The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Tim Lister’ tag

Halfway Around the World

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View of Cologne's hulking gothic cathedral in the light of a bone chilling winter's day. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Istanbul, Köln, & New York- It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do an update after about three weeks of nonstop travel and work. I’m just going to post a mishmash of backlogged things of no particular importance. After leaving Antakya I spent a couple of incredibly cold, expensive days in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist district. Long gone are the days of Istanbul being a cheap tourist destination. But in its core, the town hadn’t changed a lick. The dudes who work in the tourist hustle still tell the European and Australian tourists that their names are incongruously things like “Steve” or “Johnny” whilst explaining that they’ve never been outside Turkey in their lives. In that sense it reminded me of my first trip to the city in the summer of 1998. Turkey seemed to have changed a bit in the era of the AK Parti and the Gulen movement and I felt like maybe the Efes didn’t flow as freely (and definitely not as cheaply) as it once did.  But no matter what ideological trends are sweeping across the Anatolian plains, Turkey is still a relative bastion of accommodation between Islam and global modernity.

The legendary Orient Hostel in Sultanahmet. Some of my earliest adventures began from this place including my perilous 2002 trip to the Pankisi Gorge on the Georgian-Chechen border. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I made the observation that Turk Hava Yollari (Turkish Airlines) is sort of a de facto foreign policy arm for Ankara yet again. A decade ago the Turkish national carrier was part of the pan-Turkism policy that reconnected Turkey with its distant Sovietized cousins in Central Asia. When I was at Ataturk Hava Limani (Istanbul’s main airport) the first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the first destination on the departures board was the formerly besieged Libyan city of Misurata. Not Tripoli or Benghazi but a direct flight to Misurata. This intimates Ankara’s soft power desires and influence in the shattered Libyan state across the Mediterranean.

It has always seemed to me that Turkish Airlines has been an instrument of soft power for Ankara. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Too distant to make out in this bad Blackberry snap, I noticed when boarding my flight to Köln that Afriqiyah Airways had painted the new-old Sanussi/Libyan independence flag on its jets above the rear passenger windows (and that it was back flying again after the end of the no-fly zone imposed by the UN on Libya last year). ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I’m still swamped with work related to my Syrian adventure and corresponding interviews with Syrian opposition figures in Turkey. I want to list a couple of things if nothing else than for my own personal archives. My speech from the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique September terrorism conference titled “Western boots on Eastern ground: A Comparison of Western Interventions in the Muslim World in the post-9/11 decade” is now available in PDF form (en Français) on the FRS site. I was quoted twice last week on CNN.com in “No Libya play for the West in Syria” and “How Syria differs from Libya.” This time last week I was presenting my work at an annual security conference comparing the scenarios in Libya & Syria and NATO’s supply lines in Central Asia in Wesseling, Germany which I will post more about when the CIOR site is updated and I have more time.

Statue detail on the lower exterior above an entrance to the Cologne cathedral. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

February 13th, 2012 at 12:18 pm

A Series of Challenges Await a Post-Gadhafi Libya

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A Libyan rebel checkpoint outside Zintan. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- TWD made onto CNN.com today after new developments in Tripoli stoked even more interest in the now solidifying concept of a post-Qaddafi Libya. In other news, TWD made it onto wikipedia.org in entries for Jalal al-Digheily who had a brief post as the TNC’s civilian defense minister and Omar al-Hariri, the TNC’s head of military affairs.

(CNN) — Tribal rivalries, an east-west divide, a rebel leadership lacking coherence, a shattered economy and the absence of a “civil society” — these are just a few of the challenges that a post-Gadhafi Libya will face.

The rebel National Transitional Council is aware of the perils ahead and has produced a blueprint for the immediate aftermath of Gadhafi’s downfall and for a political process leading to democratic elections.

Haunted by the lack of planning in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the international community — in the shape of the Libyan Contact Group — has urged the NTC to pursue reconciliation.
In a statement Sunday night, President Barack Obama called on the NTC to pursue “a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya.”

