Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

Mali-cious In tent

March 31, 2012

Lunghu is well aware that his endorsement carries virtually no weight whatsoever, but let the record show that he fully supports the goals, objectives and even the methods of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and the provisional/transitional government of Mali.  Although hypocritical political leaders in Africa, Europe and the United States criticize Mali’s military for ousting a corrupt “democratically elected” civilian government, Western governments have been largely ignoring West Africa’s dysfunctional kleptocracies for years  –as long as gold and uranium mining companies are allowed to extract mountains of ore with as little fuss as possible.

Countries neighboring Mali … Africa’s third largest gold producer … have condemned the coup and have given the military junta a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians, which expires on Monday, or face crippling sanctions.  The regional organization ECOWAS has said that they will close the country’s land borders and freeze its account in the regional central bank.  Sanogo has said that he “understands” the position of ECOWAS, but begged Mali’s neighbors to deepen their analysis and to examine the reasons that led to the coup.

Mali is a landlocked economy and relies on neighboring countries (primarily Ivory Coast) for fuel imports and exports.  As a member of the west African monetary union, the Malian banking and financial system would [collapse] within weeks if the common central bank cuts Mali off, and leave the junta without cash to pay public sector salaries.

In the United States, just about the only people who have been paying attention up until now are DEA and Africom, because the Sahel region has become a key 21st century transshipment point for the international cocaine and weapons trafficking industries. For several years now, executive jets operated by Colombian cocaine cartels have been flying loads of 300-kilos or more across the Atlantic from Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname to desert airstrips in northern Burkina Faso and Mali.  And who’s at the receiving end of all this skullduggery-in-the-Sahara?  Fundamentalist Islamic militants and Tuareg tribesmen, who ship the cocaine onward to Europe and the Persian Gulf, then use the proceeds to purchase weapons, bribe government officials, and feed their camp followers.

A nice little market niche, until the Arab Spring upset the apple cart.  Tuareg tribesmen had formed a key portion of Gadhafi’s armed forces, their loyalty to the regime purchased with generous salaries and the knowledge that all the other tribes in Libya hated them.  Tuaregs in the Libyan military furnished unofficial-official permission (and thus security) for semi-clandestine drug convoys that passed north through the desert to Mediterranean seaports –all part of the supply chain transportation service provided to the Colombian trafficking networks.  But when the NATO bombing began, and Gadhafi eventually fell, no more convoys.  No more escort duty. No more military jobs.  The Tuaregs had to flee for their lives, back into the desert.  They took their guns and ammunition with them, by the truckload.  In southbound convoys.  To the northern borders of Niger and Mali.

Tuareg rebels on Saturday attacked Mali’s strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal, witnesses said.  The two towns are major prizes for the rebels, who launched an insurgency in January fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighboring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of Moammar Gadhafi.  If Gao falls, the only other major city in Mali’s north in government hands is Timbuktu.

The Tuareg rebels that have seized control of much of northern Mali are an amalgam of different factions. They include a secular group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, whose stated aim is to carve out a Tuareg homeland in the north. There is also an Islamic faction called Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith in Arabic) which wants to impose Sharia law in the north.  A man who fled Kidal across the border into Niger said the Islamist rebels had taken down all the flags of the NMLA in that city. He said they were going around demanding shopkeepers take down posters considered to reflect Western culture.

Here’s hoping that somebody at Africom has spent the weekend explaining to Hilary Clinton at the State Department that it’s all well and good to pay lip service to West African democracy, but that the alternative to Captain Sanogo –Tuaregs in the north– have no democratic tradition whatsoever:  they’ve been murderers, robbers, extortionists and slave traders for centuries.   In other words … natural allies of the United States?!?   Not quite.


Arbeit Macht Drei

September 5, 2011

Special Labor Day edition –dedicated to all those hard-working guys and gals on the shores of Tripoli.

When dynasties fall/ old titles must go
— Water Margin

The building was relatively undamaged by air strikes. Its rooms had instead been broken apart by people searching through cabinets and closets.
— Al Jazeera

Welcome to Phase Two of the Libya Campaign –Tripoli: the Afterparty.  All kinds of messy things occur on the cusp of regime change:  summary executions, dramatic (almost miraculous) changes of allegiance, interruptions of food distribution and utility services, and (best of all) the sudden revelation of jealously-guarded intelligence secrets.  Sometimes (and this is one of those times) the manner in which those secrets are revealed is just as revealing as the secrets themselves.  Or perhaps more so.

