Tag Archives: libya
Forever Overhead: Pakistan

Forever Overhead: Pakistan

Drones, reactors, floods, and Usama bin Laden’s Google Earth debut–and you don’t have to work for a covert agency to see (most of) them…

The official US position on drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are “cross-border”, i.e. launched from bases in Afghanistan. However, Google Earth images obtained in 2009 by Pakistan’s The News and The London Times clearly showed Predator drones at Shamsi airfield North of Quetta. Denials were more pointed after an unwitting “outing”/mistake by Senator Feinstein when she said at a hearing (also in 2009), “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base”. Her office attempted to walk the utterance back as well.

The aircraft are of course no longer visible on Google Earth, though new structures have since appeared. Ogleearth has a fairly enjoyable speculation and wonderment-rich post on the provenance of the images.

New America Foundation maintains a marvelous visualization/Google Maps mashup of drone strikes on Pakistani territory, with all available supplemental data on location/combatant vs. civilian casualties, etc. 2004-present.

Our study shows that the 244 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 31 in 2011, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,493 and 2,379 individuals, of whom around 1,200 to 1,908 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 20 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent. [As of May 27, 2011]

The Nuclear Program
Newsweek recently reported on discoveries made by examining commercially-obtained imagery of the Khushab site. The images show construction (circa April 2011) of a fourth reactor for plutonium production (via reprocessing).

Not only does this represent expansion of the program itself, but also points to yet another track for the production of nuclear material. Heretofore (really, circa 10-15 years ago) the putatively prodigious output of Pakistan’s production had been based on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) created in the enrichment process stolen, mastered, refined and in addition sold (sometimes in “turnkey” fashion including not just plans and the like but access to networks of businessmen who could illicitly provide the makings of similar programs)–thanks to the strikingly James Bond-bad guy-like A.Q. Khan–to a rogue’s gallery of countries including North Korea, Iran (where the P-1 became the Ir-1), and Libya (which, fortunately, “came clean” and sent its centrifuges to Tennessee, where good use is apparently being made of them–I imagine at more than one point in the last month or so the Colonel has been wondering if his short-lived return from pariah status was worth it).

Now, Pakistan’s diversification from just HEU into plutonium isn’t news, but again, the high points here are the pace of expansion and, the ostensibly public nature of the imagery and discovery (though seriously, one has to wonder how closely they were led to acquire imagery at this particular time from this particular site, and by whom).

I’m not going to belabor the plausibility and nuances of the “nightmare scenario” of loose (or acquisition-abetted) nukes at this point, but I will link to Sanger/Broad’s NYT article about US efforts to assist Pakistan in securing their arsenal, going so far as to offer assistance in developing PALs (Permissive Action Links–basically, as close as you will get to the real-life version of what are colloquially referred to as “launch codes” in popular culture). One interesting International Law nuance here is the question of whether giving PALs (or even assisting in the development of the technology) to a NPT non-signatory is a violation of our obligations under article 1 of said treaty.

Darn it, I was looking to some more canonical source, but the Wikipedia entry on PALs is pretty good.

Courtesy of NASA we have some astonishing imagery which brings home the scope of destruction of the 2010 flooding in the districts around the Indus River. Despite being a “show, don’t tell” advocate, the stats are hard to resist.

  • Approximately 1800 killed, BUT ~20 MILLION impacted
  • 1.5M displaced
  • 1.89M homes destroyed
  • An estimated $500 million crop damage (and of course let’s remember that you needn’t be anywhere near the vicinity of the flooding to be impacted by the absence of the food derived from those crops)
  • 5.3M jobs lost or attenuated, total economic impact estimated $43B; Pakistan’s GDP dropped or will bottom out 6-9% lower (obviously, taking us well into negative growth)

One unfortunately strategic beneficiary might be the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, AKA “The Pakistani Taliban”), as they were able to provide assistance where the government couldn’t; this affords them a source of legitimacy they don’t normally pursue, more in the manner of Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon (which provides civil services there in absence–sometimes ensuring it–of the government; this is why you may sometimes hear Southern Lebanon referred to as “a state within a state”). As a result we have “inverse counterinsurgency” and a can count a strengthened TTP as one result of the floods. Also, government forces were distracted from their counter-TTP efforts by the floods.

