March 4, 2005
Our Schemes and Theirs
Two stories have been largely under-reported this week. Or at least under-thought about. Both deserve some special attention.
Earlier this week, The American Thinker posted an article entitled, The Next Domino by Douglas Hanson. [h-t: Regime Change Iran.] Hanson deserves credit for thinking outside the box on possible US action. He formulates something other than "invade or bomb" which is the conventional wisdom, and his article raises many intriguing questions. Hanson's thoughts deserve the full treatment:
With virtually no attention from the mainstream media, the United States has been taking actions calculated to ratchet-up pressure on the mullahs of Iran. A complex plan has been carefully crafted to avoid a direct military attack on Iran, which would inflame nationalism and build support for the mullahs. Once again, the scope, subtlety, and vision of President Bush’s foreign policy confounds his carping critics.This is a very interesting viewpoint on Iran's influence. First, it seems that the Horn of Africa was always viewed as a playground for al Qaeda, not Iran. Was this view wrong? Did the US just not clearly state who its possible detractors there were, referring to them generically as terrorists instead? The Horn of Africa is always a source of interest, so it bears even closer scrutiny in light of this theory. The next point about combined French, German, and US action against Iran is also interesting. The Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa has been in operation for several years now, and its existence is no surprise.
The fall of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government validates GW’s strategy of staying the course in Iraq, to prove to the people of the Middle East that freedom and liberty can flourish in a region where many thought it was impossible to institute democratic reforms. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, despite criticism from the so-called realists, the US is implementing change in the region for our own long-term national interests. That is, the more functioning democracies there are in the world, the less the chance of armed conflict and terrorism.
Over the last several months, Iran’s support of Shia terrorists in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions have dominated the discussions of our next steps in the War on Terror. Some commentators, including me, have criticized CENTCOM for its failure to view the war in Southwest Asia from a regional perspective. However, we may have been wrong, or at least too hasty.
Iran has been aggressively moving to export terror and build-up its ability to threaten the world in two places: the Horn of Africa, and the vital Straits of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf’s oil riches must pass on their way to market. There are now some serious indicators that the Coalition, including both French and German military elements, has been deftly executing a combined political and military operation to roll back Iranian gains from the last 12 years.
The Iranian maneuver to dominate the Central Region and isolate the Arabian Peninsula started in the Horn of Africa in the early 90s. By aligning with warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed’s forces, Iran hoped to gain a foothold in Somalia that could potentially threaten shipping moving through the Red Sea. Following the US strategic retreat from Somalia after the “Blackhawk Down” ambush in 1993, the remaining UN peacekeepers withdrew in 1995 and abandoned the country to the terrorists and their Iranian sponsors. After 9-11, the Coalition was forced to use Djibouti as a base to secure the shipping lanes on the Western side of the Arabian Peninsula, and to interdict the movement of terrorists into and out of the region.Again, very interesting. Wasn't it al Qaeda that was the target in the Horn of Africa? Just who was in the Horn of Africa doing what, and what were their relations to both Iran and al Qaeda? Not questioning the truthfulness of the article, just asking questions. In any case, Iran's influence is in the process of being rolled back in East Africa. But how does this solve the problem of its nuclear program?
There are strong indications that the efforts of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) are starting to push Iranian operators out of the Horn, if they have not gone already. United States naval and ground forces, French commandos, and Die Deutsche Kriegsmarine (German Navy), through a combined series of special and conventional operations, naval power, and humanitarian assistance projects, have established the conditions for the introduction of up to 7,500 troops from the African Union and the Arab League. This is a watershed event for the Coalition in this area, and shows that the Somali people are anxious to finally rid their country of bandits, terrorists, and Iranian agents, and are looking forward to having the government-in-exile return to Mogadishu.
The Coalition also mounted a synchronized diplomatic and military blitz in neighboring Ethiopia, with elements of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) moving into the country last year to secure territory for military assistance training and for “other operations” in the War on Terror. (For a summary of the $1.2 billion U.S. humanitarian assistance program in the country click here.) In addition, there were several visits by the former and current commanders of CENTCOM, General (retired) Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid, and visits by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. This was all done under the radar screen of the major press, but it was not lost on the mullahs. All they had to do was look at the map. The Kriegsmarine had sealed off Somalia from the eastern sea approaches, Ethiopia became increasingly untenable for cross-border terror bases and Iranian training camps, and, more than likely, Coalition special operations forces from Djibouti were taking their toll. In short, the Iranians in the Horn of Africa have been surrounded.