Let’s take a quick look at the way various world media outlets have reported the Libyan rebels’ seizure and occupation of Gaddafi’s intelligence headquarters.  In the chaos of the battle for Tripoli, journalists and NGO workers had partial (guided) access to various buildings in the intelligence compound.  They poked through the offices of the defeated(?) regime, viewed (and in some cases spirited away) abandoned intelligence files, and took photographs or video for posterity.  What has been made public thus far?

Al Jazeera :
Influential Americans tried to help Gaddafi cling to power
Gaddafi Had Spies in Rebel Camp

Al Jazeera’s reporting emphasizes current or recent events.  One story highlights “a top-secret document …found in a sealed envelope… that appears to be a briefing for Libyan intelligence mastermind Abdullah Senussi.”  To Al Jazeera, the intell report suggests that “Gaddafi had spies at the highest levels of the rebel movement.

However, in focusing on the here-and-now, Al Jazeera does not ignore international dimensions to the Libyan revolution.  Its initial story described a meeting in which Bechtel executive David Welch (former Bush regime ASecState) counsels Gaddafi underlings on their damage control options.  The same story cites other documents which purport to describe efforts by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to assist the Gaddafi regime.

The official state media provides a bland, superficial gloss:

“the documents illuminate a short period when the Libyan intelligence agency was a trusted and valued ally of both MI6 and the CIA.”

The Guardian (UK) :
Spies at the top of the rebel movement
Sir Mark Allen: the secret link between MI6, the CIA and Gaddafi
Libyan papers show UK worked with Gaddafi in rendition operation
NTC Commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj demands apology over MI6 and CIA plot

The Guardian concentrates its extensive coverage on Britain’s intell cooperation with Gaddafi’s government, and some of the aftermath:

“Sir Mark Allen Allen, formerly MI6’s director of counter-terrorism, left MI6 in 2004 … to join BP, for which he later helped arrange lucrative oil and gas contracts in Libya.”

The Independent (UK) :
Gaddafi, Britain and US: A secret, special and very cosy relationship

In-depth review of Libya-UK rapprochement in 2003-2004 and beyond.  Much of the story’s focus appears to be on heaping opprobrium and blame onto Tony Blair’s Labor government of the time.

New York Times :
Files Note Close CIA Ties to Qaddafi Spy Unit

NYT [1] distances itself from the material by attributing its provenance to “journalists and [NGO] Human Rights Watch;” [2] focuses the story on “ancient history” –Bush-era rendition activities of the CIA; [3] subtly develops the sub-theme of Islamist extremism within some elements of the NTC; and [4] mentions but minimizes the involvement of MI-6 in rendition of Islamist suspects to the Gaddafi regime.  Must have been all the news that was fit to print.

“While most of the renditions referred to in the documents appear to have been CIA operations, at least one was claimed to have been carried out by MI-6.”

Los Angeles Times :
CIA once handed key Libya rebel figure to Kadafi, documents show

Quotes a retired CIA official affirming Abdel-Hakim Belhadj’s extremist credentials.  To show its fairness and balance, the LA Times also presents Belhaj’s side:

He said his group had rejected overtures to affiliate with Al Qaeda and that Libya’s new government will not be Islamist.
“We believe that Libya should have relations with all nations,” Belhadj said at his heavily guarded seaside complex in Tripoli. “We Muslims need to interact with all other nations, and all other religions. This is what Islam tells us.”

Washington Post :
Gaddafi assisted CIA rendition efforts

Its only coverage of this story is an AP reprint:

“An embarrassing example of the U.S. administration’s collaboration with authoritarian regimes in the war on terror.  The documents mention a half dozen names of people targeted for rendition, including Tripoli’s new rebel military commander, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj.”

The Post’s own reporters prefer to focus on political developments in Tripoli, and accentuating the positive.  The head and subhead:

Reining in Libyan rebel commanders: civilian rulers take control of military chiefs in effort to ease internal strains and curb Islamist influence.”