Usama bin Laden Makes the Google Earth Scene
Some will remember a prior Contours of Catastrophe post musing about the familiarity of the outline of bin Laden’s compound. Well, the entrenchment of the shape and relevance of Google Earth continues apace–per geography.pk:

A milestone, all thanks to Bin Laden’s death perhaps that Google has “pre-announced” satellite imagery update for first time ever. This imagery update as expected includes the updated imagery for Abbottabad town of Pakistan that has gained attentions in recent days.

Read full story Comments { 0 }
Rebels Take Ajdabiya: What Happens Next?

Rebels Take Ajdabiya: What Happens Next?

So the Libyan rebels have taken control of Ajdabiya. Where celebration in Benghazi might have been more about  mere survival, this is a strategic victory.

Earlier on Friday, western warplanes bombed Gaddafi’s tanks and artillery outside the town to try to break a battlefield stalemate and help rebels retake the strategic area.

Coordination with the Rebels
Despite claims to the contrary, the seizure of Ajdabiya represents some degree of coordination between the coalition air forces and the rebels on the ground. Clearly, this is already “no-fly zone ‘plus'”; the targets were ground forces, not aircraft or air defenses, and the result clearly  went well beyond protecting “civilians”.

If you align Obama’s express political goals (among them the ouster of Qaddafi) with the strategic objectives of the coalition (albeit without much coherence, so I’m guessing) and frame them under the rubric off UNSC 1973, then you should be coordinating the actions in the air with those on the ground. I have to believe there’s some covert tactical intelligence-sharing between the air and the rebels, and that this allows us to advise them directly as opposed to some passive relationship where we “soften” targets and merely hope those actions nudge them in the right direction. While the rebels must at least consolidate in the East first, it’s a long way to Tripoli from there.

“Fleeing” v. Retreating
But it would be premature to celebrate as far as strategic military objectives are concerned. This isn’t so much a case of Qaddafi’s army “fleeing” as it is strategic prudence. Ajdabiya as it is probably more a concession of territory in order to retreat to closer and more fortified areas West. Qaddafi’s supply lines were strained and given the topography, an easy target for coalition air power. Things are going to get much more difficult as the rebels push West and approach more Qaddafi friendly/fortified territory, as the action closes in to more densely-packed areas (making for less effective “close air support” from the coalition and greater danger of civilian collateral damage) and the rebels’ supply lines become stretched as the loyalists consolidate. Sirte may prove determinative in this regard.

The rebels are being armed; we’re apparently looking the other way. Given that for us there are substantial legal questions over whether we could even arm any group within Libya, perhaps this is appropriate. Were the rebels able to get to Tripoli though (or even Sirte or Misrate), a few JDAM designators wouldn’t hurt.

After Qaddafi
What happens in Libya after Qaddafi? The people of Libya need basic services, at an absolute minimum “law and order” (then hospitals, water, power, etc.).  What security institutions will survive a post-Qaddafi Libya? In Egypt we had a relatively independent and strong military, relatively respected by the people. In Libya we may be stuck with a military made up of loyalist elites (at least, those who haven’t been persuaded to leave) and mercenaries (whose primary loyalty is to payment). Libya’s never been a “nation”, so primary loyalties (tribe) could leave a vacuum for more malign actors where security is absent.

Which brings us to the next point to consider in reconstructing a state: it needs to make money. And 95% of Libya’s export money comes from oil. That’s a single point of failure: Libya normally produces ~ 1.8 million barrels/day. Rebels are reestablishing production, but the numbers they’re talking about are in the hundreds of thousands of barrels/day. And of course, they need to establish ad-hoc export deals under their own authority for the time being. Apparently, the Transitional National Council (TNC) has established a deal with Qatar to take shipments of the oil and market it on behalf of the TNC.

As far as the consideration “it’s a long way to Tripoli”, those strategic objectives of regime change (or “regime disposal”) can’t entirely depend on the rebels, and a regional partition (say, East Libya and West Libya) is unsustainable, especially considering that the major oil fields and infrastructure are in the East. This scenario is similar to Iraqi Kurdistan, where a nation within a state is largely autonomous (having an independent military, a president, etc.) except when authority over a particularly oil-rich region (i.e., Kirkuk) comes into question. Again, there’s the simple fact that the there’s a pretty broad consensus that the de-facto head of state of “West Libya” “has to go”.

