The Fallacy of Kenyan Counterterrorism Operations

Image via Global Panorama

Strategies for pursuing terrorist cells and insurgent groups in weak African states are still in their infancy. However the shocking disregard for human rights of minority populations by governments’ is a factor that is bound to complicate the search for liberty and security for countries in Africa involved in the Global War on Terror (“GWOT”).

Recent efforts by the Kenyan government to bolster its national security by conducting military operations  throughout Somalia since 2011 and its  harsh use of counterterrorism strategies  have not only failed to achieve their objectives, but have inadvertently exposed the vulnerability of the country’s governance and security institutions and infrastructure. Undoubtedly, Kenya does not have the financial muscle and infrastructural backbone to participate in the GWOT as a partner, unless it chooses to enroll as a proxy of the Western powers – something which it has already done – in order to benefit from funds availed to ‘surrogate’ states.

However, the approach that has been adopted by the Kenyan government to collectively target its minority Muslim population by ignoring its socially-contracted responsibilities and respect for the rule of law have become troubling and counterproductive. Specifically, the path that Kenya has chosen to follow in its counterterrorism operations has not only conflated historical injustices perpetrated by previous regimes on its marginalised minority populations with its current human rights abuses, it has re-opened ethnic and political fractures in Kenya. The strategies adopted by the government indicate that little has been done to counter-act or prepare for the spill-over and consequences likely to stem from the country’s involvement in a brutal asymmetrical war. The false promise that al-Shabaab will be crushed by a battalion of Kenya Defence Forces – infamously implicated in the lucrative Somali charcoal business in Kismayo – and antagonising the Somali and Muslim minorities in Kenya through extrajudicial killings and disappearances of Muslim clerics and faithfuls perceived to be radicals is not only misleading, but dangerously oversimplified strategically. The behaviour of the government in pursuit of its security obligations ought not to mirror the dehumanising excesses of a morally bankrupt terror outfit, but act as a responsible government aware of its mandate.

The recent admission by the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that misrepresented intelligence and planning errors was to blame for the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a candid statement by the foreign minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, that military solutions are not enough to tackle the rising tide of radicalisation and terrorism in Africa should serve as a stark reminder to Kenya about government operations in Somalia.


When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, it had unwittingly entered into an endless cycle conflict which has been misunderstood by nearly all policymakers. By choosing to pursue al-Shabaab in its heartland on the back of a ragtag tribal militia – the Ras Kamboni Brigade spearheaded by Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe – without paying attention to the consequences likely to stem from engaging this indistinct enemy in a brutal asymmetrical war, there was every indication that Kenya was punching above its own weight.

What remains unclear is the motives which prompted the country to decisively act and how it envisioned realising this mission after accomplishing its strategic goals. Indisputably though, it was clear from the outset that the Kenyan government could not commit to a long-drawn battle against al-Shabaab’s insurgency on its own terms, given its rudimentary war chest. Since this incursion was based on a unilateral decision without the blessings of either the United Nations or the African Union, there was no doubt that the financial cost of the war on terror was going to burden the country’s fledgling economy, which was still recovering from the aftershocks of the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Nevertheless, there were multiple factors motivating Kenya’s military campaign. The Kenyan government’s intention to firmly align its interests with those of other states in the GWOT was poised to benefit the country by securing its borders and salvaging its economy – especially its tourism industry – from the reverberations of sporadic attacks by criminal elements from Somalia. Strategically, this undertaking also deliberately aimed at ensuring Kenya’s gains from streams of funds and resources available to proxy states in the fight against terror.

Navigating through Somalia’s clan-based politics, where shifts in dynamics and allegiances are unpredictable and confusing, was never going to be straightforward. Fighting alongside the Ras Kamboni Brigade alone compromises Kenyan credibility as a neutral actor in many quarters in Somalia. Similarly, there is little evidence to suggest any unity of purpose among the various state and non-state actors in Somalia. Somalia, as a theatre of war, is becoming overcrowded with actors out to pursue unilateral interests and in the process undermining each other. This is an extension of a problem that was manifest during the days of Operation Restore Hope – a factor that General Farah Aideed exploited dexterously to neutralise the United States and the UN. Somalia has also developed a concealed but elaborate political economy of war that has become malignant and capable of crushing competing forces out to change the status quo. Almost all contributing countries with forces in Somalia have wrestled with the challenge of their soldiers falling prey to the lucrative imperceptible network of the clandestine war economy.

This partly explains why defeating al-Shabaab in Jubaland has become a tough proposition for the Kenyan Defence Forces. These are some of the bottlenecks and strategic challenges which Kenya has to consider. On the other hand, the insecurity levels in northern Kenya have statistically shown, according to recent studies by the UN, to be claiming more civilian lives than the violence of al-Shabaab. Whether Kenya’s operation in Somalia is an existential threat to the country is debatable because of this.  Although the insecurity in northern Kenya is cumulatively destabilising in the long-term, the violence of al-Shabaab seems to be economically damaging and divisive in the short-term.

Image via The Guardian

Domestically Kenyan policymakers have embarked on an exercise of upgrading their lethal counter-terrorism measures in line with the intrusive expansion of the U.S military footprint and drone wars in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to fight insurgent groups.  These U.S drone wars, predominantly concentrated in Somalia and Yemen, have been conducted by the Obama administration and the CIA to hunt down and kill individuals deemed – through secret processes, without indictment or trial – worthy of elimination. These extra-judicial killings have, according to an internal 2013 Pentagon study, been carried out by secretive military unit Task Force 48-4 which wages a covert war throughout East Africa from outposts in Nairobi, Kenya and Sanaa,Yemen.  Camp Lemonnier, the main hub for these operations in the Horn of Africa, is the U.S military’s most active Predator drone base outside the war zone of Afghanistan.

These drone wars have been conducted in coordination with Kenyan forces providing information, intelligence and ground support to strike Al-Shabaab’s leadership. However, these drones, as with the Kenyan government’s security apparatus, remain a tool, not a strategy to effectively tackle the rising wave of terrorism in the region. It poorly addresses the symptoms of the conflict and neglects its root-causes in Somalia and its appeal to the marginal populations in Kenya. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S drone strikes are raising al-Shabaab’s profile and inflating its importance in Somalia. Similarly, according to Mary Harper, financial inducements used by military personnel to extract information on the whereabouts of al-Shabaab’s leadership is not appealing to the local populations for fear of reprisals from the group.

Equally these targeted killings have had immense limitations as innocent civilians have frequently been accidentally killed alongside specific targets. This was illustrated by the collateral damage of an airstrike in Dinsoor (January, 2015) which killed nine civilians as well as Yusuf Dheeq, al-Shabaab’s head of external operations.  The United States’ covert wars in Somalia has had the multiplying effect of propelling anti-American narratives and the Kenyan government has, inadvertently, fallen prey to the accusations of being a Western pawn. Likewise, the wider regional project of the Obama administration has filtered into Kenyan politics and has given the Kenyan government the impetus to disregard the international law and respect for human rights as exemplified by the abuses perpetrated by its security forces and intelligence operatives.

Image via Yahoo

These problems have been aggravated the Western-funded Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) which has carried out a string of target killings, abductions and torture (including waterboarding, electric shocks, mock executions, and food or sleep deprivation) of perceived ‘radicals’ and young men (predominantly Muslim) opposed to the government’s treatment of the minority Muslim population and its exclusive knee-jerk reactions to the unfolding events. These actions have been justified under the guise that they support the wider regional and continental war on terror against groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated cells.

Unfortunately, the counterterrorism narrative seems to have overshadowed the Kenyan government’s ability to address the long-standing historical injustices and marginalisation of its minority Muslim population in Kenya. In addition, it has given the state credence to pursue narrow political agendas, defined by tribal and ethnic politics as opposed to broader national interests. This has significantly strengthened al-Shabaab’s propaganda machine, amplified their cause and has appealed to those with short-term and long-term grievances against the Kenyan government to join hands with the insurgent group.

Image via CFR

Centralising terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda as the core military enemy in the Somali borderlands overlooks the positive role that Islam, as a religion, could inject in resolving the problems presented by modern Islamic-related militancy, insurgency and terrorism in the Horn of Africa. These extremist organisations are not monolithic constructs; they are fluid networks with differing methodologies and strategies (both violent and non-violent) to address socio-political problems. The disproportionate focus of the Kenyan administration on al-Shabaab’s operations, prioritising the pursuit of its leadership, shoring up an isolated government in Mogadishu, will not resolve Kenya’s security challenges and does not address the root-causes of problems within its borders.

The Kenyan government need only look at Boko Haram’s insurgency in northern Nigeria as an illustration of the dire consequences of a heavy-handed government crackdown on dissent. While the Nigerian government’s conflict with Boko Haram differs in many ways to the long-term and short-term problems afflicting Kenya, parallels can be drawn, particularly in how government actions could significantly contribute to fanning the flames of war and the process of radicalisation.

As Nigerian Senator, Shehu Sani recently commented: “The root causes of this insurgency was triggered by the killing of leader out the confines of the law and since then we never knew peace.” This extra-judicial killing alluded to by Sani was the murder of Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009. His death was accompanied by Abubakar Shekau assuming command of the organisation who substantially militarised the cause and adopted more brutal tactics to accomplish Boko Haram’s goals which have included kidnappings, mass-killings and suicide bombings which have killed thousands of Nigerian civilians and security forces.

Kenya’s problematic relationship with its North Eastern and Coastal provinces could face a similar bloody outcome should the government continue, as the Nigerian government did, to conduct extra-judicial killings, hollowing out civil society, expending blood and treasure on a prelonged war in Somalia absent a political solution, and economically, politically, and socially marginalising young Muslims and ethnic Somalis in Kenya. The horrifying U.S embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, the Westgate Mall massacre and the slaughter of university students in Garissa, these events may pale in comparison to the cost of a fully-fledged insurgency and long-term armed conflict in northern Kenya. The Kenyan government and its security apparatus must conduct an comprehensive investigation into the extra-judicial killings of Muslim clerics and youths by bringing the perpetrators of these draconian acts to book. The state should also stop victimising and collectively targeting an entire religion and minority ethnic groups for the criminal action of hell-bent individuals and groups.

Matthew Williams and Mohammud Abdi


The Syrian Civil War: The Failure of Humanity and Policy

Image via The New York Post
Image via The New York Post

The chilling image of drowned three-year old Aylan Kurdi has encapsulated the humanitarian catastrophe that is engulfing the Middle East and Europe while also demonstrating how Western policy continues to fail in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Aylan’s tragedy is not a new phenomenon. His premature death in the Aegean confirms what governments have struggled to face, they continue to underestimate the harrowing Syrian conflict and the long-term implications it may have for the Middle East and Europe. The international community has long been desensitised to the pictures of children killed or maimed by ISIS suicide bombers or Assad’s barrel bombs. The people and its society have become abstracts, instruments of policy that have been caught between local, regional and global power struggles.