The other prong of CENTCOM’s operations against Iran involves Abu Musa Island. The island had been the object of a long-running dispute between Iran and the UAE because of its oil reserves and its strategic location midway in the narrow channel of the Straits of Hormuz. In 1992, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took complete control of the island, and proceeded to fortify it and deploy thousands of troops, modern air defense batteries, sophisticated anti-ship missile systems, and, according to former SecDef William Perry, chemical weapons. For over a decade, the Iranians have had the capability of shutting down the shipping lane and paralyzing shipment of over one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.The island is pretty close to the mainland of Iran. Can't much of that power still be projected from the mainland? Those anti-ship missiles for example have pretty good ranges.
However, recent US operations in the Persian Gulf are, at a minimum, presenting a more aggressive military posture to pressure the mullahs, or are signaling a run-up to seizure of Abu Musa itself.Very true. Repacking the ships is key to doing anything with a MEU, both before and after. And while it is completely normal for a MEU to practice amphibious landings before deploying, it seems a little strange for a MEU to practice an amphib landing in the Persian Gulf right now -- it seems more likely that their Battalion Landing Team would be needed on the ground in Iraq. The 15th MEU's website reports that 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, its BLT, is training at Udairi Range in Kuwait. Udairi range is quite literally in the middle of nowhere in the Kuwaiti desert. This too is normal. There is no mention of an amphibious assault rehearsal . . . and much of Kuwait's coastline is made up of Kuwait City, which would probably not welcome such a demonstration. Nevertheless, there are some little-inhabited islands that belong to Kuwait and which have been training areas before . . . in October, 2002, some Marines were attacked while training on one. Hanson's theory is intriguing . . .
This past week, Expeditionary Strike Group 5 (ESG-5) completed an amphibious exercise on the coast of Kuwait. Keep in mind that a rehearsal is a phase of any amphibious operation, and allows the afloat Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Navy to test the communications links, practice disembarkation, exercise the procedures for naval surface fire support and air support, and, of course, practice the assault itself. The ESG rarely loads at home port in a manner that will completely satisfy every contingency. Therefore, the rehearsal is a chance to unload everything on the beach, and then load according to a specific assault plan. This was done in Gulf War I during a “rehearsal” when an actual amphibious assault on Kuwaiti beaches was still a viable option.
Additional naval forces are also present in the Gulf . Besides ESG-5, the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group is underway, as is the USS Harry Truman Carrier Battle Group. One MEU is the ideal force to seize Abu Musa, but the additional forces would be needed to protect an amphibious group from any interference from nearby Qeshm Island, and to continue to secure the Iraqi oil terminals off the Al-Faw Peninsula. Simply put, the mullahs’ 12 year old gambit to squeeze oil shipments through the Straights of Hormuz could come to an end very quickly.It seems that arraying all of this combat power against the single island of Abu Musa would certainly be an effective show of force against the regime, without actually touching any territory of the Iranian homeland. But it seems that the Iranians can affect oil shipments easily without this one island as well. If Abu Musa is a target, then I see it as only one stop in a larger campaign. But what is the makeup of that campaign?
Rather than risk a popular backlash by the citizens of Iran against the US by conducting a direct air or land campaign against the Iranian homeland, seizure of an island that has been disputed for decades would show the Iranians we were willing to support their fight against the mullahs without putting their lives at risk or destroying their infrastructure. The mullahs launched their gambit as an act of aggression; reversing it would demonstrate strength, but indicate no hostility to the Iranian people.Rolling back Iranian influence in the Horn of Africa is good, and seizing an island would certainly wake up the mullahs. But would these moves really be enough pressure to give a "slight push" to the "freedom-loving people of Iran"? How effective at mobilizing an opposition can US Special Forces or clandestine operatives be in Iran? Is there any organized opposition in Iran that can be trained or coordinated? Starting riots, protests, and other types of demonstrations is the bread and butter (or used to be) of the CIA and possibly even Delta Force . . . seizing one island while simultaneously fomenting riots makes for a partial campaign . . . especially if the Iranian offensive capabilities are concentrated on the island. But it seems that this is still missing some crucial elements. What is to become of the old guard? Are they corrupt? Where will they go? Will they melt away or form an insurgency against a new Iranian government a la Iraq? Will they actually go to Iraq and join the insurgency? This seems improbable, but depends on how centralized the terrorists in Iraq actually are. If they are decentralized enough, it seems that just about anyone can set up shop in a cell there . . .
