Saudi Concerns / The State of Afghanistan

Aug 14, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

August 14, 2007
Number 08/07 #05

Today’s Update leads with two pieces dealing with the often destructive Saudi Arabian influence on international terrorism and Iraq, in the wake of  the recent US policy decision to provide a large arms deal to Saudi Arabia, and smaller ones to various gulf states.

Questioning this move is Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens (also former editor of the Jerusalem Post) who says while the deal seems logical on its face, it may not be wise. He points out that not only is the continued status of Saudi Arabia as an American ally in some doubt, but that even at the moment, the Saudis could be much more helpful in curtailing terror and helping foster Middle East peace than they are. For this full argument, CLICK HERE.

Following up on Stephens’ claims, Steven Schwartz, an author and investigative writer specialising in Muslim extremism, notes considerable additional evidence of Saudi support for terrorism, especially in Iraq, and including for al-Qaeda. He summarises not only the latest American reporting on this issue, but some of the revelations also coming out of the Arab media, which make it clear that Iraqis and Saudis are well aware of what is going on. For this additional important collection of information on this problem CLICK HERE.

Finally, there have been some arguments of late that Afghanistan may be heading the way of Iraq, just as the surge may be making a difference in Iraq itself (see here and here). But writer Anne Marlowe, who travels in Afghanistan regularly, says such claims are exaggerated and there is actually considerable progress in most of the country, despite the continuing trouble spots. She also says it is wrong to look for “reconstruction” in Afghanistan, because the country never had much infra-structure, and that expectations should take into account the low base from which efforts there began. For her inside look at this additional conflict against al-Qaeda and its allies, CLICK HERE.

Kernel of Evil

Selling weapons to the Saudis is logical. But is it wise?


Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It’s hard to fault the logic of the sale, announced last week, of $20 billion in U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia, with trinkets going to the smaller Gulf states. The wisdom of the deal is another matter.

The Wahhabi kingdom is not, as of yet, an outlaw state: It can buy large quantities of sophisticated weapons on the international arms market from whomever it chooses. If the U.S. does not sell the Saudis upgraded versions of Boeing’s F-15 Eagle, the Europeans can sell additional numbers of EADS’s Eurofighter Typhoon (the Saudis already have 72 of these wonderjets on order). If the U.S. doesn’t sell the Saudis laser-guided “JDAM” bombs, again courtesy of Boeing, they can buy the PR-632, an equivalent munition produced by Ukraine.

There may even be some non-mercenary advantages in tying the Saudi military to ours. When Washington cut its longstanding military-to-military ties with Islamabad in October 1990, after the U.S. “decertified” Pakistan as a non-nuclear state, the Pakistani military didn’t simply mend its ways. Instead, what was once the most pro-Western institution in the country–thanks to generations of Pakistani officers trained at Sandhurst and the U.S. Army War College–came increasingly under the sway of Islamists. No need to repeat that experience with Riyadh. Then, too, as long as the Saudis operate U.S. military equipment, they remain dependent on us for training, maintenance and upgrades. The Iranian regime learned that lesson the hard way when they inherited the Shah’s F-4s, F-14s and C-130s, but lost access to the planes’ spare parts.

Yet the wisdom of arming the Saudis hinges in no small part on Riyadh remaining for the next few decades what it has been for the past six: a nominal ally of the U.S. It hinges, too, on the likelihood that the deal will advance American interests, and not just those of the Boeing Corporation, much as the two are sometimes confused. In both cases there is considerable room for doubt.
Consider the following dates: 1924, 1926, 1933, 1935. These are the birth years, respectively, of King Abdullah, current ruler of Saudi Arabia; Prince Sultan, his designated successor; and Princes Nayef and Salman, the two men next in line. The younger generation of contenders has problems of its own: Prince Bandar, 58, the urbane former ambassador to the U.S., is reportedly the son of a slave girl, which makes him ineligible; Prince Saud al-Faisal, 67, the current foreign minister, is said to be in poor health. And while the Saudis last year amended their Basic Law to regularize the rules of succession, a lot can go wrong when a throne is in play among a dozen or more billionaire princes, each with his own power base.

Even assuming the Saudis can manage an orderly succession, there are larger questions about where the kingdom is headed. In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that al Qaeda had “tried to recruit Saudi Arabian Air Force pilots to carry out a suicide attack in Israel . . . using either F-15 jets or civilian aircraft.” Israel also has serious concerns about the extent of al Qaeda’s penetration of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.

