Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorist groups

Time to Call the Haqqanis Terrorists

Jeff Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War–one of the best Afghanistan analysts out there–has an excellent question in this Weekly Standard article: Why hasn’t the administration designated the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization?

There is no legitimate reason to avoid this designation for a group that, according to the testimony of administration officials, has carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. Once it is designated, that will allow the U.S. and other governments to more actively go after its finances, leaders, and supporters. It appeared that designation–which is favored by both U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–was a done deal last year, but it still hasn’t happened, apparently because the State Department wants to maintain the ability to negotiate with the Haqqanis.

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Jeff Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War–one of the best Afghanistan analysts out there–has an excellent question in this Weekly Standard article: Why hasn’t the administration designated the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization?

There is no legitimate reason to avoid this designation for a group that, according to the testimony of administration officials, has carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. Once it is designated, that will allow the U.S. and other governments to more actively go after its finances, leaders, and supporters. It appeared that designation–which is favored by both U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–was a done deal last year, but it still hasn’t happened, apparently because the State Department wants to maintain the ability to negotiate with the Haqqanis.

There is, in fact, scant chance this fanatical organization will ever voluntarily lay down its arms. But even those who think there is a chance of negotiating with the Haqqanis should favor designation, because the offer to lift that status could be a useful carrot to dangle in front of the Haqqanis. The fact that the Haqqanis have not been designated bespeaks a woeful confusion and lack of purpose within the higher echelons of the administration about the whole war effort in Afghanistan.

If we are serious about drawing down troop numbers without leaving behind utter chaos, then we need to take sterner steps now to try to decrease the power of the Haqqanis and their close allies in the Quetta Shura Taliban. Designation as a terrorist organization isn’t enough. But it’s a start.

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Hersh: U.S. Trained M.E.K. in Nevada

No, not at Area 51, but speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker:

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. [Mujahideen-e-Khalq] has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”) …

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

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No, not at Area 51, but speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker:

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. [Mujahideen-e-Khalq] has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”) …

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

It’s even more difficult to take Hersh seriously after reading Jamie Kirchick’s persuasive takedown of his work in last month’s COMMENTARY, and this Nevada training scenario seems particularly unrealistic. If true, it would be an enormous scandal. But why would Joint Special Operations Command go through the trouble and risk of bringing members of a terrorist group back to the U.S. for training, when the U.S. controlled an entire military base full of M.E.K. members, Camp Ashraf, in Iraq? And there has been no indication that any training was going on there, so why would it take place at a Department of Energy facility in Nevada?

There’s reason to believe that Israel may have provided the M.E.K. with training and worked with the group on assassinations in Iran. Which seems to make it even less likely that the U.S. would do the same thing, particularly inside the country, with all the security and legal hazards that would carry.

Unfortunately, Hersh provides the sort of storyline that benefits both the M.E.K. and its enemies. A Washington attorney for the M.E.K., and a British defector who now works against the group, were two of the only people quoted who didn’t remain anonymous in Hersh’s story (though neither actually confirmed that the Nevada training took place). Why is that? Because it helps the M.E.K.’s lobbying efforts to get removed from the U.S. list of designated terrorist groups if it gives the impression that members went through training on U.S. soil. And proponents of the Iranian regimes love to find ways to try to tie the U.S. to the M.E.K., a theory that fits flawlessly into their anti-American worldview.

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Disarming Unilateralism

Palestinian hopes for a unilaterally declared state suffered another setback today as the EU announced it would not recognize such a move. This comes on the heels of a similar declaration by the U.S. Both cited their commitment to a “negotiated” solution between Israel and the Palestinians. This followed an unequivocal statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that “there is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

The whole bit about waiting for a negotiated settlement rings a little hollow, of course. Many of the world’s most successful countries achieved internationally recognized independence without the benefit of a negotiated agreement between conflicted parties, the United States and Israel being two obvious cases. If Palestinian national aspirations were so legitimate and a two-state solution the only answer, why wouldn’t the great powers recognize this much? And in such a scenario, what unilateral retaliation could Israel reasonably get away with?