Read full story Comments { 0 }
But they’re *our* insurgents… now

But they’re *our* insurgents… now

Note: the title of the post is meant as a playful reference to the apocryphal, “He may be an X, but he’s our X.” Now, as for whether I think we’ve really taken ownership of the insurgency through this action–not really. Perhaps more so “adopted”, even if that’s not the (certainly not stated of course) goal.

So many of my thoughts on the Libya situation and especially the no-fly zone (NFZ)/UNSC resolution are hopelessly overdue and now mostly irrelevant. This post is mostly meant to clarify a hasty and vague set of points I began to lay out to my wife (now several days ago) after a couple of days where we hadn’t yet spoken about it; those points were mainly about explaining my dubiousness re: the NFZ.

One of the most flip thoughts I had: as soon as the resolution was affirmed, hearing reports of Benghazi celebrants firing into the air was, “they really ought to conserve that ammo.”



One of the others, which still appears to have some relevance (indeed, provoking surprise) to some of the people I’ve talked to is that just being the beneficiary of the NFZ/humanitarian aid doesn’t make you a “non-combatant” (which is what some appear to envision when they think “humanitarian”). They are insurgents.

That’s OK of course; years of opposition to the CPA, Maliki’s government, and the US presence in Iraq have conditioned some to equate “insurgents” with “bad guys”! This an insurgency; as long as we’re forced to entertain reductiones ad absurdum, we might as well admit that we’re at war (albeit an aloof one–hopefully it will only de-escalate, though that does seem unlikely).

There’s a civil war in Libya, and just by taking steps that are ostensibly humanitarian, we’ve chosen sides; we are supporting the (“good”) insurgents. But the big point here is that it will be difficult to separate our aims (or the rather broad remit of UNSC 1973) from the strategic goals of the rebels. Those strategic goals may be diffuse (they’re not likely to coalesce, either; rather, we/the coalition is likely to align more closely to the goals of “elite” players as they emerge) and are likely to take a long time to achieve. Put another way, UNSC 1973 and our goals are unlikely to have the same endpoint.

What responsibility do we have to a stateless Libya (surely the “humanitarian” risks are much greater when we have a failed state in a civil war)? To the formation of a new, stable government? Even if–in one most preferable scenario–Qaddafi “steps down”/relinquishes power in some relatively peaceful fashion, are we or any part of this coalition able to step away before there’s some semblance of stability or even a “decent interval”? This has to be their revolution after all, or we risk inheriting not only the legacy of Libya from the Italians, reinforcement of the narratives of US meddling in the region, but also the amplified resentment of those who might doubt their own self-determination…

On the point of government formation, I wrote the following in an email (from my phone, with quite divided attention, so it’s even less well-formulated than its adopted parent post–cut me slack!) to a question of facilitating elections (it was an innocent question I assure you):

And absolutely–BUT we aren’t anywhere close to that yet (there could still be a Qaddafi govt a month from now unfortunately!)… Opposition is coalescing into a sort of “shadow government” and might be fairly fully formed when/if they are ready (I HAVE to assume we have or have had–or someone say the French has–a covert relationship with the opposition)

Fact is, in a post-civil war/revolution world, we shouldn’t rush into wholesale elections–preferable if there is some sort of transitional govt ready in the wings (you really can’t go straight into nat’l elections–you start running the provisional govt, can start electing local govt, then–assuming a parliamentary system–start electing PMs).

Now, bear in mind that forming a govt after parliamentary elections *could* be messy (forming coalitions, naming a prime minister and starting a cabinet)–this took what, 6-9 months after the last elections in Iraq. That’s why you want a transitional govt and can’t rush right into representational democracy. You need the country to not absolutely fall to pieces “just because” you got rid of the dictator!

Libya doesn’t have terribly solid independent institutions–and you have to have something (police, water and power, hospitals) or people may really suffer (they unfortunately probably will in some way in either case. This was a huge advantage in Egypt… So much infrastructure was independent and you had a very strong army able to take up transitional tasks (assuming they remain “transitional”) AND public acceptance of the institution.

The sources of legitimacy, even compliance, are elusive–so, apparently, are our interests.


Read full story Comments { 0 }