The response of the international community attempting to unite around Aylan’s tragedy to resolve the refugee crisis is a welcome change to challenging current policies and an apathetic mind-set to the Syrian conflict. However the need for such a grisly image to provoke a belated reaction speaks volumes of the indifference and resignation that has pervaded the Western world in the face of bloodshed in Syria in recent years. The image speaks volumes of our policy failures in Syria, the consequences of those failures for the wider region, and our inability to reshape policy into one that matches the realities on the ground.

Douma marketplace massacre (16th August 2015) Image via
Douma marketplace massacre (16th August 2015) Image via

There was little uproar when ISIS massacred 164 and injured 200 civilians in Kobani (Aylan’s home town) on 25th June 2015.  There was little uproar or public pressure to step up political solutions to the Syrian Civil War when Assad’s bombers indiscriminately slaughtered 112 of its civilians in the town square of Douma on 16th August 2015 in one of the more harrowing attacks of the conflict.  There was little uproar when Assad used napalm against his civilians in August 2015 and more horrifically in September 2013 when school children (including a seven month old baby boy) were brutally disfigured, burnt and maimed by the Syrian Air Force. As Patrick Cockburn summarises: ‘people worldwide have become inured to horrible things happening in the wars in Iraq and Syria’ and the fallout of the Syrian war, most notably the Syrian refugee crisis.

A core issue lies in how our foreign policy has jumped from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other.  In Iraq, civilians were collateral damage of a catastrophic state-building project, a self-inflicted mess where neo-liberal interventionism has scarred American and British credibility in the region. In Syria and Iraq we now wage a covert and endless war against ISIS, a symptom of the Syrian Civil War. In short the West, and in-particular the United Kingdom, is absent a coherent strategy which is frequently in contradiction to events occurring on the ground.

Civilians trapped between Assad’s ferocity and extremist rebel forces remain unprotected. Civilians remain besieged in city enclaves such as Aleppo, Homs and Damascus and continue to die under the barrage of napalm strikes, barrel bombs and chemical weapons while being targeted by an array of ‘moderate’ forces we support. These illusory moderates forces range from a shattered Free Syrian Army who fight out of necessity with battle-hardened extremist cells, Kurdish ethno-nationalists such as PKK, PYD and YPG that have ethnically cleansed areas of Iraq and Syria following the emergence of Islamic State, and Shiite militia that have slaughtered countless civilians. Equally the international coalition formed to defeat ISIS killed 125 Syrian civilians (January-July 2015) they claim to protect from ISIS. As summarised by Natalie Nougayrede:

“One of the most puzzling aspects of this new phase of American involvement is that it is in no way expressly intended to provide  protection for civilians. Yet it is precisely because civilians are not protected that Islamic State have been able to grow…Assad…cannot in any possible way be considered an anti-Islamic State weapon.”

Western policymakers’ and Western media’s obsession with the war against ISIS has distorted our perception of the conflict, worsened violence on the ground, and produced more refugees which Syria’s bordering countries Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan can scarcely provide for.  Correspondingly a resurgent, but unwinnable, war on terror has, according to data gathered by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, distracted us from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime (which) ‘remains, for many Syrian civilians at least, the biggest threat to their lives. While the United States may be focusing its bombing campaign against the so-called ISIS, the terrorist militants are actually only responsible for a fraction of the civilian deaths in Syria.’

The West firstly underestimated the brutal counter-revolution of Assad (unconditionally supported by the Russian Federation and Iran) whose ‘readiness to literally burn down (his) country in order to cling to absolute power’ (Filiu, 2015) has produced grotesque political, extremist, paramilitary and sectarian violence. We expected the Syrian regime to fall ignominiously as Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya did, yet politicians did not pay attention to the Assad family’s natural tendency to be exceptionally stubborn both militarily and diplomatically, the latter of which has been firmly illustrated by their negotiations with Israel over returning the Golan Heights to Syria since 1967.

The Al-Nusra Front: Image vis The Telegraph
The Al-Nusra Front: Image via The Telegraph

Secondly the West and its allies such as Turkey and the Gulf States belatedly  funneled arms into the rebel groups before it fully understood the nature of the Syrian insurgency. This insurgency as early as 2012 has come to be dominated by Mohammad al-Jolani’s Al-Nusra Front, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS, and other local extremist groups. The declassified U.S Defense Intelligence Agency (2012) document argues that Al-Qaeda in Iraq (refashioned as contemporary ISIS) ‘supported the Syrian Opposition from the beginning’ and that ‘Western countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey (were) supporting (the) efforts’ of ‘opposition forces trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the Western Iraqi Provinces (Mosul and Anbar).’ All these areas are now threatened by, or under the control of ISIS. The warning of this document, which stipulated that continued the West’s covert support for this opposition would ‘create the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi’ during the Iraq war and that ISI (now ISIS) ‘could also declare an ‘Islamic State’ through its union with other terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria,’ has become a reality.

The moderate Syrian insurgents and the Free Syrian Army, under-equipped and inexperienced, turned to these groups and collaborated out of necessity to survive Assad’s onslaught. As a result the Syrian Revolution stalled, fragmented and ultimately failed while deteriorating into a brutal cycle of decentralised violence.

The gamble played by Assad to release hundreds of prisoners associated with terrorist cells like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the early stages of the revolution to delegitimise the opposition by framing them in a terrorist narrative should not be underestimated. In May, 2015 there were many fears that the regime was buckling under a string of military defeats by Al-Nusra and the ‘Army of the Conquest’ after their seizure of key cities such as Jisr al Shugheur and Idlib in the north and an array of villages and towns in the southern Deraa province. Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus (Assad’s centre of power), home to the neutral Palestinian refugee population, has become a battleground between Islamic State affiliates and Assad’s paramilitary forces.  The continued threat of these groups to the regime disproves the myth that Damascus has been secured by the Syrian security apparatus gamble.

Bashar al-Assad
Image via BBC

Nevertheless Assad’s gamble has successfully divided the opposition and made moderates turn to alternatives that are equally as dismal an option as Assad and weakened the capacity for the international community to fashion a viable political settlement.  A military intervention against Assad, politically impossible and impractical strategically in current circumstances, will not solve the Syrian conflict. It would result in the death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more Syrian civilians and produce a new civil war between the splintered Syrian opposition and play into the hands of extremists such as ISIS and Al-Nusra that now spear-head the rebellion against the House of Assad.

Military options are being used, however they are focused on defeating ISIS, a bi-product of Syria’s instability not the root cause of the civil war. The West has strengthened ISIS by funnelling arms into ‘moderate’ such the FSA and Iraqi Security Forces, whose subsequent collapses during the Syrian civil war and ISIS’s Northern Offensive in Iraq (2014) provided the terrorist cell with a surplus of high-tech weaponery. However it cannot be forgotten that the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (“ISI”), as Filiu argues, was ‘one of main partners of Bashar al-Assad’s regime (and) Damascus was the main entry point’ into Iraq for foreign jihadists from 2003 onwards to undermine the U.S. occupation (2003-2011).

The surge of extremist organisations in the wider Middle East cannot, and should not, be entirely blamed on Western policymakers. It must be placed against the authoritarian regimes like Assad and Nouri al-Maliki which ‘played with jihadi fire to deny…substantial power-sharing.’ (Filiu, 2015) Western policymakers underestimated how secular authoritarians would use anti-terrorism narratives to further entrench their violent security apparatuses.

The international coalition is not designed to protect civilians from Assad, nor does it provide desperately needed financial and humanitarian aid to refugees. These military options of air-strikes and covert counter-terrorism operations are equally absent a diplomatic solution to the conflict which effectively means the coalition simply contributes to a conflict where no particular group can deliver a decisive military blow.

The pressure mounting on the Conservative government has forced David Cameron’s hand to provide resettlement to “thousands” more Syrian refugees in response to the worsening refugee crisis. Cameron has agreed to provide asylum to 20,000 refugees between 2015-2020, yet these are poultry numbers. Global refugee figures now stand at 51.2 million the highest since World War II . This looks set to increase and our admission of refugees remain pitiful numbers in a situation where, as Anton Guterres (UN High Commission for Refugees) states, ‘quantum numbers’ parallel the ‘quantum’ leap in the stakes of this regional crisis, one which has been grossly underestimated by policymakers.

Syrian Boy BeachThe language describing these people fleeing conflicts has to change. There is nothing wrong with what the majority of these people are doing and we should stop demonising these men, women and children. We should be thinking about a plan to integrate these refugees, the majority of whom aren’t just flooding Europe they are destabilising Lebanon (1.1 million Syrians), Jordan and Turkey which the EU has done little to address. This refugee problem has been dumped on countries throughout the Balkans such as Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia as well as Greece and Italy all of whom are blighted by serious socio-economic problems and lack the capacity to deal with the huge influx of refugees fleeing conflict.

The majority of refugees are not a threat to the West, however they do present a big problem that cannot be ignored.  Humanitarian aid can become a substitute for effective and essential political and military solutions to the conflicts that caused the refugee crisis. Politically blind humanitarianism, failing to challenge our unimaginative air-campaign conjoined with ineffectual political solutions and framing the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ as a separate issue will serve to side-line an escalating war in Syria and exacerbate the refugee crisis.

It is not a moral argument; refugee crises, when inadequately addressed or aggressively attacked as a threat to particular governments and communities have caused violence, upheaval and instability. The refugee crisis in post-Second World War Europe as new borders formed led to a massive exchange of populations which sparked new waves of violence across the continent as illustrated by the civil war in Greece, ethnic cleansing in eastern Germany, Ukraine and Poland, racial, ideological and racial atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and the First Arab-Israeli War.

Similarly in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of refugees became a catalyst for the collapse of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of Congo) and Mobutu’s regime eventually producing  what Prunier coined ‘Africa’s World War’ as defeated Hutu Power extremists (a minority within a majority of the two million Rwandan refugees) sparked a local conflict in Kivu which, preluding collapse, was a combustible ‘zone of high-density population with demographic, ethnic and tribal contradictions.’  The local conflict, fuelled by Western humanitarian aid, in Kivu swiftly expanded into a bloody regional conflict across Central Africa which left an estimated five million dead. One extremely bloody civil war in a tiny country the size of Wales, and a subsequent refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region which was poorly addressed by regional and Western powers tore apart an entire region and shook the entire African continent.

The conflict in Central Africa in the 1990s and the Second World War are potent examples of when a refugee crisis can have disastrous consequences for a region that lacks the capacity to deal with millions of fleeing people who are moulded by persecution, desperation, and expectations. These examples, while historically different and contextual, still have lessons that can be learnt; we cannot underestimate the crisis facing the Middle East, North Africa and Europe and the long-term impact the Syrian war will have on demographic changes of the two regions nor should we consider the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East as separate issues. One region will invariable effect the other as the original domino effect of the Arab Spring (2010-2011) illustrates.