Rather, the real problem with Palestinian independence — the elephant in the room, if you will — is that there is no viable Palestinian regime that can claim to run a sovereign country. Right now, the Palestinian territories are divided, ruled by two different Palestinian regimes. The one in Gaza is led by an internationally recognized terror organization supported by Iran and dedicated to war against Israel and violent conflict with the West. The other, in the West Bank, is led by a revolutionary-style regime that is deeply corrupt and still fosters and harbors terrorist groups like the Fatah-Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Efforts to negotiate a unification between the two sides have consistently failed, and one gets the sense that the only thing preventing an all-out civil war between Hamas and Fatah is the sliver of land that divides them (Israel, that is).

So the problem, it seems, is not between Israel and the Palestinians so much as among the Palestinians themselves. That this is the real trouble seems to be hinted at by none other than the Palestinian prime minister, Saleem Fayad. According to Fayad, a declaration of independence is really just a “formality” — or at least, it will be, once the institutions of statehood are established. It is not too hard to glean from Fayad’s statement, however, the hidden assumption that such institutions are not yet in place and may not be for the foreseeable future.

One wonders what would happen if the Palestinians really were to replicate the Zionist movement’s means of establishing a homeland: to build systems of government aimed at improving the Palestinians’ lives rather than channeling them toward endless conflict; to build an economy that emphasizes good business rather than corruption; to craft an educational system and public culture that fosters a positive, life-affirming vision of Palestinian identity and coexistence with Israelis rather than one built entirely on “resistance” to the “occupation.” If that were to happen, wouldn’t Israeli and world leaders have a much harder time denying Palestinian statehood? On the other hand, would they even want to? Should they?

Palestinian hopes for a unilaterally declared state suffered another setback today as the EU announced it would not recognize such a move. This comes on the heels of a similar declaration by the U.S. Both cited their commitment to a “negotiated” solution between Israel and the Palestinians. This followed an unequivocal statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that “there is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

The whole bit about waiting for a negotiated settlement rings a little hollow, of course. Many of the world’s most successful countries achieved internationally recognized independence without the benefit of a negotiated agreement between conflicted parties, the United States and Israel being two obvious cases. If Palestinian national aspirations were so legitimate and a two-state solution the only answer, why wouldn’t the great powers recognize this much? And in such a scenario, what unilateral retaliation could Israel reasonably get away with?

Rather, the real problem with Palestinian independence — the elephant in the room, if you will — is that there is no viable Palestinian regime that can claim to run a sovereign country. Right now, the Palestinian territories are divided, ruled by two different Palestinian regimes. The one in Gaza is led by an internationally recognized terror organization supported by Iran and dedicated to war against Israel and violent conflict with the West. The other, in the West Bank, is led by a revolutionary-style regime that is deeply corrupt and still fosters and harbors terrorist groups like the Fatah-Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Efforts to negotiate a unification between the two sides have consistently failed, and one gets the sense that the only thing preventing an all-out civil war between Hamas and Fatah is the sliver of land that divides them (Israel, that is).

So the problem, it seems, is not between Israel and the Palestinians so much as among the Palestinians themselves. That this is the real trouble seems to be hinted at by none other than the Palestinian prime minister, Saleem Fayad. According to Fayad, a declaration of independence is really just a “formality” — or at least, it will be, once the institutions of statehood are established. It is not too hard to glean from Fayad’s statement, however, the hidden assumption that such institutions are not yet in place and may not be for the foreseeable future.

One wonders what would happen if the Palestinians really were to replicate the Zionist movement’s means of establishing a homeland: to build systems of government aimed at improving the Palestinians’ lives rather than channeling them toward endless conflict; to build an economy that emphasizes good business rather than corruption; to craft an educational system and public culture that fosters a positive, life-affirming vision of Palestinian identity and coexistence with Israelis rather than one built entirely on “resistance” to the “occupation.” If that were to happen, wouldn’t Israeli and world leaders have a much harder time denying Palestinian statehood? On the other hand, would they even want to? Should they?

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