First Published: 2012-10-24

 

Shipping Arms to Potential Terrorists

 

The idea of arming a favored side in a civil war has become popular among US policymakers chastened by the disastrous Iraq War, but there are grave dangers in that approach, too, especially the uncertainty of who might get the weapons and how they might be used, says the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland.

 

Middle East Online

We are regularly told by interventionists — whether they be US government employees or neoconservative government wannabes — that the United States can readily determine who is friendly and who is not in remote civil wars in the developing world.

The first basic rule in any war — whether it be a conventional or counterinsurgency war — is to know who is on your team and who is not. To the uninitiated, this might seem like an easy task. And in a conventional war, in which both sides wear distinctive uniforms, it is much easier than in a counterinsurgency conflict, in which the enemy wears no specific uniform or mark of designation and the enemy’s strategy is to strike and then melt back into the general population.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban guerrillas actually put on their enemy’s uniforms, those of the Afghan military, and try to kill Afghan soldiers or their international allies. This problem of “green-on-blue” attacks has been well publicized recently.

The growing number of such attacks has accounted for 15 percent of the deaths of international troops this year, including a recent suicide bombing by a member of Afghan intelligence that killed two Americans and even more fellow Afghan intelligence personnel. And Afghan intelligence troops are supposed to be more rigorously vetted than other Afghan security forces.

US training of Afghan soldiers now has been significantly impaired because of US suspicion of Afghan forces. The US military commanders in Afghanistan regularly tell us that most such green-on-blue attackers are not Taliban infiltrators but disgruntled Afghan soldiers. But statistics in war are often manipulated, and those commanders have a great incentive to minimize the lethal problem of guerrilla infiltration in the Afghan security forces’ ranks.

The US government has proven that it can’t even vet government organizations it is assisting, let alone individual soldiers. Since 9/11, the US has given tens of billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, which has an intelligence agency, or parts thereof, that is clearly aiding the Afghan Taliban enemy.

And the US government still is not getting it: this is the same Pakistani intelligence agency that, in the 1980s, gave most of the weapons donated by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan to the most radical Islamist guerrillas, thus spawning al-Qaeda.

This lesson — that during a chaotic brushfire war, it is hard to make sure weapons don’t get into the hands of the wrong, dangerous people — has not only been lost on the US government, but even more so on Mitt Romney and his neoconservative foreign policy advisers.

As if the Obama administration’s encouraging Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to send small arms to the Syrian rebels — by helping those countries vet the Syrian groups that get the weapons — weren’t bad enough, the high-testosterone Romney crowd wants to up the ante by sending heavy arms, such as hand-held anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, through these countries to the insurgents.

The problem with this potentially disastrous proposal became apparent when it was discovered that Syrian Islamists are receiving the lion’s share of the small arms already sent. So much for US intelligence’s ability to vet arms recipients during an anarchic civil war.

All we need is radical Islamists with an ability to shoot down civilian airliners or use hand-held anti-tank weapons on buildings, energy facilities or other key infrastructure. New video exists of the first use of heat-seeking, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons by Syrian rebels.

Thus, radical Islamists could already have this ability, because huge quantities of such hand-held weapons were reportedly in Muammar Gaddafi’s weapons storehouses in Libya. Unfortunately, these weapons were “liberated” along with the country when a US-led coalition overthrew the Gaddafi government.

Predictably, given the tribal schisms in Libya, these heavy weapons may very well have fallen into the hands of the many militias that fought Gaddafi in that civil war and are now destabilizing the country and killing US diplomats.

Some of these Libyan heavy weapons also may have migrated to Syria via the black market or other means, and they certainly would arrive there if a future President Romney provided them directly to Syrian rebels to overthrow the Syrian government. Apparently, the Romney neocons haven’t learned that overthrowing dictators doesn’t necessarily lead to positive outcomes.

The case of Libya also shows that government interventionism usually requires more government meddling to “fix” problems with the initial foray. The US government is now funding the creation of a Libyan commando unit to counter the tribal militias and Islamist radicals, such as those that assassinated the US ambassador and other diplomats, which it unleashed by taking out Gaddafi.

Of course, the US will need to vet recruits to the new commando force to make sure it is free of Islamist radicals. The New York Times quotes Frederic Wehrey, an expert on Libyan security, as noting, “Overall, it’s a sound strategy, but my concern is that in the vetting they make sure this doesn’t become a Trojan horse for the militias to come in.”

But given the poor past history of the US vetting security forces in messy war zones, it may not be a sound strategy at all.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for IraqThe Empire Has No Clothes: US Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into US Defense Policy

Consortiumnews

 

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies

Separate Syria air strikes kill at least 32

Two more 'significant arrests' over London attack

Cities, monuments dim lights for Earth Hour

Hamas shuts Gaza crossing after assassination of official

Deep concern as Israeli laws entrench the occupation

Turkey’s Kurds could sway tight referendum vote

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

US and allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Israel’s air strike on Syria spooks Middle East

Gunmen kill Hamas official in Gaza

UN says Israel has ignored resolution on illegal settlements

Veteran politician says Turkey referendum a 'test' for Kurds

More Algerian women in work, but husbands control wages

Beirut university settles US lawsuit over Hezbollah

1.1 million weekend travellers from Dubai hit by laptop ban

Shiite Lebanese women endure painful custody battles

Russia, China seek Iraq chemical weapons probe

Besieged Syrians struggle with dwindling dialysis supplies

Syria army retakes Damascus areas from rebels

Syria says peace talks must first focus on 'terrorism'

12 Syrian refugees dead after boat sinks off Turkey coast

Mosul displaced head into unknown

As war keeps them away, Yemen children dream of school

Ousted Egyptian president Mubarak freed from detention

Iraq's Sadr threatens boycott if election law unchanged

Israel, US fail to reach settlement agreement

Yemen rebel missile kills Saudi soldier

Turkish FM in Switzerland amid rising tensions with Europe

Britain arrests eight as IS claims Westminster attack

Man attempts to drive into crowd of shoppers in Belgium’s Antwerp

Palestinian FA chief says ball in Israel's court

Israel arrests Jewish teen over anti-Semitic terror threats

An Egypt court is to reopen a corruption probe into Mubarak

Bahrain frees award-winning AFP photographer

Erdogan slams 'pressure' on Turks in Bulgaria ahead of vote

Israel policeman suspended after caught on video beating Palestinian

Turkey summons Russia envoy over soldier death in Syria

Bahrain sentences three to death for police bombings

UN-backed Syria talks restart in Geneva

EU summons Turkey envoy over 'safety' remarks

400,000 'trapped' in west Mosul's Old City

Saudi film festival launch postponed after sandstorm

10 Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai roadside bombings