This analysis doesn’t even include any possible covert Special Operations Force activities designed to foment rebellion in what is viewed as an increasingly restive Iranian population. Because of the pressure being applied in the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf, it may require only a slight push from the freedom-loving people in Iran to rid themselves of this oppressive regime, following through on the very visible promise to them made by President Bush in his State of the Union Address.
And will we allow a democratic Iran to pursue nukes?
Next, via sometime Adventures contributor, USMC_Vet over at The Word Unheard, Michael Scheuer, of CIA and various punditry fame, writes in The Jamestown Foundation that Al Qaeda has completed a cycle of warnings that Sunni scholars warned had to take place before the next mass-casualty attack against Americans. Scheuer:
After 9/11, bin Laden received sharp criticisms from Islamist scholars that dealt with the al-Qaeda chief's failure to satisfy several religious requirements pertinent to waging war. The critique focused on three items: (1) insufficient warning; (2) failure to offer Americans a chance to convert to Islam; and (3) inadequate religious authorization to kill so many people. Bin Laden accepted these criticisms and in mid-2002 began a series of speeches and actions to remedy the shortcomings and satisfy his Islamist critics before again attacking in the United States.Scheuer has made all manner of bizarre statements about the war on terror and Al Qaeda. His anti-semitic remarks at the Council of Foreign Relations recently were certainly enough to give one pause. But he's on to something here. It is tempting to dismiss Osama bin Laden as effectively marginalized, or that his statements are rants and ravings of someone who's spent a few too many days on the lam or in a cave. But it is always worthwhile to look for patterns in his statements, appearances, and communication efforts. Scheuer believes that bin Laden has performed the rhetorical tasks necessary to satisfy Sunni clerics who criticized him after September 11th.
Bin Laden devoted most attention to warning Americans that, to prevent another 9/11-type attack, they had to elect leaders who would change U.S. policies toward the Islamic world. He focused especially on the U.S. presence in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Afghanistan, unqualified support for Israel, as well as support for Muslim tyrannies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. Animosity toward these policies had long been a staple of bin Laden's statements, but since 2002 he has spoken directly to Americans about what they - not their leaders - must do to avoid another attack.
To remedy the criticism of inadequate religious authorization for mass American casualties, bin Laden received the necessary sanction from a young, radical Saudi Shaykh named Hamid bin al-Fahd. In May 2003, al-Fahd published a fatwa on his website entitled "A Treatise on the Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels." (FBIS, May 23 2003) In this lengthy work, al-Fahd affirmatively answered the question of whether it was permissible under the four schools of Sunni Islam for the mujahideen to use nuclear weapons against the United States. Bin al-Fahd concluded that each school did permit the use of such weapons and that the mujahideen would be justified in inflicting millions of casualties in the United States. "Anyone who considers America's aggression against Muslims and their lands during the last decade," al-Fahd maintained, "will conclude that striking her is permissible merely on the rule of treating one as one has been treated. Some brothers have totaled the number of Muslims killed directly or indirectly by their [America's] weapons and come up with the figure of nearly ten million."Going a bit further in looking at bin Laden's Oct 30th statements, The Word Unheard wonders about the significance of bin Laden's dress: USMC_Vet believes he was wearing Iranian attire.
Thus, when bin Laden spoke to Americans in October 2004, he was tying up loose ends leftover from 9/11 and telling Americans again that changing the "policy of the White House ... [is] the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan...." (Al-Jazeera 30 Oct 04) By then he had repeatedly warned Americans that al-Qaeda would attack unless U.S. policies were changed. Strange and even comic sounding to American and Western ears, bin Laden's warnings and invitation to conversion are meant to satisfy Islamic scholars, and Muslims generally, that al-Qaeda has abided by the Prophet Muhammad's instructions of offering a warning to the enemy before launching an attack. Likewise, Shaykh al-Fahd's treatise attempts to overcome the lack of religious grounding for mass casualties for which Islamic scholars criticized the 9/11 attack, and will be used by bin Laden as such after his next attack against the United States.
