told the Afghan authorities several times that they lacked sufficient proof of Pakistani involvement.
The official said that while the situation was very complicated, the US and NATO were displaying “negligence and ignorance” regarding the attacks.
Atiqullah Amarkhel, a defence expert and retired general, said a stronger government in Kabul might have lobbied more successfully for western help. He added that the US was heavily reliant on Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, which might make it reluctant to accuse Islamabad of involvement.
On July 31 the US and Pakistan signed a deal on shipments of supplies to the international forces in Afghanistan, prompting Washington to release over one billion dollars in frozen military aid, the Associated Press reported. This ended a crisis that began in November 2011 when Islamabad closed its borders to freight for NATO troops in Afghanistan, after American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Wahid Mozhda, an Afghan political analyst, said that even if it knew Islamabad was implicated in the shelling, Washington might be reluctant to confront it given its reliance on the transit route.
“The… least expensive transit route for American troops here in the region goes through Pakistan. The US needs Pakistan to achieve its long-term goals in the region,” Mozhda said. “I am confident that with the technology at their disposal, the Americans know where the rockets coming into Afghanistan are being fired from, but they don’t want to upset Pakistan,” he said.
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s Afghanistan editor. Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.
What Russia is saying about Syria may be self-serving and amoral, but fundamentally true: that Syria was no more oppressive than Bahrain, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, writes Vadim Nikitin.
Unpalatable as it may be, and coming from as unsavoury a character as Putin, it’s time to face the truth about Syria: that Assad might be the last remaining obstacle to war in the Middle East. No-one likes to see the Russian strongman be right about something. But when a botox-ed, authoritarian KGB veteran starts to look like the biggest dove in the room, it’s time for the West to seriously reconsider its stance on Damascus.
The ugliness of the messenger should not detract from the truth of the message. And what Russia is saying about Syria may be self-serving and amoral, but fundamentally true: that Syria was no more oppressive than Bahrain, Jordan or Saudi Arabia; that the increased instability and sectarian violence unleashed by removing Assad would outweigh any potential gains from overthrowing a dictator; that the incoherent, volatile ranks of the rebels teem with al-Qaeda militants who will not easily put down their arms; and most importantly, that hawks in the United States and Israel consider regime change in Damascus to be a mere prelude to the real showdown — with Iran.
On moral grounds, Russia’s case for non-intervention is no weaker than the West’s case for regime change; on pragmatic grounds, it is far stronger.
The standard argument directed at critics of regime change usually goes like this: Arbitrarily removing a dictator we don’t like while remaining good friends with equally nasty dictators elsewhere is justified because it still removes a dictator.
Unfortunately, Russia knows better than most about the long-term costs of such selective application of justice. Remember Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire now reduced to penning liberal manifestos from his jail cell? The fact that the oligarch was patently guilty of having helped plunder the country in the 90s did not disguise the self-interested and arbitrary way that he was singled out by Putin in 2003. At the time, those who recognised the incoherence of arresting one gangster capitalist while tolerating others no less venal, tainted or complicit (Abramovich springs to mind) felt that having even one fewer oligarch — through show-trial or not — would on balance be an improvement. The end would justify the means. Except it never really has.
In their fixation with bringing down Assad (but not his bloodthirsty neighbouring dictators in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait etc), the United States and its allies are just channeling Putin’s crusade against Khodorkvsky. Predictably, pursuing such a path will result in the internationalisation of Russian domestic politics: the export of a brutal, arbitrary, corrupt and precarious regime based on the unchallengeable whim of a single Leviathan. And just as Putin’s Russia ended up more corrupt than the one he set out to reform, so the new, ‘post-dictatorial’ Middle East may end up more violent and intolerant than it ever was under the old guard.
On pragmatic grounds, the case for regime change becomes shakier still. Here too, Russia’s recent history presents a useful addendum to the Afghanistan lesson that the United States ought to have learnt 30 years ago: Don’t play with Islamist fire. Russia learned this the hard way when, in 1992, president Yeltsin armed scores of Chechen fighters to pry separatist Abkhazia from Georgia in order to give Russia some short-term leverage in the region. Less than two years later, these very same battle-hardened veterans would turn on their erstwhile sponsor and become the protagonists of Moscow’s most tragic and violent policy blunders — the Chechen war.
Finally, Russia’s experience in the Cold War showed that it’s far better to make regimes change than to make regime-change. Also, that a multilateral diplomatic consensus is a necessary ingredient in any successful democratic transition. After all, what’s the difference between Poland and Yugoslavia, South Africa and Angola? Poland and South Africa transitioned to democracy only once their regimes were pressured and bribed into initiating democratic reforms themselves. Today, these countries are thriving and stable. But in neighbouring Yugoslavia and Angola, where big powers attempted to violently replace regimes they didn’t like by crudely taking sides in civil wars, years of bloodshed have still not delivered full democracy and stability.
The hard truth is that, whether it’s Vietnam in the 90s, Libya in 2003-2011, Burma today or Russia itself a mere 20 years ago, whenever the West holds its nose, swallows its pride, and peacefully cajoles autocratic old rogues to gradually step out of the cold, everybody wins. How many Iraqs will it take for the United States to learn this lesson?
Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly clear that ensuring democracy and stability is not the ultimate purpose of removing Assad. If those were really the goals, then all the United States would have had to do was to bribe him into reform. Everyone knows that unlike his father, Assad, who believes in nothing, cares more about online shopping than Arab nationalism. He would have sold out at the drop of a hat, keeping his arms contracts with Moscow while opening up to US corporations and property developers — surely the best of all possible worlds. But even Assad would not have agreed to abet or allow any attack on Iran from Israel or its Western allies. Perhaps that was his real crime in the eyes of the ‘international community’. Yet the big irony is that an inconvenient Syria has actually been good for Israel, by encouraging prudence and discouraging dangerous over-reach. With Assad removed, an emboldened, unencumbered Tel Aviv might fool itself into biting off more than even it can chew.
If propping up a minor despot is the price of preventing or discouraging such a war, then it is small change compared to the unimaginable human and geopolitical costs of the alternative.
Vadim Nikitin is a journalist and Russia analyst.
Copyright © 2012 Vadim Nikitin — distributed by Agence Global