But that is no simple formula in a society riven by deep-seated rivalries and with no experience of democracy.
In 42 years as Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi purged Libyan society of any alternative voice or real discourse.
His Revolutionary Committees were ubiquitous, silencing dissent and enforcing the eccentric orthodoxy of the “Brother Leader’s” teachings.
In such a warped society, there has been little space for the emergence of a professional, qualified middle-class, and none for trade unions, opposition groups or other symbols of civil society.

The only organized group not tied to the regime was the Muslim Brotherhood, driven underground by Gadhafi.

As in Iraq in 2003 or Syria now, there is no recognized opposition figure or group that transcends tribal, regional and sectarian rifts.
Gadhafi survived as long as he did, according to Libyan scholar Mansour O. El-Kikhia, by breaking up the power bases of Libya’s largest and most influential tribes.

Lands and influence were redistributed to more “dependable” tribes such as the Warfalla, Qadhadfa and Megarha.

Places like Gadhafi’s hometown — Sirte — received more resources than those regarded as less loyal. But tribal loyalties have survived and perhaps become more important in the absence of other political institutions.

Eastern Libya — where the rebellion began and is still based — has long been at odds with the west, Gadhafi’s power base.
The pattern of the past six months’ conflict suggests that geographical divide persists. Tribes in the west may not take kindly to the sudden dominance of a movement that began in the east. The rebel leadership in Benghazi has tried to co-ordinate with the rebellion in the west — which began in the Nafusa Mountains and in some ways has been more effective on the battlefield — but has not directed or controlled it.

Libya is a vast country — 1.75 million square kilometers – with many “under-governed” spaces, especially in the immense Sahara.
In neighboring states such as Chad, Algeria and Niger, these are the spaces claimed by revolts and more recently by Islamist groups professing allegiance to al Qaeda.

Gadhafi had his own problems with Islamic extremism — the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was one of the most effective groups sympathetic to al Qaeda before its leaders turned against jihad in return for a mass release from Libyan jails. Towns in eastern Libya became well-known for supplying fighters to the insurgency in Iraq, though the rebel leadership insists Gadhafi has exaggerated the threat of Islamist extremism for his own ends.

Then there is the resurgent Berber identity in the western mountains. Gadhafi persecuted the Berbers, a non-Arab minority — even accusing them of being agents of the CIA.

But in the months since his forces have lost control of the Nafusa Mountains, the Berbers have re-established their language (Tamazight), their culture and even their flag. They are determined not to be subjugated again. The Berber Institute for Civil Society issued a statement this weekend setting out the community’s demands: “Tamazight should be recognised in the Constitution in all its dimensions … This is a prerequisite of the Amazigh movement.”

Libya’s oil wealth has been a curse as well as a blessing. It has allowed lavish spending on education (with thousands of students sent to universities overseas) and infrastructure, and government subsidies have made staples affordable for millions.
But there’s been virtually no diversification of the economy; about 95% of the Libyan state’s revenues derive from hydrocarbons. Unemployment probably exceeds 30% and half the population is under the age of 15. The civil service is thought to employ about one in five Libyans.

Gadhafi built up a byzantine bureaucracy, but not one known for its efficiency. The adage among Libyans is “Inshallah, bokra, moumken,” which means “With the will of God, tomorrow, maybe.”

Nor is there much entrepreneurial spirit. Much of the hard work — building railroads, servicing oil installations — has been done by economic migrants and contract workers — and hundreds of thousands of them fled when the fighting began.

But Libya has advantages.

About 80% of its people are literate; electricity is connected to almost the whole country.
Economists say there are long-term opportunities — Libyan oil is plentiful and low in sulphur — if new industries can be built and a work ethic encouraged. Much also depends on whether opposition figures like Ali Tarhouni, who taught at the University of Washington State and holds the economic and oil portfolio, are given authority.

But the immediate priorities, according to western diplomats, center on basic services: electricity, food, water and above all security — priorities that were ignored in Iraq. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged the NTC to ensure that technocrats in the Libyan government are not purged.

