Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Only the Paranoid Survive
Lame duck President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have reportedly initiated covert wars in Iran and Pakistan in the last year of their administration. In fact, The New York Times reports that the United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere. These covert actions are reminders of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Fidel Castro's Cuba, an operation inherited by President John F. Kennedy that started under Eisenhower-Nixon administration in 1960. Needless to say that Bay of Pigs was a disaster for young JFK and the US. The invasion—planned and funded by the United States government beginning in 1960—was launched in April 1961, several months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban military, trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, defeated the invading force in a matter of days and the event accelerated a rapid deterioration in Cuban-American relations. This was further exacerbated the following year by the Cuban Missile Crisis. It seems that Barack Obama will most likely to be tested by these Bush-Cheney covert wars soon after he takes office, just as JFK was.
The news of secret planning of the CIA and US Special Ops joint covert actions in Pakistan started to leak in January, 2008. The New York Times reported that the United States had about 50 soldiers in Pakistan in early 2008. It was also reported that any expanded operations using C.I.A. operatives or Special Operations forces, like the Navy Seals, would be small and tailored to specific missions. Since these early reports, there has been a surge in CIA and Special Ops personnel operating out of Afghanistan to attack targets in Pakistan's FATA region at will.
A report published on March 26, 2008, by the Washington Post described the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American CIA spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.
In June, 2008, at least 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and 10 militants were killed in an air strike by US-led forces on a security post of the Pakistan's Frontier Corps in Sheikh Baba area along the Afghan border in Mohmand tribal region on Tuesday night. Fifteen people, including six paramilitary soldiers, were wounded. Local people said that sporadic gunfire continued throughout the night.
A Pakistan military spokesman called the June US attack a “cowardly and unprovoked” act and said that 11 Pakistani soldiers, including a major of the Mohmand Rifles, a detachment of the Frontier Corps, were killed in the attack. It condemned the attack.
“Such acts of aggression don’t serve the common cause of fighting terrorism,” he said, adding that a strong protest had been lodged by the Pakistan Army. He said that Pakistan reserved the right to protect its citizens and soldiers against aggression.
In September, 2008, a team of US Navy Seals was dropped by helicopter in the area of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan. It was followed by an air strike which killed several Pakistani civilians that US said were militants.
"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," said Pakistan's General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in a strong statement after the September attack by US forces.
Since the September 2008 incursion by the US Navy seals, there have not been any more reported ground attacks in FATA but the frequency of Predator air-strikes on suspected Taliban and Al-Qaida targets has dramatically increased. Hardly a day goes by without reports of such strikes by US drones operated by the CIA.
The US covert intelligence operations in Pakistan appear to be aimed at more than just fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Michel Chossudovsky, Director of Montreal based Center for Research on Globalization (author of America's "War on Terrorism") in his article "The Destabilization of Pakistan" says: "Washington's foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation". He adds: "The US course consists in fomenting social, ethnic and factional divisions and political fragmentation, including the territorial breakup of Pakistan. This course of action is also dictated by US war plans in relation to both Iran and Afghanistan. This US agenda for Pakistan is similar to that applied throughout the broader Middle East Central Asian region."
In the wake of Mumbai attacks, the US covert activity is not all that Pakistanis have to worry about. In addition to reviving the talk of lightning air strikes strategy dubbed "Cold Start" against Pakistan, there has also been a rather open discussion in India about covert actions by Indian agents to destabilize and balkanize Pakistan. Former RAW chief B. Raman argues that India appoint a covert ops specialist as the new head of RAW. He says, “At this critical time in the nation’s history, RAW has no covert action specialists at the top of its pyramid. Get a suitable officer from the IB or the Army. If necessary, make him the head of the organization.”
Vikram Sood, another former top spy in India, elaborates on India's covert warfare options to target Pakistan in the following words: "Covert action can be of various kinds. One is the paramilitary option, which is what the Pakistanis have been using against us. It is meant to hurt, destabilize or retaliate. The second is the psychological war option, which is a very potent and unseen force. It is an all weather option and constitutes essentially changing perceptions of friends and foes alike. The media is a favorite instrument, provided it is not left to the bureaucrats because then we will end up with some clumsy and implausible propaganda effort. More than the electronic and print media, it is now the internet and YouTube that can be the next-generation weapons of psychological war. Terrorists use these liberally and so should those required to counter terrorism."
It seems that the India-Israel-US axis may be converging on a covert war to denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan.
Last year, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker magazine of clandestine operations against Iran. According to Hersh, United States Special Ops and CIA have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since 2007. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials.
In his recently published book, David Sanger talks about the Israeli anger and frustration after the US National Intelligence Estimate said Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that it is currently not pursuing such a program. After the NIE report came out, Sanger says that the Israelis demanded that Bush provide them with three things: Bunker buster bombs, mid-air refueling support for Israeli bombers and flying rights in Iraqi airspace to facilitate Israeli air strikes on Iranian underground nuclear facilities at Natanz, Iran. Bush hesitated on the first two and flatly rejected the third demand to fly over Iraq, realizing how such collusion would put the 140,000 US troops in Iraq at tremendous risk. Instead, Bush assured Israel that the US will put significant resources into covert operations aimed at destabilizing Iranian government. Talking about Pakistan, Sanger recently told Charlies Rose as follows: "Pakistanis do not want to let Americans to know how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has and where they are stored. They know too well that the US Navy Seals are right next door in Afghanistan ready to seize control of Pakistan's nukes at short notice."
Taking about the many Bush-Cheney covert actions, a senior US intelligence official told Sanger, “Bush wrote a lot of checks that the next president is going to have to cash.”
In view of the widely reported interest by the United States, India and Israel in destabilizing or at least neutralizing Iran and Pakistan, it is quite natural for the two nations to be particularly vigilant, even paranoid to effectively counter covert warfare. As former Intel CEO Andy Grove puts it in one of his popular business books, "Only the Paranoid Survive".
While JFK only inherited one Bay of Pigs, Obama is inheriting multiple covert wars, each much like the Bay of Pigs. Given the history of similar botched operations by the CIA, Barack Obama needs to very carefully evaluate what George W. Bush is leaving for him rather than simply accept it as fait accompli. It is in Obama's best interest to be just as paranoid as Iran and Pakistan at this time.