What can we learn from this?  Several things.  First, the chaos of regime change is the perfect time to run a disinformation operation, so there’s no guarantee that all of the documents conveniently exposed for journalistic review at ESO headquarters are actually genuine.  Maybe they are, and maybe they’re not.  Lunghu can envision a scenario in which the Tripoli representatives of various competing intell agencies had to take turns planting fake documents in ESO offices once the buildings were captured.  Perhaps they drew up an access schedule in advance, in the spirit of international cooperation which has thus far distinguished the Libyan revolution.

why is this file upside-down? ... and what USED TO BE on the shelf below?

Second, regardless of the authenticity/veracity of this document trove, NTC decisionmakers are likely to take future action as if much of the material is true (minus whatever disinformation they themselves fed to Gaddafi’s intell crew).  This implies that certain nations and corporations may well be viewed with less favor than others by a governing NTC.  The primary goal for all the NATO/EU players sniffing at Libya’s oil is now to minimize their past sins and emphasize their current sanctity.  In this respect, France (despite being tainted by association with Ben Ali in Tunisia) can plausibly claim to have mostly steered clear of Gaddafi.  Italy, Germany, Britain, the USA, Russia, and China –not so much.

... just make sure you count your fingers afterwards.


Third, let the games begin!  The desert dust has far from settled in Libya.  The moving and shaking, deal-cutting, back-stabbing, coalition-building and tit-for-tat assassination have only just started.  Each of the major European and Asian powers has its own set of favored sons whose factional interests they will seek to promote:  the last ones left standing will be in charge of Libya’s territory, polity and natural resources.  Naturally, their external allies –who see themselves as sponsors but are viewed by Libyans as a temporary expedient– will seek recompense for prior services and assistance.  The bargaining should be interesting to watch.  In’shallah.


Mission Accomplished.

June 2, 2011

Lunghu Declares Victory!  Dewey Beats Truman!

Judging by the fact that NATO is still bombing Tripoli on Thursday, June 2nd, it appears that Muammar Gadhafi has fulfilled the rather minimal conditions that permit Lunghu to claim victory in his 90-day over/under Libyan longevity bet:  Gadhafi is still alive, and in control of some portion of Libyan national territory.  Good enough for government work!

Now that the wager has been won, Lunghu is officially rooting for Gadhafi to gracefully(?) cede power to the long-suffering Libyan people.  Any bets when that might happen?  Apparently NATO thinks it might take another 90 days…

On His Every Word

May 29, 2011

Hang in there, Muammar!  Just a few more days to go!  As long as the sunrise in Tripoli on June 1st finds you alive, Lungu can claim a Pyrrhic victory in his over/under bet.  After that, all bets are off!

Littoral Translation

May 17, 2011

Everybody’s favorite Hashemite, King Abdullah of Jordan, is visiting Washington, DC to meet with President Obama and SecState Clinton.   The King was educated in Britain, so he understands the value of polite understatement in conveying a broad hint.   However, Americans (particularly in Congress) don’t always get the message unless it’s spelled out in unequivocal terms.  Especially if US media doesn’t even bother to report King Abdullah’s visit (now why might that be?).   So, as a public service, Lunghu will provide a no-nonsense translation of the King’s diplomatically-phrased remarks:

HM Abdullah:
“We’re here in Washington to not only talk about our bilateral relations and the challenges that we face in the Middle East, but also this Arab Spring,” Abdullah said.
“That is a challenge for all of us to hopefully get it right and the role of the United States is going to be crucial how the Middle East moves in what direction.”

Lunghu’s translation:
“It’s your choice:  Israeli regime-change or democratically-elected Islamist governments with broad popular support in hostile Arab states.”

The body language says it all. credit: Karen Bleier

[Choose wisely, grasshopper.   It’s long past time to put the interests of the nation above those of your sworn pseudo-brothers.]

Say it Ain’t So, Mo!

Lunghu is sorta/kinda hoping that Muammar Ghaddfi can hang on for just a fortnight more:  June 1st is the finish line for Lunghu’s over/under bet on Libyan regime longevity, so even one minute past midnight would put his wager in the money.   But it ain’t lookin’ good.   According to Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini:

“Messages are starting to arrive from the inner circle of the regime.” … Close aides to Ghaddafi have said he is looking for an ”honorable exit” and ”a place where it is possible to retire in a dignified way and disappear from the political scene.”