Libyan opposition officials envisage several thousand Arab troops — possibly from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — being drafted into the capital to help stabilize what could be a chaotic situation.
Pockets of Gadhafi loyalists remain Where is Moammar Gadhafi? What role will U.S. now play in Libya?

Saddam Hussein’s fall was followed by an orgy of looting in Baghdad. How far the remnants of Gadhafi’s army and police can be integrated into new security forces is a huge open question.

But a template drawn up by the NTC’s envoy in the Emirates, Aref Ali Nayed, includes detailed plans for keeping police units in uniform. Journalist Derek Flood of the Jamestown Foundation, who has recently been in the western mountains, told CNN that he witnessed police training programs under way.

The rebels seem to be aware that a new security force imposed from the east would be a recipe for trouble. Much will depend on whether Gadhafi loyalists begin a campaign of sabotage after he has gone, much as Saddam Hussein’s Baathists did.
There are also plans for an airlift of humanitarian supplies and the rapid rehabilitation of the oil infrastructure, though industry experts say it will be some time before pre-war exports of 1.6 million barrels a day can be attained.

Plans are one thing, but without an inclusive transition and transparency they will be quickly overwhelmed.
For the more unscrupulous, there will be temptations to divert oil revenues to private accounts.
The anti-corruption group Transparency International rates Libya 146th in its corruption perception index, close to the bottom of the league.

The NTC lacks cohesion — a hastily devised group of former regime figures, intellectuals, nationalists, secularists and Islamists. It has also shown disunity to a murderous degree — witness the murky circumstances of the killing of military chief Abdel Fatah Younis last month.
But it’s now the only game in town and under its own transition plan will run Libya for the next eight months. Even the NTC’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has described this option as the “best of the worst.”

Any collapse of authority in Libya would have grim implications for its neighbors — especially Egypt and Tunisia.
Libya has been a source of work for millions of other North Africans. But chaos in Libya would also worry Europe. It could become another route for the flow of drugs from Africa.

Illegal immigration across the Mediterranean is already taxing Italy. And were Islamist extremists, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to gain a foothold, they would have ready access to Europe.

Written by derekhenryflood

August 22nd, 2011 at 9:10 am

NATO’s Mission Creep in Libya

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Barcelona- I appeared on CNN today discussing some of my observations about my recent trip to Jebel Nafusa. Produced by Tim Lister in Atlanta.

(CNN) — Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
What was envisaged in March as a rapid engagement to prevent Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from razing Benghazi to the ground has evolved into a long slog. And increasingly NATO operations have dovetailed with those of the rebels — with the aim of making pro-Gadhafi forces incapable of offensive action.
The initial mandate set out by the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 was to protect civilians under threat or attack, to enforce an arms embargo on the country and implement a no-fly zone.
“What was initially supposed to be a neutral intervention to protect civilians that were threatened specifically in Benghazi has morphed into being largely a one-sided affair to support the Libyan rebel force to overthrow Gadhafi,” says Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Throughout the conflict NATO has continued to insist that all its actions are aimed at protecting civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces, and that it has not “taken sides.” On Thursday, the Royal Air Force spoke of “precision strikes on former regime facilities at Sabratah [west of Tripoli], including a commando base which had been used by Colonel Gadhafi’s men to launch numerous reprisals against the local people.”
See a timeline of the conflict
But such missions are invariably close to areas where the rebels are trying to break through. In recent weeks, sustained NATO strikes around Brega, Misrata and in the western Nafusa mountains have helped tip the military balance in the rebels’ favor, to the point that Gadhafi’s opponents have become reluctant to enter the fray until air power has softened up the enemy.
Derek Flood, a journalist and analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, has just spent several weeks in western Libya. “I found the rebels had become almost overly dependent on NATO to the point they wouldn’t act without NATO actually softening up the targets first.”
Libyan hospital overwhelmed Rebels gaining ground in Tripoli Libyan rebels claim critical victory Video: Libyan rebels free prisoners
Most recently, rebel efforts to take the vitally important town of Zawiyah, just 30 miles west of Tripoli, were preceded by several days of NATO sorties. NATO lists about a dozen “key hits” around Zawiyah in the past five days. The Royal Air Force also targeted a boat commandeered by several Libyan soldiers to get out of Zawiyah, but a statement said that “since it was clear from their actions that these troops continued to pose a threat to the local population, the RAF patrol engaged the ship,” which was destroyed.
There appears to be growing coordination between NATO and rebel military commanders.
Video footage emerged at the beginning of this month of a column of rebel tanks and pickup trucks, outside the city of Brega in eastern Libya, daubed with orange paint to distinguish them from government forces and ensure they weren’t erroneously bombed.
In previous days, NATO planes had hit several pro-regime targets around Brega.
On a fluid battlefield, where military assets are poorly marked and often hidden in civilian areas, NATO needs forward air controllers to help with targeting.
“Western air forces don’t bomb without that direct ability to visualize the battlefield, especially when the regime has placed so many of its assets within civilian protected areas,” Zenko says.
NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie was pressed on the issue at a news briefing last month. “NATO does not have direct coordination with opposition forces or rebel forces in Brega,” he said. But he added: “We follow the situation through allied information sources that are in the area.”