Image via Time
Crisis in the Balkans: Image via Time

Closing our borders to refugees will reinforce communal tensions between arriving refugees and local communities, particularly in Greece (which is dangerously unstable) and the Balkans which remains in dire economic straits and continues to struggle to come to terms with the various ethno-nationalist wars of the 1990s.

The countries with less severe social and economic problems in comparison, such as the UK, Germany and France, with (to some extent) more tolerant societies must shoulder the refugees because they have the capacity to do so. In doing so they may lessen the likelihood of civil conflict in both Western and Eastern Europe. The refugees arriving in Europe are a small fraction of those currently in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Shutting out refugees and adopting an absolutist anti-refugee/anti-migrant stance in the name of security and an illogical war on terror will contribute to and foment crime, extremism, and terrorism if refugees are stranded in Europe and left to languish in squalid conditions, poverty and are isolated socially and economically. Integrating these people properly is absolutely essential, they must become a political reality that government’s cannot sweep under the carpet.  If not they will become a source of instability. However their integration must be done in parallel with searching for political solutions to the civil war otherwise it will further empower right-wing, anti-migrant parties in Europe who reflect the uglier side of Europe’s current political reality.

Taking in refugees fleeing from war zones and persecution should be priority but is the inability to solve the various political deadlocks and to challenge current Middle Eastern policies which remains the critical issue. By absorbing refugees we will be mitigating the symptoms of conflict. However absent a long-term solution to the Syrian conflict and a far-reaching social and economic plan for rebuilding post-conflict Syria, the number of refugees will increase creating underlying tensions between current and potential asylum seekers and local communities in Europe and the cycle of violence will continue.

Protecting civilians in Europe, Syria and Iraq should be our priority, not the war against ISIS which while a dangerous regional threat has become inflated by policymakers as a direct threat to Western security interests. ISIS is not a monolithic organisation and cannot be defeated by military means alone. Like a hydra, cutting off one head will only lead to several more to grow in its place, as the demise of Al-Qaeda and its replacement by ISIS illustrates.

Islamic State FlagAddressing its violence will require socio-economic solutions to rebel grievances as well as concentrated military pressure by regional and global powers to weaken ISIS. While ISIS should be a major regional concern, it should not become overly centralised in policy-making as it is not the predominant cause of civilian casualties. ISIS and its exhibitionist ultra-violence has served as a distraction from the continued havoc Assad’s state-sponsored violence continues to create which is accompanied by regional and Western military policies that have fueled violence rather than solved it. Marginalised civilians that are targeted by Assad and unprotected by the international community have swelled the ranks of rebels such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front as a result.

The Syrian Civil War continues to surpass one deadly impasse after another. Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe has finally reached central Europe, the conflict’s brutality has escalated while the stakes have increased for all the major actors involved as Syria has become the epicentre of a wider regional conflagration.  The nature of the conflict and the accompanying regional threats determine that we cannot ignore or simply contain Syria’s fall-out anymore. As Peter Bouckaert argues the ‘consequences of a further meltdown of the Middle East cannot easily be contained to the region, as is clearly evident from the spreading insecurity and instability, the increasing refugee flows out of the region, and the growing threat posed by ISIS-inspired attacks.’ Similarly Bouckaert goes on to add:

“The complexity of the conflict in Syria is no excuse to look away. Civilians in Douma (and refugees making the hazardous journey across the Aegean, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe) like other civilians caught in conflict, be they in Sarajevo, Gaza, the Negev or Baghdad, deserve protection. There may not be an easy solution to each conflict, but there are always measures that can reduce civilian suffering.”

Granted, it is impossible to remove Assad by force, but it isn’t impossible for measures to be put in place which protect displaced refugees and civilians from both the Syrian military and extremist groups and providing them with safe haven. The refugee crisis brings new dynamics to the conflict as each European country and its populations’ absorbing or rejecting refugees will grapple with the crisis in different ways.

The Syrian conflict and the subsequent regional break-down has produced, as Pankaj Mishra contends, uncoordinated violence and conflict that ‘future historians may regard…as…the third, longest and the strangest of world wars’ which stretches from Iraq to the shores of the Levant, to Libya and Tunisia in North Africa and all the way to the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. These overlapping Middle Eastern wars, with their own specific revolutions, counter-revolutions and causes, have drawn in superpowers such as Russia, the United States, major European powers, and major Middle Eastern powers such as Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia in different shapes and forms. It is an illogical and contradictory Middle Eastern war that may require illogical solutions that has always typified Middle Eastern politics.

It would be foolish to ignore the dangers presented by the Arab Spring and the subsequent carnage which, while difficult to understand, has logic to it. Security, counter-terrorism, surveillance; these are a reflection of the times we live in. However without constructive solutions to resolving the United Kingdom’s enduring polarisation on refugees and terrorism, we will always be reacting to threats, creating new enemies at home and abroad, and empowering those who hold radical attitudes and alternatives to solving the conflict on the political right and left.

At worst, we remain reactive to terrorist attacks (microcosms of wider violence in the Middle East),relatively indifferent to war crimes and atrocities and unperturbed by regional and Western powers tampering with the revolutionary processes underway in the Middle East. These are processes we have yet to fully understand, including the consequences and implications of the West’s current and recent actions in the Middle East.

New approaches are needed by the European powers while conventional policies in Syria (military, humanitarian, diplomatic, as well as our perspective on the war on terror) require serious reform and scrutiny. Such a reform would require a shift in the attitudes of Russia and the United States who, along with their regional affiliates, have fuelled the conflict. Such an escalation in violence, an escalation of the arms race between proxy states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and an ever worsening refugee crisis can only spell further catastrophe if world powers continue to pave this path.

Direct military intervention is impossible, and should be avoided. Nonetheless there are certainly better avenues to solving the conflict then simply turning a blind-eye to Syria’s plight, bombing ISIS and crossing our fingers that our government will contain a monumental shift in Middle Eastern politics.

Image via Amnesty International
Image via Amnesty International

The tragedy of Aylan’s doomed voyage, his brother and mother’s death (and atleast nine others) and the tears of his father and a family who have lost everything have poignantly captured the Syrian people’s tragedy, the Middle East’s tragedy, and our policy failures in Syria. If this story and the harrowing images of Aylan, yet alone the countless other tragedies of Syria’s people that preceded it don’t change our attitude it is highly unlikely anything will change in the war. In such a case we will be sure to see more tragedies for the Syrian people such as Ghouta chemical attack, the napalm school bombings, the Douma and Houla massacres and other countless atrocities of a war that has now claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced over half the Syrian population (21 million before the war).

Authentic refugees require our protection and humanitarian action remains a critical issue, but ultimately it is our policies, the narratives that drive our perception of the war, and our strategies that urgently require change.

Matthew Williams

Understanding the Drivers of Conflict in the Central African Republic

Image via The Independent
Image via The Independent

On 18th February 2015, I attended a talk led by Sarah Covington and Albert Caramés Boada to discuss the ongoing Central African Republic conflict and understanding the actors behind the violence in the regional crisis. Sarah Covington  is the lead analyst on the Central African Republic for the Country Risk Team at HIS which is a specialist intelligence unit that forecasts political and violent risks worldwide. Albert Caramés Boada is an associate researcher at the Groupe de Recherche d’Information sur la Paix (GRIP), working closely with the International Catalan Institute for Peace.

In sum, the speakers argued that it would be an oversimplification in any conflict to assume that sectarian violence is the singular root cause of conflict.

Firstly, Ms. Covington illustrated how there are regional factors which must not be overlooked. The geographical position and size of the Central African Republic emphasises this. It borders numerous unstable and conflict-affected countries including Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and also endures cross-border interference by Ugandan rebel groups seeking to recruit disenfranchised refugees. She argued that the sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim groups in the Central African Republic is therefore not just a domestic conflict, it is a regional problem that should be addressed within a regional context and regional framework.

Next, Mr. Boada went on to highlight that while the focus of the conflict has been predominantly on the ethnic cleansing that took place in 2014, the crisis in CAR is rooted in deep seated economic, social and political issues which remain unaddressed:

“Negligence of development, the population, the lack of democratic traditions (particularly in rural areas), corruption has exacerbated the lack of unity inside the country as early as 2011, if not before then. Basic necessities are lacking and addressing the roots of the conflict means tackling the chronic lack of development in the country as well as solving the current conflict. The lack of political will and intelligence on the ground within the international community and their reaction to the current humanitarian catastrophe has been slow. Whilst the French troops were part of the solution In intervening in December 2013, they are also part of the problem as former colonialists. Preventing all-out war did not solve the underlying issues plaguing the country.”

In these circumstances, the ability to build a civil administration will be undermined in the short-term and long-term. Ms. Covington commented that it is difficult to build an administration if people aren’t being paid. The government’s limited geographical outreach (restricted to the capital Bangui) means that they are unable to restart the economy, especially if rebel groups are fighting each other over the economic resources. Even if a mandated constitution and foreign companies return to kick-start the economy after the elections, hundreds of thousands of Central Africans will still either be disenfranchised or displaced. Simply restarting the economy won’t solve the underlying issues.

At the same time, the U.N is struggling to provide funds to support their own soldiers, let alone to restore order and instigate the development projects which have the potential to provide a sustainable solution to the issues tearing down the Central African Republic. The result is the sectarian violence that we have seen escalating in the past year, which may not be addressed by the international community. If that is the case, the root causes of discontent will not be directly addressed, and as such, the future of the Central African Republic may remain tenuously unstable.

Matthew Williams

Conflict 2014: in pictures – Conflict Archives

Ukraine Priest 2.0

Ukrainian Revolution 2014: A priest stands between Viktor Yanukovych police and protesters during a historic regime change in February. The protests were subsequently followed by the annexation of Crimea and a tense standoff between Russia and NATO.

Syria Ruins

Desolation: The Syrian city of Deir Ezzor lies in ruins as the Syrian Civil War nears its forth year.

Attack Synagogue

18th November 2014: Four Israelis were killed and several injured as two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.

North Korea

February 2014: Sketches by former prisoners in North Korean gulag camps published.


June-July 2014: Religious and ethnic tensions have reemerged between Buddhists and Muslims in  Burma with deadly consequences.

Americans Afghanistan

US Marines and British Armed Forces end their thirteen year stay in Afghanistan. Over 20,000 Afghan civilians and 3,479 Coalition troops have been killed since 2001.

Central African Republic

Ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence in the Central African Republic: Between November 2013 – March 2014 Christian milita, commonly known as the anti-balaka, fighting the violent Muslim group Séléka ethnically cleanse the Muslim population. Thousands of Muslims are killed by machete and hundred of thousands of Muslims are systematically removed from the country.


August 9, 2014: Shooting of teenager Michael Brown sparks protests and riots across the United States against police brutality, racism and fears of police militarisation.


From Russia with Love: Following the Ukrainian revolution Vladamir Putin and his ‘little green men’, annex Crimea sparking the Crimea crisis (February 23, 2014 – March 19, 2014). This has led to increasingly strained relations between NATO and the Russian Federation.