Lunghu has been wondering where in the world Ghaddafi would be welcome as an exile.  He’s heard there’s a nice seafront villa sitting vacant near Sochi …

Baby … steps

April 27, 2011

What a country!  In United States, CIA watches Kremlin.  In Soviet Russia, Kremlin watches you.  (Well, the mere fact that Lunghu might be slightly paranoid isn’t necessarily conclusive evidence that “they” aren’t out to get him.)  Case in point:

A few weeks ago, Lunghu blogged about the US embassy in Bishkek and the way its outreach program made use of cowboy “culture” and Hollywood film to emphasize the key historical role of horses in both Kyrgyzstan and the United States.   In passing, Lunghu briefly suggested that perhaps the Iranian and Russian embassies didn’t have too much to offer the Kyrgyz in terms of cinematic fare, and that their ability to use “soft” cultural power was consequently more limited.

Somebody somewhere either saw that as a challenge … or as a business opportunity.

Russia’s giant Mosfilm, one of the largest and oldest film studios in Europe, has teamed up with Google to launch a channel on YouTube, where Mosfilm will be showcasing its feature films free of charge.  The channel already has 50 films available in HD on its virtual “shelves” and is planning to add five new films each week.  By the end of the year there will be up to 200 films from Mosfilm’s golden collection of several thousand, accompanied by subtitles.

Mosfilm traces its history back to the early days of the Soviet Union and cinema in the 1920s when film production was nationalized into the Goskino company.  It acquired its current name in 1935 and still proudly uses the famous Soviet sculpture “Worker and Peasant Woman” as its symbol.

Mosfilm logos, old & new

Now, if only broadband internet was widely available in Kyrgyzstan …

Of course, Russia already has a instantly-recognizable 21st C. brand presence in the global marketplace of ideas:  Comrade Bear.

Now that Easter obligations have been attended to, Prime Minister Putin has freed up his schedule to visit some of Russia’s neighbors to the West.  Since it might not yet be entirely safe to land a Tupolev aircraft in Poland, Putin has been visiting Denmark and Sweden instead.  Here his well-known sense of ironic humor was fully on display:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin continued on Wednesday to criticize NATO military operations in Libya, saying that he was “dumbfounded” over how easily decisions are made to use force against countries.  … Apparently referring to reports about NATO planes bombing civilians in Libya, Putin remarked “this happens despite human rights and humanitarian concerns which the civilized world is believed to advocate.”  
“Don’t you think that there is a serious contrast between words and practice of international relations?” he said, adding that this “imbalance” should be eliminated.

In an unexpected departure from the standards of fair and balanced journalism for which the Kingdom of Sweden is world-renowned, Swedish reporters neglected to solicit the views of President Saakashvili on this subject.

Green with Navy

April 9, 2011

It’s almost 50 days and counting until Lunghu’s bet on Moammar Gadhafi can finish in the money –or not.  If this were a call option or futures contract instead of an unenforceable private wager, Lunghu would be sitting on some sizeable unrealized paper profits right about now. That’s because last week the Pentagon’s portfolio manager on the Libya account told a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that NATO’s airwar campaign appears stalemated:

[AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Carter Ham] said the operation was largely a stalemate now and was more likely to remain that way now that America has transferred control to NATO.
He said NATO has done an effective job in an increasingly complex combat situation. But he noted that, in a new tactic, Gadhafi’s forces are making airstrikes more difficult by staging military forces and vehicles near civilian areas such as schools and mosques.

Of course, the senators just had to ask the $64 billion question:  what about sending in US ground troops to break the stalemate and oust Gadhafi?  The general was amply prepared with the obvious answer:

“I suspect there might be some consideration of that. My personal view at this point would be that that’s probably not the ideal circumstance, for the regional reaction that having American boots on the ground would entail.”

The AP story followed Gen. Ham’s quote with the observation that

President Obama has said repeatedly there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Libya, although there are reports of small CIA teams in the country.