A year ago, the Treasury Department named the director and two branches of the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization “for facilitating fundraising for al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups.” The chairman of the IIRO is Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti and a member of the cabinet; Prince Sultan has also been a major donor. “Pouring weapons on this scale into a kingdom with an aging leadership, and which is still the fountainhead of Sunni extremism, does not seem prudent,” argues Dore Gold, author of “Hatred’s Kingdom.”

But whatever direction Saudi Arabia takes in the future, there’s also the question of what the U.S. gets from the arms sale. In an interview Sunday with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that “the Saudi government announced that it’s going to put an embassy in Baghdad, something that we have hoped they would do for quite some time.” The State Department has also tried to entice Saudi Arabia to attend a regional peace conference with Israel later this year.

In fact, the Saudis have not announced their intention to put an embassy in Baghdad, merely their willingness to discuss it with an Iraqi government they have demonized at every turn. They remain similarly equivocal about the conference. It’s an old Saudi ploy. In November 1981, Abdullah, then the kingdom’s deputy prime minister, mooted a “plan” that promised recognition of Israel at a time when he was seeking to buy AWACs radar planes from the Reagan administration. The sale was approved; the plan disappeared.

Now Ms. Rice isn’t even getting phony Saudi peace offers in exchange for American weapons. Nor is she getting much relief on the terrorism front. The Bush administration rightfully complains about the role Syria plays as a transit point for jihadists. Yet according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, 45% of all suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudis; collectively, they account for some 2,000 deaths in the past six months. Would it be too much for the U.S. to ask the Saudis to screen young men leaving the country with one-way tickets to Damascus? So far, the Saudi government has refused. King Abdullah has also declared the U.S. presence in Iraq “illegal.”

Equally misguided is the administration’s argument that arming the Saudis is necessary to counterbalance the growing power of Iran. If containment is what the U.S. wants, Saudi F-15s will not be of much use against an Iranian bomb. But those fighters might ultimately find their use against Iraq’s Shiite-led democratic government, whose air force consists mainly of junkyard Warsaw Pact equipment. Why we have neglected Iraq’s justified military needs while lavishing top-of-the-line equipment on the Saudis is a mystery future historians will have to ponder.

Back in 2002, a Rand Corporation analyst named Laurent Murawiec gave a briefing to the Pentagon’s advisory Defense Policy Board, in which he described Saudi Arabia as the “kernel of evil… active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.” Every word of that is true. Yet the administration walked a mile to distance itself from his remarks and Mr. Murawiec lost his job. Too bad. Had his advice been heeded then, we might not be trapped today by the weird logic of arming our false friends.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.


The Saudi Connection

In Iraq and elsewhere, terrorism thrives with Saudi support.

by Stephen Schwartz

Weekly Standard, 07/30/2007 12:00:00 AM

ALMOST SIX YEARS after September 11, 2001, and more than four years since the beginning of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, the American government and media have begun to admit something every informed and honest Muslim in the world has known all along. That is: the “Sunni insurgency” in Iraq, as well as 9/11 and certain acts of extremist Sunni violence inside Iraq before then, are consequences of the official status of the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia, Iraq’s southern neighbor. Saudi Wahhabi clerics have preached and recruited for terror in Iraq; Saudi money has sustained it; the largest number of those who have carried out suicide bombings north of the Saudi-Iraqi border have been Saudi citizens.

Does this sound obvious and familiar? Perhaps to regular readers of THE WEEKLY STANDARD and THE DAILY STANDARD, which have reported frequently on the Saudi connection to terror in the Iraq war since the phenomenon first appeared. But the truth is finally seeping out elsewhere. On Friday, July 27, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported on the links between Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabi terror in Iraq, employing their usual cautious and polite language when dealing with the desert kingdom. The Post ran a Reuters rewrite of the Times reportage, casting the problem in terms of Saudi distrust for the Shia-led Iraqi administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the resulting difficulties facing Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates as they visit the Saudis this week. Seven paragraphs down, the story quoted the Times about the real issue: “the Saudis had offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq and U.S. officials were increasingly concerned about its close Arab ally’s ‘counterproductive’ role in Iraq.”