Iraqi Helmets

The Northern Offensive: During the 2014 World Cup, the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began a major offensive in northern Iraq against Nouri al-Maliki‘s U.S sponsored government. The latter’s forces melt away in the wake of ISIS’s advance and shocks the world.

ISIS execution

Viral Executions: ISIS have indiscriminately committed  war crimes against various Muslim communities including Sunnis and perpetrated genocidal violence against Iraq’s Christian minorities (most notably the Yazidi population). The neo-Wahabbist organisation have publicly executed POWs, journalists and humanitarian aid workers.


16th May 2014: Libya’s instability between 2011-2013 reignited civil war which is mainly being fought between Islamist forces and Libyan parliamentary forces.


17th July 2014: A scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is shot down during the Ukrainian civil war/pro-Russian unrest, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The Russian Federation is condemned by the international community for supplying pro-Russian rebels.

John Jihadi

Jihadi John: A British citizen and a member of ISIS who has come to encapsulate ISIS’s violent rampage. He publicly murdered U.S citizens James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Peter Kassig and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning and oversaw the beheadings of 18 Syrian soldiers.

Obama Strategy

September 10th 2014: After a summer of blood, Barack Obama speaks to the American people outlining his plan to fight ISIS.

Pakistan Attack

December 16th 2014: Using suicide bombs and fire-arms militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 141 people, 132 of them children. It is the organisation’s worst atrocity.

South Sudan

The world’s youngest nation South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 15th 2013 between government and rebel forces. The ethnic groups (Dinka and Nuer) have been targeting each other and the resulting violence has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.  Both sides have committed genocidal violence.

Climate Change

31 March 2014: A major report by the UN states that the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.”  On 21st September, protestors across the world stage the Climate march in the face of impending climate change.

Donetsk Protests

March 2014: Pro-Russian protestors occupy governmental building across eastern Ukraine, most notably Donetsk and Sloviansk. Over 5,000 are killed in protests and by the Ukranian Armed Forces, often indiscriminate ‘terrorist’ crackdowns.


March 18th 2014: President Vladimir Putin speech following the official annexation of Crimea.

Sydney Siege 2.0

15th December 2014: A hostage escapes the Sydney Siege. Three people (including gunman and ISIS inspired Man Haron Monis ) are killed in the ensuing struggle at Lindt Cafe in Martin Place.

Ebola 2.0

Epidemic: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been afflicted by the worst outbreak of Ebola in recorded human history. The death toll from Ebola in the three worst-affected countries in West Africa has risen to 7,373 among 19,031 cases known to date there.

Yemen Drone

Drone warfare: The use of drones, particularly in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been condemned by international onlookers, various journalists and activists as violations of international law.


21st January: The BBC state that there is clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees. Syria has encapsulated the continued problem of the perpetration of torture by police, military units and governments across the globe.

Bring Back Our Girls

Nigeria’s insurgency: Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group based in north-east Nigeria, has cut a swathe through the country killing thousands of civilians in a wave of suicide bombings and armed raids. They have also kidnapped hundreds of civilians including young women and children.

Bring Back Our Girls

December Revelations: While unsurprising to the majority of the world, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the damning executive summary of its five-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme initiated by the Bush administration during the Global War on Terror.


A wave of anti-government demonstrations – the largest in a decade – has been sweeping through Venezuela since early February.


The 2nd Gaza War and the Silent Intifada (June – present 2014): The kidnap of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas inspired militants and the incineration of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers helps spark the 2nd Gaza War and the silent/third intifada.

Matthew Williams

Long-Term Strategy: The Middle East’s Salvation?

 Iraq Special Forces

 Iraq has collapsed. The United States and its allies are paying witness to the Republic of Iraq’s downfall and for the first time the international community is truly coming to terms with the catastrophic failure of the ‘Global War on Terror’.  Even if the current Iraqi government survives the Islamic State’s onslaught the nation itself will be irrevocably changed as it goes through yet another phase of convulsive violence. How will this invariably effect Iraq, Middle East, and the wider world (particularly the West) is open to interpretation alongside how we tackle the unfortunate present and future circumstances presented to us.

In my most recent article I covered the roots and rise of ISIL engineered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and without doubt the Islamic State (IS) has contributed strongly to the anarchy that has consumed Iraq.  Yet Fuad Massoum and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in equal measure constructed a path for ISIS. This was a path that the insurgents were not only able to exploit but walk down with worrying ease in bringing down America’s Iraq.

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi, will face an uphill struggle. The first challenge fighting an tenacious jihadist insurgency cutting a swathe through Iraq and its minorities. The second will be consolidating the disputing Iraqi government as al-Maliki’s supporters claim that ousting al-Maliki was ‘a coup’ claiming it breached the constitution as he had thirty days left at his post. Internal chaos will all but guarantee ISIS an eventual victory over the politically leaderless and already demoralized Iraqi military.

Iraq and the Middle East is Western foreign policymakers new Yugoslavia. However one can only fear the repercussions of what they have helped unleash will make the consequences far more outreaching and costly. The failure of  Middle Eastern foreign policy in the last four years  is a tough psychological blow to the credibility of various countries within NATO and the EU, particularly the United States and United Kingdom.

The humanitarian operations comprising of airstrikes and aid for the escaping refugees and various minorities such as the Yazidis underway undoubtedly has to be undertaken. The operations however successful will only solve a small fraction of the issue. Northern Syria remains the primary headquarters and base of operations for ISIL. This has been the case since they commenced their campaign in Syria in April 2013. While the Syrian Civil War continues in its current format ISIL will continue possess the perfect environment in which it can continue to recruit local and foreign jihadists surrounded by stockpiles of weaponry from all corners of the Middle East and globe.

There are various choices that can be taken. Intervention on the ground in Syria is unfathomable. The infamous ‘redline’ of Obama following the Ghouta chemical attacks a year ago and the threat to strike Syria and intervene threatened a potential Third World War with China and the Russian Federation (whether rightly or wrongly) reeling in the bullish Obama administration in mid-August 2013. This idea was undermined similarly by American public opinion both in the military and public staunchly against intervention in another Middle Eastern conflict. The Obama administration has been left with the smoldering wreckage of Iraq by the hawkish Bush government.

Embedded image permalink Instability in Iraq would undoubtedly be worsened by the Syrian revolution. That is what the failure and criminality with which the Iraq war was waged would bring. The Iraq War has effectively blocked us from deploying soldiers into Syria, the memories of Iraq being too painful for many of the public  who are angered that  they were  systematically lied to and brushed aside by the Bush administration in 2003 as they plundered Iraq and killed Iraqi civilians. This stance against intervention in Syria and Iraq for many anti-interventionists is coupled with the tarnished reputation of the United States and the United Kingdom for their military adventurism in the international community.

Circumstances change. ISIL have rapidly changed the structure of the Middle Eastern conflicts and James Bloodworth makes some good points in his article regarding how we deal with ISIL. ‘Liberals are very good at calling for the bombs to stop, but now is the time for anyone of a remotely progressive temperament to call for an intensification of the military campaign against Isis.’

Without a doubt I agree with many of his views. I want nothing more, like any decent human being, to see the destruction of ISIL even if they were the spawn of the Iraq War and supported by various individuals within the Gulf monarchies, our allies, and in many circumstances ourselves. This is our mess and we owe the Iraqi people. The past cannot be unwritten and the Bush administration and Blair, who were quick to jump to their own defense in the wake of ISIL’s Northern Offensive, must answer some serious questions.


Yet what we need, as Obama suggests, is long-term strategy. Even if we had destroyed Assad in 2013 what then?  ISIL and various terrorists cells including Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra were in existence in August 2013. Capable in guerrilla warfare perfected in the Iraq War, chaos and violence would remain and the civilians and soldiers alike would die as they did during the Iraq insurgency. Jihadists and would-be insurgents could manipulate humanitarian intervention into yet another example of Western adventurism in the Middle East and recruit more extremists. Unseating Assad would result in another post-Gadaffi/post-Saddam scenario where we would have indirectly supported the wrong factions (as seen in Libya) or de-stabalised the region as we witnessed in Iraq in 2003.

This question should be applied to ISIL. If we destroy them what then? Even if the Kurds and Iraqi ground units push back ISIL and by some miracle they are simultaneously destroyed by the Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces what then? The beliefs of ISIL like Al-Qaeda’s are now banners around which jihadists and militants rally and/or create their own organisations. The root problems lie at the heart of various versions of Islam and Western foreign policy.

The United States is protecting its economic and political interests in the Middle East currently whilst trying to save a faltering Iraqi government. Airstrikes, bombs, a ground invasion and humanitarian aid will not solve Syria, Iraq, Libya or the question of extremist Islamic beliefs. Military means (undoubtedly required when concerning terrorists) are short term alleviations and solutions to what is now a generational problem. Short term strategies must coincide with broader vision and much change must come from within Islam itself and how outsiders engage with the faith and political side of the religion. 

The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. These are problems the outside world can help solve, but ultimately not fix.

The fascistic subversion of Islam into neo-Wahabbist and neo-Salafist cores by factions such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and various terrorist factions have to be isolated and destroyed. This can only occur with a substantial reform to many educational systems across the Middle East which promote and staunchly protect radicalized versions of the Islamic faith, in-particular Saudi Arabia which, though an enemy of Al-Qaeda, promotes the 18th century Wahabbi version of Islam  to counter what it sees as the threat of Shi’a Muslims spreading their version of Islam. Islamists, Salafists, Wahabbists, Sunnis, Sh’ia Muslims and more  are divided and while this remains there is little hope that the issue will be resolved particularly when various segments of the Western population are misinformed on the finer details of how the faith works.

This problem coincides with the continued way in which the West conducts itself in Middle Eastern politics which not only failed dismally in Iraq, but also in the wake of the Arab Spring, the continued and uncompromising support of a violent and militant Israel and our inherent obsession with oil and petro-politics. The problems are vast and the solutions unattainable at present moment.  Destroying ISIL would not destroy the ideology of militant Islam. What is required is  a combination of carefully planned short-term political plans and military operations with that of long-term educational and intellectual solutions to the problems from within and outside the Middle East. Both sides need to take a good hard look at themselves. We need better ideas and the Middle East isn’t unsolvable as many contend.

Matthew Williams

Islamic Extremism: The Modern Hydra?

“Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication. The latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease.”

Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, p.294

The ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) or now known under the Obama administration as ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ against Islamic extremism (predominantly) is an unwinnable conflict. It is de-facto permanent war and the reality checks for the Western powers have been stark as they have come across an ever evolving entity that cannot be destroyed by conventional means only. Understanding why Islamic radicalism is flourishing and why it exists is a much more important than how states counter the jihadists, mujahideen, terrorists, and insurgents.

In Greek mythology the Learnaen Hydra was a serpent which possessed many heads. Heracles arrived on orders King Eurystheus to perform his second of his fabled Twelve Labors to kill the beast. He engaged with the Hydra and crushed the heads with his club only to be exasperated as with each Hydra head he destroyed, another two would replace it. Again and again and again he tried to slash and hack at the creature until he was forced to retreat in exhaustion. For all his might, the strongest man in the world could not defeat the creature by normal means.