And on that note …

The [USS Providence] fast-attack submarine is returning to Naval Submarine Base New London on Friday after participating in U.S.-led strikes against military forces in Libya [during a six-month deployment].  The vessel carrying 127 officers and enlisted crew also visited ports in Spain, Turkey and Gibraltar.

Welcome home, boys!  A little more elbowroom on the westbound passage, huh?  Lunghu will only add that those extra-wide hatches on the foredeck sure come in handy when discharging ‘cargo’ at 0300 hrs in the Gulf of Sidra.

From the Shores of Tripoli

March 19, 2011

Reports from Moscow announce that Russian Ambassador to Libya Vladimir Chamov has been dismissed.   Not “recalled”  –dismissed.

In the absence of further information, Lunghu is left to wonder this has anything to do with recorded conversations between Ambassador Chamov and members of the Gaddafi family.   Maybe there were certain bank records and wire transfers that might suggest to uncharitable observers that Amb. Chamov did not always have the interests of the Russian Federation uppermost in his heart.   Or perhaps there was lingering doubt about his past performance as Ambassador to Iraq during 2005 and beyond.  It’s easy to pick up bad habits in a dusty desert oil capital … or two.

One wonders, too, about that missing Russian veto when the Security Council resolution on the Libyan no-fly zone came to a vote.   Some dots are never meant to be connected.   Sometimes they’re just dots.

Lunghu is certain of one thing, though:  the next conversation between two Vladimirs will be a lot more uncomfortable than the one pictured below.



The Long Green … Revolution

March 16, 2011

At the beginning of the month, Lunghu and a colleague shook hands on a sporting proposition in the tradition of Randolph and Mortimer Duke.  As you may recall, the last week in February was not going well for Col. Muammar Gaddafi:  several cities were in the hands of Libyan rebels, and the banner of freedom rippled proudly in the desert wind.  Suddenly it no longer seemed absurd to ask how long Gaddafi could hold on to power.  Could he hang on at all?

More importantly, how could smug American desk jockeys structure a wager that most suitably reduced the complex dynamics of Libyan civil war to a simple binary choice?  A basic yea/nay wasn’t enough —too many variables, and far too open-ended a scenario.   Where would the finish line be?   When would the final buzzer sound?  Revolutions and civil wars aren’t (yet) governed by FIFA, so there are no offside calls, no penalty kicks, and no injury time.   For a wager to work, it had to have a definite expiration date, like a soybean futures contract.  And it had to have some basic parameters that spelled out the conditions of success or failure.

Here’s what we came up with: a 90-day over/under for Gaddafi’s retention of power.   If, after June 1st, Gaddafi wasn’t dead or in exile, and still controlled (most of) Libyan territory, the “over” bet would win.   Otherwise, the “under” wins.

When pirates divide the spoils, one man arranges the portions and the other gets first pick.   Lunghu chose the over.   At the time, it seemed the contrarian choice, and Lunghu added a caveat:  Gaddafi would fail only if the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries sought to curry favor with their restive domestic populations by invading Libya in support of the rebels.   Didn’t seem likely, since they’re plenty busy at home.

Here was the thumbnail analysis behind Lunghu’s pick:

1]   The United States won’t intervene.  At this point (and for the foreseeable future) it would be a huge strategic mistake to attack or invade yet another Islamic country.  Team Obama seems to understand this, and the Joint Chiefs definitely do.  Republicans are trying to goad Obama into making exactly that strategic mistake, but their gambit is unlikely to succeed.

2]   Despite France and Britain’s fervent wishes, the Europeans won’t intervene because they don’t have the financial capacity to sustain the required military operations.  Germany won’t participate and won’t foot the bill.

3]   Arab states won’t intervene because they need their troops to guard their own palaces.

4]   Sanctions won’t work.  Never have.

5]  Libyan rebels are on their own and overmatched.  The endgame won’t be pretty.

Still, it’s early days.   Things could change yet again in the next 2 ½ months.   With diplomatic cover from the UN Security Council, Arab petrodollars  could finance French and British  air operations and Arab troops could act as the mop-up boots on the ground.  We’ll see.

Oh —what were the stakes in this wager?   Just a couple of hundred thousand lives.  This is one bet where there won’t be any winner, because bragging rights won’t be worth bragging about.