I also noted that he was dressed in Iranian-style garb rather than his usual 'attire'. I matched that up with the tone and the uncharacteristic lengthy early references to what I deemed more Iranian regional interests than traditional bin Laden interests:What manner of attack might be in the offing? USMC_Vet wonders about news last month that NORAD is now responsible for maritime security, and whether there is a connection:I say to you, Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike the towers. But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.The sudden emphasis on Lebanon and his attempt to clarify that he always was really angry about Lebanon struck me as an appeasment to Iran for providing him and his minions protection and shelter. Palestine and Lebanon now suddenly rather than Saudi Arabia, Mecca, Medina et al? He went to great lengths to convince listeners of how this had long been his motivation. Why was convincing us of this so important? Iran wanted it and he needed to be percieved as owning it.
The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorized and displaced.
While correct on the adoption of Iranian interests, I reconsider now that I may have been incorrect on the reasons why he did so. Is it prudent to consider that he wasn't deferring to Iranian interests as a sort of payback for shelter & protection but rather for weaponry assistance (specifically nuclear or radiological refinement and production from materials al Qaeda may have from Russian sources as stated by DCI, Porter Goss)? To dismiss this as a possibility (or probability) is irresponsible and foolhardy . . .
When you finish reading [Scheuer], consider also that it is more than merely possible that Iran has been arming al Qaida rather than simply providing cover and protection, and you will conclude that the time for absolute vigilance is now...for our intelligence assets, our military assets, our law enforcement in key areas and for alert citizens.
Although Keating said the oceans pose “a tough way to get at us,” he added, “We’re working harder to make sure they can’t.”Any readers with more naval experience than me are free to confirm or refute me, but I think that launching a cruise missile of some kind from a ship would be pretty difficult to pull off, unless Al Qaeda has had some serious state help. The ballistics of launching a missile from a moving, rocking ship are difficult, and then to have it actually hit its target with some degree of accuracy make it even more so. Certainly, some Katyusha rockets launched from the deck of a freighter off Long Beach could do some damage, but this seems like small potatoes. AQ is going to be looking for large, spectacular mass-casualty attacks. The option of freighter as a suicide bomb seems much more plausible . . .
He said the Northern Command monitors the seas around the clock for threats, conducts frequent exercises and maintains minute-to-minute data on Navy and Coast Guard assets. Emphasis on maritime protection is no surprise in light of government reports that say only a fraction of arriving shipping containers are inspected.
Also, terrorist organizations operate merchant ships from which they could launch missiles at the United States, said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., a public-policy research group.
Although a sea-based attack might not be likely, he said, “The biggest lesson of 9-11 is if you ignore a potential danger, it will become a real danger.”
The nation’s surveillance system for tracking ships isn’t well developed or integrated with other capabilities, he said.
“What Northern Command is looking for is an architecture that will bring together all the various agencies and all the various surveillance capabilities that bear upon homeland defense,” Thompson said.
Some folks have rightly warned Americans not to become cocky with all of the good news out of the Middle East recently. Others have warned of spoiling attacks. The timing is perfect for one of these. It raises an interesting question: has Al Qaeda been planning the next attack for months and years like September 11th, or will it be a hasty exercise, meant to stop the momentum of political reform in the Mid-east? The answer will tell us much about the attrited or evolved operational capabilities of our foe.
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers!
What would the psychological effects of a US seizure of Abu Musa island be upon the Iranian regime? Conventional wisdom assumes that Iranians will rally around the government during an attack because of a deep-found distrust of the US and its motives. This might be the case; but the seizure of territory that Iran has claimed for 13 years would certainly give pause to the mullahs themselves because it would refute another bit of conventional wisdom in many parts, both Washington and elsewhere: the US is tied down in Iraq and cannot exercise its power in other quarters for now. Committing one or even two heavily reinforced infantry battalions to the seizure of an island in a different theater destroys this assumption in toto. It raises the question as well: what will the Americans do next? More importantly for us, how would Iran respond?
Posted by Chester at March 4, 2005 3:50 PM
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