His nephew then came upon the idea of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps until eventually he defeated the great creature, burying the immortal head under the rocks so that it would not re-emerge.


Naturally we shouldn’t take the Hydra story as a way to interpret Islamic radicalism. As mentioned before presenting it as a single entitey would be to misconstrue how we interpret the complex world that is Islam. The message of this story is that Heracles had to find an alternate tactic to defeat the Hydra as simple brute force could not work. Defeating Islamic extremism through the use of simple brute force and counter-terrorism will not deal with the problems blighting the Middle East. The death of Osama of Bin Laden and the recline in influence of Al-Qaeda is the most obvious testimony to this as is the idea to see the conflict as a ‘us versus them’ scenario, ‘good versus evil’, the ‘clash of civilisations’ or a GWOT.

Terrorism will always exist and has done long before the events of 9/11. One hundred years ago the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand Serbian terrorist organisation sparked the First World War (alongside other factors). Terrorism cannot be eliminated because the relations of states and civilians, minorities, and oppressed peoples are built on resisting whether just or unjust to what they consider excessively powerful and corrupt authorities.

20140111_MAP001_0It creates new enemies and ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab have  joined the burgeoning ranks of extremists (though differing goals and objectives). These are four of many diverse factions and splinter groups. In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of radical  Islam in 2013 alone.

All encompassing global application overlooksthe importance of regional and local political, social and religious issues that affect the evolution and formation of a ‘terrorist’ organisation. As Jason Burke notes ‘to blame…contemporary Islamic militancy…on one man….is gross oversimplification. Building bin Laden up to be a global mastermind directing….a network of terror is counter productive.’

Nor should we see Islamic extremism as the product or sheer fanaticism, of just psychotic personalities and deluded, nor are they simply always suffering in poverty and seeking a way out. They certainly are prevalent in many radical movements, but not all, not amongst the tens of thousands of men and women across the globe who fight for their faith. Individuals as well as groups vary in both motive and extremes of promoting their faith. Leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden were both wealthy and educated individuals alongside their conservatism which when combined with a sense of injustice can be potent in the hands of intelligent dissidents.

Supplying weapons to Syrian rebels be they the Islamic Front, the Free Syrian Army, or jihadists is not even containing the cure. The New York Times doesn’t even deny that jihadists are being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar who recieve shipments from allies of the Western sphere to the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS.  Making  Syria and Iraq weapon depots and combining that with national, religious and/or political and social grievances enflamed by the Arab Spring only make the problems more complex. Nor is using drones and airstrikes a solution to endearing the West to Middle-Eastern countries or the families suffering on the grounds.

Things are worse now than they ever were before 9/11 and this is a problem which will extend into a long-term issue for the Middle East, the United States and Eastern Europe. The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War,  though a serious situation unseen for decades in Europe, is still a recoverable situation despite the violence between the eastern Ukrainians and the government of Poroshenko in Kiev.

So if it becomes a long-standing issue how do we fight it? To discount military means completely would be to leave innocent civilians vulnerable. Security and development must work hand in hand and at this current moment the gross imbalance in prizing military strength over diplomatic, soft power, and development is worrying. Short-term objectives must be combined with long-term strategy.

Radical changes in attitudes in our own society on the Middle East must change and incorporating the Arab Spring, the history of the Middle East and Islam as a compulsory part of our education system would be a first very important step. Answers lie in the past as well as the present and future.

9/11 should be understood from looking at both sides of the coin. Why do some Islamic radicals hate us and often each other? Why did the United States become so involved in Middle Eastern affairs? How does Islamic society, politics and religion work?

The main point of this is that rather than understanding the motivations of the men and the build up and aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 the West chose a more militant stance against it which has not only cost us man-power and destabalised the region, but cost  excessive amounts of money and the blood of both soldiers and civilians.  We have encouraged radical extremism to flourish rather than recede. Al-Qaeda did not exist under Saddam Hussein rule and now ISIS and civil war occupy the Iraqi people.

The emergence of militant Islam in Africa is a clear indicator that development, poverty, and the failure of government’s to meet the needs of their people can be a traction to join terrorist organisations alongside the questions of faith and radical ideologies. The violence in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya are such examples. People also forget to ask what will become of the Muslim refugees in the Central African Republic?  Will they be radicalised by their suffering, their increased poverty and the ethnic cleansing of the Christians?

This is a problem with no quick remedy, it is a product of contemporary issues created and aided by misunderstanding  historical ‘clashes’. The Crusades were not simply wars between Christians and Muslims. They involved numerous secular and religious conflicts often Muslims fighting Muslims, Christians fighting Christians or pagans fighting Christians and though often shrouded by religious motives were wars a-typical of medival times; factions, tribes, fiefdoms, kingdoms, empire, anarchy and violence.

Once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse Islam, like Europe, has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period.

Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance.

Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003 20130227_iraq_10yrs1_800.jpg
Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003

The Crusades were not wars of civilizations which was often used as propaganda by the papacy to meet secular goals and increase its influence in the holy land, ‘the land of milk and honey’, the latter statement alluding to the economic value of the Middle East even in medieval times. Almost sounds like George Bush using the Global War on Terror as a pretext to restore American influence in the Middle East, ‘the land of oil’! Patterns.

Oversimplifying the answers to an inherently complex issue is bound to get a poor grade. Saying that the Crusades were simply wars between Christians and Muslims is like answering the question ‘What is Al-Qaeda?’ with ‘it is a fanatical global terrorist organisation’.  This is in-part correct but it is only a basic explanation.


Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and they are serious problems, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition or choices made by many to embrace of extremist doctrines. All we here is the brutality of the Al-Nusra Front and the violence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

We also sometimes fall prey to the idea that Islamic extremism is the sole threat. Presenting Islam as a wholly anti-western pillar only serves to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

DO_NOT_USE_MARCUSC_2826353bNor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

The problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. However there is only so much the West can solve. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the moderates, extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.

The issue within Muslim societies is  what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having in the debate; the adaptability and the balance between religion and politics. Some argue they should be unquestionably linked whilst other argue that compromise must be instituted. Those who demand for compromise and restraint get denounced as heretics and not Muslim and open themselves up to reprisal from extremist factions. Why? Because to many Islamic intellectuals like Qutb a solely political state would become decadent and corrupt in partnership with unfettered Western capitalism without the spirituality and codes of Islam as seen by his time spent in America in the 1940s.

The lack of conversations and debate is in part guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of  faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened, moderate and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. Military power must be used to combat extremism up to a point, but it will not solve a problem that is predominantly social and economic.

Matthew Williams

The Arabian End Game

“War does not determine who is right – only who that is left”

Bertrand Russell

ISIS executionThe Arab Spring, now dubbed by many the Arabian winter, has consumed the Middle East and Northern Africa like a wildfire, uncontrollable and almost beyond taming from the outside. What looked like a series of short-term crises have molded into a long-term regional conflict.  Revolution and reform has festered into civil war, counter-revolution, coups, civil strife, insurgency, authoritarianism, terrorism and various humanitarian crises. Global refugee figures now stand at 51.2 million the highest since World War II and it only looks set to increase as annually violence intensifies and many borders that we see on maps are now the merest of illusions. As Anton Guterres (UN High Commission for Refugees) remarks the ‘quantum numbers’ parallel the ‘quantum’ leap in the stakes of this regional crisis. 

The Iraq crisis has served to exacerbate the severity of the regional collapse with the focus shifting from the Ukrainian borderlands back to the Middle East. Finger pointing has commenced in America as it struggles to come to terms with its new Vietnam, Obama in a potentially unattainable situation in regards to Iraq.

Naturally the focus has been on the Bush administration, the West’s legacy in Iraq and the denial and bitterness of key politicians who orchestrated and oversaw the Iraq invasion and occupation (2003-2011). The focus should undoubtedly remain on them and inquiries must be conducted in the UK and United States to explain all the controversy surrounding coalitions action regarding war crimes and the illegitimacy of the grounds for invasion.

Area of the world affected by civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?
Areas of the world affected by serious civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, state of alert, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?

However at the same time solutions for the now and the long-term have to be considered to resolving the crisis, lest men radicalized by conflict return or emerge on our shores and other regions of the world to promote extremism and violence. This could quite easily spill over into unstable Greece and Turkey, the former of whom is starting to support the more fascist elements within the political spectrum such as Golden Dawn. Turkey is likewise suffering from civil unrest, economic instability and the repression of many civil liberties (we saw the shut down of Twitter to quell political dissent online a tactic regularly used now by activists, insurgents and jihadists).

Containing the threat is as important as solving it and whilst the international community would like to see the bloodshed cease, most notably in Syria, the crisis in Middle East is starting to look beyond the direct control of the super-powers (such as the Russian Federation and the United States). This is largely due to the splintering of rebel factions into a variety of insurgents, hard-line jihadists with varying goals and objectives, freedom fighters, and those fighting for a secular government all of whom tend to overlap with one another.

Local powers hold the key to this crisis as the Western powers have either bungled their support for the pro-Western/democratic entities or have tainted their reputations with regard to conduct and policies in regards to Middle Eastern affairs. Nevertheless history and the continued Global War on Terror dictates that the West will remain key to the Middle East’s future.

The success or failure of the Iran nuclear deal could be an important factor in containing the Middle Eastern conflicts not to mention our relationship with Putin and the Kremlin over the Ukrainian civil war and the Syrian civil war. How the Iraqi government, its armed forces and political parties deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) in the coming weeks is also pivotal.

Using drones and air-strikes as Obama does in Pakistan as stated in a previous article is unlikely to deter the opposition who are well armed and from videos that have been seen on the ground it is an  urban war in the towns and cities of Iraq. Airstrikes would only incur heavy casualties both civilian and military and leave many embittered against the Obama administration, a useful propaganda tool for jihadist and insurgency organisations.

More crucially those who are pro-Western in Iraq would or could be a target of retribution and being pro-Western can be manipulated into anything from western affiliation to political and religious beliefs or ethnicity. This is in-part already happening but bombings would only accelerate the crimes against humanity not ease them.

The United States must also stop supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria, via their allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, (who have supported hard-line extremists) such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. According to Juan Cole of Truthdig neither thus far have openly criticized ISIS for their crimes. On October 20, 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Specific individuals are a key source of funding according to leaked U.S diplomatic cables in 2009  according to Hilary Clinton:

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” 

Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are predominantly Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures (an incompetent strategy employed by Rumsfeld then Secretary of Defence) the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of violent Islamism in Syria and Iraq. So technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the crises. This is a product of of deliberate and poor long term and short-term U.S/Western strategy in regards to the Middle East, seen most obviously in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front have flourished and grown more powerful than than their affiliates Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda thanks to financial and logistical support from the West’s Middle Eastern allies and seized depots of Assad’s Syrian Army. The violence of both ISIS and Al-Nusra as seen by pictures and Youtube videos (warning contains very graphic content) posted by both organisations are horrific and easily found. Our allies often funded by government’s in Western Europe and America fund the very men we claim to fight, such as those who commited atrocities on 9/11, 7/7, Woolwich, in Madrid and Mumbai since 2001.