Zenko says such “allied information sources” may be retired special forces soldiers or military contractors. They are said to be in contact with a liaison office in rebel-held Benghazi, which passes on information to the NATO command center in Naples, Italy.
NATO won’t comment on such arrangements.
The arms embargo has been liberally interpreted by some, with Qatar and France supplying the rebels with weapons and military advice. Qatar is reported to have supplied the rebels with antitank missiles, flying them into Benghazi. And Derek Flood said he believes Qatar was also getting weapons to the rebels via the Tunisian border. In the western mountains “there was support on the ground from Qatari officials as well as Emirati officials,” he said. Tunisian officials deny weapons are crossing their border. Neither Qatar nor the United Arab Emirates have commented on such involvement.
France acknowledged in June that it had air-dropped assault rifles and ammunition to Berber militia groups in the western mountains but said they were to help civilians protect themselves.
At sea, NATO has operated a blockade — in accordance with U.N. resolutions — to prevent any resupply of Gadhafi forces. But in one instance in May a Canadian frigate stopped a rebel tugboat carrying howitzer rounds, ammunition and “lots of explosives” from Benghazi to Misrata. NATO commanders allowed the vessel to proceed on the grounds that it was moving from one Libyan port to another.
More recently, there was the murky case of the oil tanker Cartagena, a vessel owned by the Libyan government but stranded at sea with 30,000 tons of gasoline since May. Rebels boarded the ship in international waters and diverted it to Benghazi with NATO permission. The unknown: Did the rebels have help in seizing the ship? It’s not the sort of operation they are used to.
NATO’s mission has shifted in another way. After hitting more than 3,000 military targets — from ammunition dumps to tanks to radar and command-and-control facilities — there are not many more left. So it has turned to the regime’s infrastructure. The satellite dishes of Libyan state TV were bombed on the grounds that the broadcaster was being used to “incite violence.” The radar at Tripoli airport also was taken out, and the sprawling Gadhafi compound in Tripoli has been targeted several times.
NATO officials say operations will continue for as long as it takes, though how long it takes to do what is an open question. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said repeatedly that the conflict can only end with a political solution, but the outlines of such a solution are far from clear.
Zenko says the goal from early on has been regime change, and the latest tactic is to try to cut off all economic and outside supplies to make it cease functioning.
While the Libyan regime has lost access to much of the country and is losing critical routes to the east, west and south, Derek Flood says it appears to retain control of border crossings in the Sahara desert — from Algeria, Chad and Niger.
The military balance has tipped in the rebels’ favor. Flood says the capture by rebels of the important road junction at Gharyan 80 kilometers south of Tripoli can only further isolate the regime, cutting off fuel supplies from Algeria. Even so, it still controls large tracts of a vast country.
NATO’s current mandate in Libya expires at the end of September. Its members may yet be asked to extend it once again.

Written by derekhenryflood

August 18th, 2011 at 10:23 am