Interestingly ISIS’s social media propaganda campaign trends the most in Saudi Arabia’s region in the Middle East under the hash tag #itwillremain and #ISIS at 35.1% whilst Qatar and Iraq stands at 7.5%, the U.S.A at 9.1%. This is an attempt to recruit more foreign fighters and wealthy donors of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, the latter of which was no secret as far back as 2008 according to Wikileaks.

“U.S. officials have described Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11 as significant; however, some observers have raised questions about possible support for Al Qaeda by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family.”

Naturally the U.S.A may desire to support the moderates fighting Assad yet an ocean of oil lies beneath the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and producer. Americans hunger to consume cheap oil and economics may influence political and moral decisions. Destabalizing Iraq’s oil supplies through civil war and disintegration will increase demand for Saudi Arabian oil exports.This is a recurring theme in past Middle Eastern history; blood oil and petro-politics.

Whether or not these pictures are real are disputed, ISIS’s and Al-Nusra’s atrocities are not on Youtube.

Supporting extremists is unlikely to fill the void of Assad’s government with a pro-Western affiliate nor will the ending of Assad’s regime guarantee a peaceful power transfer. In-fact a second civil war would likely occur if Assad was removed from power between the extremists, moderates, and insurgents and encourage the continuation of sectarian violence; essentially a repeat of Iraq. This is something we are seeing unfold in Libya since Gaddafi’s execution October 20th 2011 and NATO’s airstrikes against pro-Gaddafi forces.

Military rule in Egypt
Military rule in Egypt

The dilemma between authoritarianism and anarchy in the Middle East is particularly difficult and contentious issue that we must address. In Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has rapidly and brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, however there a belief amongst many that a civil war would have began had the military not taken control in wake of the 2nd coup and ousting of democratically elected but incompetent and ineffective Mohammed Morsi.

Yet the death penalty for dissidents, and legitimate protesters as well as the detainment of thousands more is no peace, just martial law, a reversal of the gains made since Mubarak was removed by the protesters in a largely bloodless coup in 2011. The west is in a moral quandary not supporting elected Morsi while silently condoning the army coup.The Egyptian military is again in part funded by the United States and it is the same old story much like that of Saddam Hussein who was installed by the C.I.A  none other than President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, December 20th 1983. Rumsfeld would later lead the U.S campaign in 2003 to topple Saddam. This was after the summer of 1983 when Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time.

As long as the government is pro-Western rather than democratic, these are the people we tend to back whether it be Saddam who used chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds but he is a deterrent to communist influence and secures Western oil interests, Saudi Arabians funding terrorists but being the world top exporters of oil or the Israeli pro-Western buffer state who have ethnically cleansed the Palestinians and bomb the Gaza Strip since 1948 and are increasingly right-wing and fascist under Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu.


This is not about democracy and the Arab Spring’s eventual decline into a series of regional  proxy wars highlights this. Iran and the Russian Federation aren’t innocent either. They back their ally Assad who uses napalm, barrel bombs, and other ruthless tactics including torture to fight both moderate and radical secular/religious factions. Both sides have been accused of using official and home-made nerve gas and sarin chemical weapons against each other. With extremists on both sides not just Assad’s that would not and should not surprise us.  It is either authoritarian rule or the proxy-conflicts and brutal caliphates/Islamic states of hard-line militants.

Will we see more troops on the ground under a future president of the United States and NATO? After all this is a long-term crisis that will most likely past Obama’s term in office which has spread to parts of Africa (asides North Africa) most notoriously Mali, Kenya and Nigeria while Somalia has been plagued by violent Islamism in the form of Al-Shabaab since the 1990s.

The frustration and isolation of Russian Muslims in the politics of the Kremlin as well as those in satellite states such as Chechnya and Dagestan only increase the problems. Conflict has torn apart the provinces creating power vacuums filled by warlords and fundamental groups determined to be independent Islamic states (radical or not).

The violence is beyond Western control unless stark military deployment is contemplated a route that many in the Western public is unlikely to support in the wake of the calamitous Iraq war nor will the Russians, Iranians, Assad, or China permit such a radical solution. The choices are difficult, imperfect peace or the pursuing of, whether subtlety or not, the continuation of violence.


Yet neither of these are the solution to the long-term problems as authoritarian regimes are susceptible to future protests, revolutions and acts of terror (whether or not they are done under just or unjust motives) whilst encouraging and supplying perpetrators (applied to all super-powers involved) of violence only makes the Middle East a hot-bed for radicalism, jihadi extremism, and human rights abuses. Ending the Syrian civil war and new Iraqi conflict is part of the solution to restoring a semblance of ‘order’ to the region, establishing dialogue with sides willing to engage and compromise and alienate support and further supplies to violent groups.

Easier said than done when you contemplate not only the divisions and rivalries but sheer number of sides involved. The procedure of the Geneva II Conference on Syria and the inability for several sides to come to a decisive political solution with little if no help from Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry indicates this issue.

Yes it is most certainly an Arabian winter in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands are dead, thousands more starve, millions dwell in refugee camps and violence and torture tower over human rights in this political earthquake that has only gained momentum rather than being stopped. This is our generation’s concern and those of the future not just those who lived through the dialogue and ideologies of the Cold War.

The answers to solving the challenges between the West and Middle East cannot be presented in two-thousand words. The issue stretches out over most human debates conceivable be they social, economic, political, geographical, historical, religious, ideological concepts and more within both Europe and the Middle East.


These gaps have to narrowed on both sides of the spectrum if attitudes are to shift and radical elements are to be understood. Military power is the riskiest and least helpful way of solving the problem as summarised perfectly by author Jason Burke: ‘Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication. The latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease’ (Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam).

The past as well as the present holds the key to the crisis and the whys are as important as how in any local, regional or global conflict. Western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Middle East are  entwined in mutual history and experience and seeing the opposing sides as alien entities is the pathway to unending conflict.  Failure is the passageway to success. We can do better lest the Arabian end game is defined by madness rather than hope, development, education, peace and mutual existence.

Matthew Williams



The Death of the Pax Americana: Obama the Realist?

The Westpoint Speech delivered by Barack Obama was certainly one that was necessary and one which directly addressed the burning question for some; namely what is the United States’ new role in the world both as a political and military force?

For many the question remains unanswered or the speech to them lacks a convincing amount of information to truly figure out the motives of the Obama administration within the halls of the White House. Obama’s conduct has been misconstrued at times, confused and to many uncertain particularly given the ‘red-line’ scenario that nearly unfolded in the wake of the chemical attacks in Syria, August 2013.

Military action was strictly ruled out by voices inside the military, Congress and that of Russia, China and the international community. The ghosts of the Bush administration aggressive foreign policy very much remain in the minds of Western politicians and U.S public. Thousands of American lives have been lost, billions of dollars wasted in questionable conflicts. The West has renounced its rights to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs since the defeat in Iraq (what else was it?) and the continued slaughter in Afghanistan from which the United States and the UK are ejecting from in late 2014 (by-enlarge).

In normal times Obama’s thinking and words would have been considered a merit amongst many, the media, and the world. Unfortunately these are not normal times. The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War (what else is it?) or as Kiev would have us call it ‘counter-terrorism operations’, between the pro-Western government and pro-Russian seperatists has shook Eastern Europe and relations between the Russian Federation and NATO are at their worst since the end of the Cold War.

This is coupled with the increased tension between Japan and China over territorial disputes in the South-Asia Pacific Region and the chaos in the Middle East where unchecked regional aggression threatens to boil over into a far more serious regional conflict. The Arab Spring is static in the bleakest of mid-winters.


Then there is the infamous ‘War on Terror’, a conflict against insurgent groups across the globe, a threat of which has increased in the blood-shed across the Middle East and Africa. The latter has witnessed the alarming rise in extremist Islamism, most notoriously Al-Shaabab and Boko Haram who cut a swath through Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria in a wave of suicide attacks, kidnappings, mass-shooting, and drug trafficking whilst recruiting disenchanted youths to their largely unholy, extremist cause.

Yes, these are anything but normal times. The 9/11 decade has re-shaped the 21st century and Obama is in an unwinnable situation of suffering from the mistakes of the Bush administrations violations of international law (though Obama has committed a few violations himself) and the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929.

Undoubtedly the Obama administration has made key mistakes that make it a target for criticism. Guantanamo Bay, a focal point for criticism of the previous White House administrations remains open, even though Obama promised it would be shut down. Likewise his economic policies have not taken off as they would have liked as the U.S buckles under potentially ruinous debt in its trillions.

Nor can his response in the Syrian Civil War encouraged onlookers that they can look to the USA for support, even it is in a package bundle of $5 billion. Afghan and Iraq security forces hardly gave anyone conviction that they could secure the new ‘democractic’ beacons created by the USA, UK and NATO.

However in regard to U.S foreign policy in the last decade the criticism of their neo-imperialism, interference, non-conformity to international law and militarism reached an absolute crescendo not witnessed since Vietnam. To continue a staunch military stance and use bellicose words such as Bush did in the wake of 9/11 would only further many’s disdain for the United States’s foreign policy. If anything Obama is attempting to collect the pieces of a now redundant foreign policy option.

The Washington Post recently stated that ‘This binding of U.S. power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II. In effect, he ruled out interventions to stop genocide or reverse aggression absent a direct threat to the U.S. homeland or a multilateral initiative.’

Obama is not at odds with former presidents foreign policies in regard to interventions. When George Bush Senior invaded Somalia in the 1990s and Clinton continued the U.N operation how did they fare? They merely undermined the U.N mission and single-handedly scapegoated the United Nations for their hot-headed unilateral operations absent regard for U.N regulations. Somalia remains a desolate region, conflict unresolved and Al-Shaabab has only strengthened. Did Clinton halt the Rwandan genocide in 1994 which completely destabilized the region, which in part still suffers twenty years on?

When Clinton administration did intervene along with NATO in the Balkans in the 1990s during the Bosnian Civil War, they intervened only when it was too late and drowning in evidence that suggested they could have and should have intervened sooner. The victory over the Serbian nationalists was glossed in blood, a Pyrrhic victory.

We don’t even need to go into the end results of Lyndon Johnson’s decision to invade Vietnam and the cost for both South-East Asia and the United States politically, militarily and economically. Besides that the United States has never intervened to directly halt genocide so Obama is not acting different to what other president’s do, whereby he promotes national interest above that of other countries across the world. It is how American foreign policy, however ‘exceptionalist’ or questionable, has largely operated since it assumed leading power role in 1919.

When the United States sits backs, we cry cowardice, uncertainty or retreat, evading responsibility yet when they attack we cry war-mongers, militarism, interference, and state that the United States over-reaches. It is one of the most complex arguments of the international arena.

The United States is, along with the Russian Federation,  by no accounts is in any shape or form doing its best to remove the sting from the Ukrainian crisis. Both sides are equally culpable in pushing Ukraine towards civil war. The leaders of both the United States and the EU have turned a blind eye to the dangerous elements within the interim Ukrainian government which have to be isolated whilst Putin has quite obviously, even if Crimea is historically a monument to Russian nationalism and predominantly Russian, flouted international law.

What we are witnessing in the 21st century is  a marked decline in the idea that reciprocal hegemony and liberalism in international relations are realistic. It is an unrealizable dream, a dangerous illusion, that politics like human nature is rooted in self-interest, and self-centered objectivity and most big powers players will do anything to hold on to their position on the international stage. Unilateral power-politics either of a military or arbitrary nature still and probably will always trump economic and soft power.  

Critics of Obama state that he is de-facto abandoning Ukraine, and that in short only U.S interests, core interests and that of NATO are of primary concern to the United States, that the U.S.A has become in foreign policy as uncertain as it has ever been even weak, a slumbering giant when the right are adamant that this is a time in which the United States should be at its firmest abroad.

Ukraine is of our concern undoubtedly, but realistically what can military force do in Ukraine but enrage the Russian Federation and push us closer to the unimaginable? Ukraine, though a borderland between western and eastern Europe, lies within Russia’s sphere whether the most uncertain of European Union’s would like it or not. Besides that as stated in previous articles the West and the United States lacks both moral and economic leverage with which it can use full capapcity to influence what happens in Ukraine. Nor can we rule out the geographical military advantage Russia possesses unless you bring in the quite ludicrous consideration of nuclear missiles.

The United States is the most powerful military force on the planet. Its budget exceeds half the world’s total military capabilities. If Obama and the U.S.A would wish to use it they could. Mark Mardell sums it up rather well:

“Obama’s paradox is that he is commander-in-chief of the most powerful military ever known, in a country that doesn’t want to go to war. So he uses a simple saying to reinforce his point – just because you can fight, and would probably win, it doesn’t mean you have to do so.”

The use of military force is not necessarily always the correct solution to a civil war or a military crisis. If Obama pulls off a deal with Iran, his critics will fall silent. You can have a Plan A whereby invasion and deployment of troops is done effectively and the war is won. The problem is as seen in Iraq, Somalia and Vietnam; an effective Plan B, C, and D were lacking. What do you do afterwards? How do you calculate how a population reacts to occupation under foreigners who we may have no cultural affiliation or understanding of and with? How do you consolidate victory in modern war and conflict, when concepts of insurgency and terrorism is entering a new phase?

This is something that even a giant, be it Russia, the United States and China, would struggle with at varying degrees as traditional military conflict is a dying entity and containing a occupied population fraught with more difficulty than ever before.  Obama highlights this at West Point referencing the power of the individual in the modern world. It can vary from it most volatile to 9/11 and further illustrated by Woolwich, 7/7, Mumbai, Madrid, Volgograd  or simply social media, a click of a button,  the power to express yourself  at your fingertips in the form of a keyboard.

It has never been an easier time to express your opinions no matter how moderate or radical. This is a very difficult thing for states to fight, which is both a good and bad thing as a pardigm must exist between a state and civilians where mutual interests are respected (the world’s most difficult balance).

Certainly the U.S and Obama are reacting to events rather than preparing for them and the mistakes of the administration are laid bare for all to see. The reversal in Syria springs to mind as does the contradictory statements coming out the White House that Al-Qaeda is a vanquished organisation whilst at the same time a ‘hydra-headed entity’.  Extremist Islam has never been so powerful despite its civil war. There is a degree of uncertainty which leaves John Kerry undermined as an identity crisis engulfs Washington D.C.

The United States is less of a democratic entity then it ever was and it has tightened under the Obama administration.  Obama’s extension of the Patriotic Act in 2011 and the capabilities of Homeland Security to stamp down control as seen in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the use of drones to kill civilians, contentious targets and even Americans if need be are an emphasis upon how the United States image and policies have shifted since 9/11. We cannot forget Edward Snowden’s revelations (also likely a confirmation of what many suspected) of the NSA’s worst excesses which include spying on its own people and its NATO allies in a global mass surveillance program.

All this amounts to a clear fact, the United States has the capability to impose itself if it so wishes on the global stage and for its rivals to risk affecting  their interests and that of their allies is one that they do at their own peril.

The eagle has undoubtedly receded in influence across the areas of the globe, and has been weakened both by the Bush administration war crimes, criminality and impunity to international law and in some cases by Obama himself (though he does not admit it which is a mistake). Enemies will exploit what they see as the lack of a resolved United States to meet their local and regional objectives. Obama is correct in most cases in showing restraint, favoring diplomatic resolutions and preferring dialogue to violence as realistically public opinion, world opinion by-enlarge, has shifted strongly against U.S foreign policy.

The Pax Americana is over joining the ‘New World Order’ dominated by America which died in the 1990s under Clinton. Obama may as much be a cause of the former’s demise as anyone and that is the debate of the now. The Pax Romana under Imperial Rome only lasted so long. The United States and the Obama administration are victims of their own history and mistakes. The United States has multiple enemies, perhaps more than anytime in its history and it cannot fight them all individually.

Many an empire has fallen victim to history treading too boldly and overreached arrogantly believing themselves too great to fall be it the Romans, Tsarist Russia, the British Empire, the Aztecs, the Mongols, the Third Reich or Napoleon, even the Soviet Union, nor did any fall in a day or year for that matter, they crumbled over time piece by piece until they succumbed. Obama’s speech at Westpoint was correct in many ways; the United States is far from a defeated or losing influence, but its ‘superiority complex’ is under threat and being questioned like it hasn’t been before this decade.

Is the receding of American dominance a bad thing or welcome for now? Only time will tell. The United States has spited its own face in recent years and have had, to some extent, their hands tied by other international players, events and circumstances big and small. What we see as weakness on Obama’s part for failing to maintain the standard hegemony should be taken as a dose of realism. America, though irreplaceable in the international theater, must have its limits and restraints in the 21st century.

Matthew Williams

Questions of Faith; Islam’s Civil War

Boko Haram in Nigeria tahmasebi20130824010937633.jpg

“Sons of Islam everywhere, the jihad is a duty – to establish the rule of Allah on earth and to liberate your countries and yourselves from America’s domination and its Zionist allies, it is your battle – either victory or martyrdom.”

Ahmed Yassin

It has been branded a ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the pinnacle of terrorism courtesy of the images of 9/11  and has been been associated with repression, controversy and violence in the majority of the 21st century but what are contemporaries missing in the debate of Islam and extremism associated with it?  The question considers culture, history, and the misrepresentation of both in Western spheres and within that of the Muslim/Islamic community and thus far both ‘moderate’ sides that wish to co-exist have failed to answer the question with a degree of confidence required in the most complex of issues.


For years now, many look upon the external threat of Islam and ‘global jihad’ and there are many issues that come with the latter statement. What we must consider is that Islam and the Muslim communities are at war with each other as well the extremists being at war with the West and the rest of the world. It is an internal crisis that is easily forgotten and dismissed merely as an external challenge.

Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda. The most notorious group to emerge has been the ruthless jihad of Boko Haram which is tearing Nigeria in two with the objective of creating a Sharia state purged of Western influence and culture. In recent months the problem has evolved from sporadic but lethal attacks to a jihad insurgency, a full-blown out war against the government of Jonathan Goodluck (in itself a a-typical corrupt African state) with kidnaps and murder rife in an unstable country.

Mali has seen major upheaval that sparked a French intervention in 2011. Kenya is now embroiled in a conflict with Al-Shaabab in Somalia, the capital Nairobi persistently being shaken by Islamist suicide bombers.

It is an emerging problem that Nigeria and the West is struggling to contain much like the rise of Islamic extremism. Tony Blair’s speech highlighted various problems that the world faces when battling violent Islamism (including the words in which he conveyed this war against Islamism). Muslims around the world face a struggle with their religion. It is an identity crisis as much as a war and ideological conflict between two ‘civilisations’. For instance, those often murdered in their thousands and victims of the subverted and warped ideologies of the extremists are in-fact Muslims.

The anti-balaka are conducting the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Central African Republic

Incompetent portrayals of Muslim communities as a wholly anti-western pillar only serve to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

Nor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

Muslims are as much a victim of the extremists ideologies who commit atrocities in ‘their name’ as those who suffer in terrorist attacks across the globe and thirty-one innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child perished during the attacks on the World Trade Centre which has been regarded as the epitome (in images) of apocalyptic Islamist extremism.

Problems still remain within the faith though in terms of projecting the religion of Islam. Those who seek a world united by under the auspiciousness of Islam under radical Islamist though disregard the inherent cultural and religious dynamics that vary from continent to continent, regions,  linguistics and the varying interpretations of the Qu’ran. The cultural differences are also key and something which Islamic extremists often fail to recognise.

The Japanese Army slaughtered millions of people in the name of the Emperor and the radical segments of Shintoism in the 1930s and 1940s.

Historically we can obtain such evidence from the most unlikely of sources; the Japanese.  The Shinto ultranationalists had a vision of a New World Order united under the rule of the Emperor. Thousands of people were slaughtered in the name of Shinto-ultranationalism and the name of the immortal emperor. His words were considered a deity amongst the Japanese people and applied violently as such against the non-believers.

It was an ideal for which many Japanese were willing to give their lives for and European, American and Chinese soldiers and civilians witnessed first-hand this fanaticism in the form of kamikazes, banzai charges, suicide bombing, the utter contempt in many cases for surrendering Allied soldiers and ritual suicides in the face of surrender.

The reality was that Pan-Asiatic (a united Asia) aspirations, an Asia unified under the roof of the Emperor could not be applied to the realities of the 20th century as Asians came to despise what they saw as Western based imperialism on the part of Japanese expansion; sheer hypocrisy and failure to integrate and understand the dynamics and economics of other cultures. For this cosmic and warped war proclaimed by fanatics, the Japanese people paid with their lives as did the country’s ability to develop as a democratic entity.

The fanaticism, the cultural war against Western dominance and lack of realistic goals is very much amongst those who proclaim global jihad.  Islamic extremists will inevitably encounter similar problems when it comes to their global war on Westernism and ‘infidels’. Images of global jihad are unrealistic as they fail to recognise the pragmatics of cultural and religious dynamics that differ from region to region.

Kidnap, torture and drugs are at the centre of the extremist Islamist doctrines which besmirch the  faith once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse and like Europe has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period. Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance. Christianity and Islam are entwined in mutual history and experience and the latter isn’t the only faith marred by conflict and controversy.

Islamic women protest flogging

Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and it is a serious problem, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition of extremist doctrines on both individuals and societies.

Understand this the problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam.

Enlightened distance between mosque and state which could potentially (I say this with caution after the failures of the Arab Spring) lead to healthy, liberal democracies has yet to take hold yet and with the Pax Americana waning, exhausted by war against extremist Islamism and loathed by much of the world population the future remains uncertain. 

In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable Islamic terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of terrorism in name of Islam in 2013 alone.

New enemies, new problems for the United States

The weakening of the United States in foreign policy in both Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and thus far Ukraine ensures that both individuals and terrorists will have free-reign to act with more impunity than before. The consequences of 9/11 and Iraq are increasingly ominous as each year goes by and has brought American foreign policy under greater scrutiny then ever before in the 21st century. Nonetheless the Russians have and will continue to encounter problems with Islamic extremism no matter the result of the Ukraine crisis.

Tony Blair was mistaken in his recent speech that there is a global struggle between Western democracies and Islamic extremism. Such words only stoke the belief of the fanatics that their cause is just. In every conflict there are dangers which cut both ways based upon economic, political and religious motives. It is identifying the moderates on both sides of the spectrum which will ensure more questions are answered than are being solved at this current and most difficult of times. Inevitably this is a war which neither side can win.

Matthew Williams




Rwanda 2014: Military Power-Politics

In my previous article we looked at the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide which took place between April – June of 1994, how it occurred and focused on how Hutu Power collaborating with Rwandan Government Forces conducted the mass extermination of the Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Now we consider the future of Rwanda, the legacy of the genocide, and the controversies surrounding the government of President Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) since they took power and what foreign onlookers are now starting to regard as another ‘ethnocracy’.

Let’s go back to the immediate aftermath of the mass killings. In just about one-hundred days 800,000 – 1,000,000 Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus were dead, millions more were refugees scattered across Central Africa and Rwanda was now the poorest country in the world, all infrastructure had been stripped, destroyed or pillaged. Kigali (Rwanda’s capital) and surrounding towns and countryside reeked death as countless bodies clogged the rivers, the stench of rotting flesh all-around as corpses, if not thrown into the mass-graves, baked in the tropical sunshine.

In a nut-shell Rwanda was now the archetypal ‘failed state’ and a paradise on earth was now a ghostly landscape, chillingly silent in the wake of self-destruction. Reconstructing the country would require immense economic, political, military vision and most importantly social reconciliation. How do you repair the community after such a personalised mass-slaughter where neighbours and families, every structure of society turned upon each other? One in five Hutu males were complicit in the slaughter of their countrymen.

The Rwandan Genocide 1994 left over 800,000 Rwandans dead.

This obstacles to re-construction also coincided with trouble brewing in Zaire (Now the Democratic Republic of Congo) where a tragedy of equal, if not greater proportions were unfolding. The influx of refugees accompanied by a large segment of the previous genocidal regime fleeing in the wake of the RPF had made camp in the eastern Congo prompting a humanitarian crisis and the Congolese War. The genocidal elements occupying these refugee camps sole plan was to continue their work; that being the slaughter of Tutsis, many of whom had migrated to the Congo in both the 19th and 20th century both for economic opportunities due to the demographic density of Rwanda and to escape persecution at the hands of both Hutu officials and Belgian colonialists.

Hutu Power, the akuzu (the inner elements of the former government responsible for planning the genocide), and the Interahamwe keen to return to power in Rwanda were supported by an unlikely element; the international community whose humanitarian aid in the form of supplies, money, and more fell into the hands of the grateful murderers.

The refugee camps fast became military camps and the refugees who were innocent or wanted to return to Rwanda became human shields, those who tried to leave were often murdered by the militants. The international community instead of helping Kagame re-build the nation replenished those who had committed atrocities conjoining the internal problems with the external regional crisis consuming Central Africa.

For Kagame, strategy and military logistics dictated that these camps had to be dismantled and the refugees returned home to help re-assemble their country, or ultimately face trial for crimes against humanity. The RPA (Rwandan Patriotic Army) flexed its muscles and acted upon the sheer ineptitude of the international community already guilty of its previous indifference to the slaughter in Rwanda and proceeded to invade Zaire which saw the removal of President Mobutu.

This was then followed by the creation of several puppet factions within the Democratic Republic of Congo by from military headquarters in Kigali. These factions would be become pawns in Rwanda’s determination to maintain control both of the vast economic resources in the eastern Congo, influence the political scene in the Democratic Republic of Congo and bring those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda to justice.

Paul Kagame has supported the proxy way in the Congo

On the face of it Kagame nicknamed ‘Africa’s Napoleon Bonaparte’ received acclaim from the majority of the international community. Between 1994-2003 he had stabilized a collapsed country, secured their interests abroad and against all the odds consolidated power in Kigali whilst his country, a tiny neighbour of the Democratic Republic of Congo, had punched above its weight in terms of influencing geo-political change. Above all he had uprooted the genocidal regime of Habyarimana along with all the extremists elements that accompanied it.

Something darker however co-existed with this triumph and has since pervaded Rwanda’s recovery, that Kagame for all his achievements has merely established a military ethnocracy, this time by the Tutsis. Though many Hutus are present in the current government and the first president following the genocide (Pasteur Bizimungu) was an ethnic Hutu, it is clear that the Tutsis and Kagame along with the RPA continue to dictate the political scene as essentially a de-facto one party state.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front has violated human rights, slaughtered many civilians in the wake of the genocide, murdered in excess those who criticise the regime, and has funded a proxy war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for its own gain.

The argument by the RPF that they are still bringing the former regime to justice is wearing thin, not to mention the use of the tragedy in 1994 as a shield against criticism to their actions externally (the funding of insurgences such as M23 in the Congo) or internally (the hamstringing of political opponents who if in exile die mysteriously abroad). The human rights of the prisoners were also shocking as they were jam-packed with both dissenters and killers.

Gitarama Central Prison in Muhanga District Southern Province of Rwanda is known as one of the world’s worst prisons.

In fact not only is it fascinating to hear that in recent years former allies of Kagame have described his regime as a a one party, arbitrary and secretive police state, but also to understand that the RPF engaged in systematic slaughter of the very people they were trying to save. Gerard Prunier, an expert on the Continental War (1994-2005) and the Rwandan Genocide claims that between early April and late September the RPF ‘killed between 25,000 and 45,000 people including Tutsi‘ with almost complete indifference to their plight. The selected killer teams, assembled the people for a “peace and reconciliation meeting” before indiscriminately slaughtering them and disposing of the corpses in mass graves or incinerating them.

It should be agreed that the international community, particularly the French, Belgium and the United States deserve condemnation; their inaction enough to suggest that morally they are certainly culpable as they so frequently claim to champion the halting of genocide, humanitarianism and moral righteousness. However using the legacy of the genocide as a pretext for political and economic objectivity is wrong and has blemished the memory of the genocide and Rwanda’s recovery even after two decades.

The military remains the main political tool of Paul Kagame’s regime and if you think about it, it does make sense. Kagame and his followers were born into and moulded by conflict, they have known war their entire lives fighting firstly for Uganda’s Museveni against Obote, secondly against the French and RGF under Habyarimana and thirdly against the RGF again during the genocide. It is only natural to think that men shaped by discipline and war would form an authoritarian/military dictatorship sculpted to some extent by our own guilt prompted by our failings in 1994. Kagame is not naturally a democrat, he is a military commander and a very good one at that.

Like Abraham Lincoln opinions will remain divided on whether his actions, like Kagame’s are justified a necessary evil to re-build a nation afflicted by civil war and in Rwanda’s case heal ethnic tensions. It is a delicate issue as it difficult to prove that Kagame was responsible for the reprisal killings in 1994 and the massacre at the Kibeho refugee camp. Nevertheless as Tzvetan Todorov quotes;

“Vengeance settles nothing; its adds new violence to the old violence. On the contrary, it only prepares the way for new explosions.”

The RPA have been instigated in various massacres both in their own country and in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), the most notorious off which being the Kibeho massacre (1995), where over 4,000 refugees composed of Rwandan civilians were slaughtered by members of the RPA. To this day the figure calculated by Kagame stands at 338 dead despite several eyewitnesses which included thirty-two Australian soldiers and medical officers.

In the Austrailian Army Journal, Paul Jordan stated; “While there little that we could have done to stop the killings, I believe that, if Australians had not been there as witnesses to the massacre, the RPA would have killed every single person in the camp.” Kibeho was a massacre (pictured below) that echoes Srebrenica the only difference being that the RPF were more  content to conceal their role in murdering their own civilians.

How far would you go to protect your nation’s interests and consolidate your own position in Africa’s by-enlarge Machiavellian jungle? Rene Lemarchand points out that ‘Rwanda’s military presence in eastern Congo continues to generate enormous resentment; both Congolese and the Rwandan Tutsi’ being ‘rescued’ by their government. It shouldn’t be doubted that Rwanda has made astounding progress under Kagame with continued ‘peace’, stability, substantial economic growth being positive traits attributed to his regime.

These feats seem impossible to fathom given the condition of Rwanda in 1994, but it has been done at considerable cost to his reputation in recent years. When will he give up his power and how long will peace last if he continues to dominate the political scene? Rwanda cannot banish the ghosts of its past if it does not adopt anything but authoritarian governments where military and political actions are exempt from criticism and those that do face repression, even death within the halls of power. “You cannot betray Rwanda and get away with it. There are consequences for betraying your country…..what remains to be seen is how you will fall victim..” were Kagame’s words in the wake of the discovery of Mr Karegeya (the former intelligence chief and a key member of the RPF) body in South Africa.

These are unnerving words for a man who claims to run a fair political society and Rwandan exiles abroad are terrified of the repercussions of criticism.

Memory of mass-murder,,1241780_4,00.jpg

As onlookers, we can criticise the current government and how it has tarnished the memory of genocide (in any nation which has endured it, it is an issue of high sensitivity and tension) yet for those of us who live in a ‘civilised’ world it is almost impossible to fathom the sheer brutality of the violence that engulfed Rwanda in 1994.  It is difficult to imagine such carnage so physical and all-encompassing to every natural human sense.

How authoritarian would the United States government become in the wake of the slaughter of its people?  You only have to look at how militant Israel is in its foreign policy and part of that is the legacy of genocide, memories of vulnerability and the need to defend yourself from repetition even if the circumstances were extraordinary.

How would a nation come to terms with such violence?  Germany has engaged with its past progressively, whilst Japan and Rwanda continue to come to grips with the atrocities that they themselves have commited. Every culture’s genocide be it Asian, European or African in this case is different and you cannot compare each genocide or mass-slaughter perpetrated.

It seems that the regime paranoid of a return to violent ethnic conflict have become tyrannical.  Many Rwandan exiles abroad are fearful of retribution from Kagame’s government. Like an over-protective parent, the Rwandan Patriotic Front risks smothering its child denying it both the ability to develop and to come to terms with its traumatic past.

As Gerard Prunier perfectly places it; “The atrociousness  of Hutu Power’s ideology has tainted the victors…it has contaminated all social relations and perverted political calculations.” The result is an authoritarian, police state desperate to safe-guard its interests and that is not a peaceful state.

Matthew Williams