“Counterproductive” is a euphemism for Saudi state subsidies to Wahhabi clerics who demand the genocide of Shia Muslims, urge young men to go north and sacrifice themselves to that end, and preach eulogies after their deaths. It is also a diplomatic way to describe the official Saudi policy of ignoring financial contributions by rich Saudi citizens to support Wahhabi terror in Iraq. Others might call such behavior acts of war rather than merely “counterproductive.”

The Times itself, in an article by Helene Cooper, further noted, “Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.” Administration officials, the paper reported “spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family.” Then came the bald truth: “the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia [and] about 40 percent of all foreign fighters are Saudi. Officials said that while most of the foreign fighters came to Iraq to become suicide bombers, others arrived as bomb makers, snipers, logisticians and financiers.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has “revealed” information about the Al Rajhi Bank, one of the kingdom’s main financiers of Wahhabism, most of which has been available in print for several years. The “fresh” disclosures include the role of the Al Rajhi Bank in facilitating Saudi extremist operations. But the Journal admits that the Al Rajhi name appeared on a document many Westerners were loath to take seriously, the “Golden Chain” roster of al Qaeda donors seized by Bosnian authorities in Sarajevo, and handed over to the U.S. government in 2002.

Yet even the Journal seems not to have noticed that the Al Rajhi financial system’s Suleiman Abdul Al-Aziz Al Rajhi also created the SAAR Foundation, an object of the federal raid known as GreenQuest, which struck a nest of Islamist entities in Northern Virginia in 2002.

Why has there been so little media interest in the role of Saudi money and influence in Iraq and elsewhere? The best explanation is media cooperation with the official U.S. preference for the “quiet, behind-the-scenes influence” that one administration after another has defaulted to in dealing with Saudi problems, and which the Saudis exploit to continue their deceptive ways.

Saudis and Iraqis, even with own imperfect media, are much better informed. Here is what they have been reading.

* On July 25, the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported on 61 Saudis held in Iraqi jails. The inferred charge was terrorism.

* The day before, Al-Watan described an uproar over Saudi clerics advocating the destruction of Shia holy sites in Iraq. According to Iraqi sources, the Wahhabis have specifically called for the destruction of the shrines of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in Karbala, and of Caliph Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law, in Najaf–the two most sacred Shia sites. As also reported in Iraqi media, students at the Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, located in Riyadh and known as the “terrorist factory,” have organized activist groups and sent members streaming north to join the onslaught on Iraqi Shias.

* On July 17, the Grand Mufti or chief Islamic cleric of the Saudi kingdom, Abd al-Aziz Al Ash-Shaykh, cautioned Saudis not to go to Iraq to engage in terror, and said that “those who mislead young Muslims, calling them to jihad, refuse to send their own sons to participate in the same conflict.”

* On July 16, the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted the comment of Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister who wriggles like an eel on this issue, that Saudis lured to participate in the Iraq terror are “brainwashed teenagers.” The same day, the Saudi daily Al-Hayat interviewed U.S. Treasury undersecretary Stuart Levey, who argued that financing terror in Iraq is no different from contributing to al Qaeda elsewhere.

* And the day before that, on July 15, the Wahhabi website Al-Sahat posted a list of Saudi terrorists recently killed in Iraq, with names, addresses, and dates and places of their demise.

This, too, is merely the beginning of a long inventory of such information reported in the Muslim world. Nobody can say the Saudis, Iraqis, and other Muslims do not know who organizes and supports the Wahhabi terror in Iraq.

None of the recent “revelations” should come as a suprise to anyone. In 2002, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported on the Al Rajhi financial network and terrorism; in 2003 on the Saudi injection of Wahhabi radicals into Iraq, including Saudi media publicity about their deaths in defense of Saddam Hussein and on Saudi involvement in combat against the U.S.-led coalition at Falluja; in 2004 on general Saudi support for terror in Iraq, and yet more on the Saudi involvement in the fight for Falluja.

One question remains: How many more American and Coalition soldiers, as well as innocent Iraqis, will be killed before the Saudis are compelled to end their support for terrorism in Iraq?

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

© Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.


On the Road to Jalalabad

Don’t believe the naysayers. Afghanistan is doing as well as anyone has a right to expect.

Wall Street Journal, Monday, August 13, 2007

AFGHANISTAN–Sen. Hillary Clinton has cynically charged that we are “losing the fight to al Qaeda and bin Laden” in Afghanistan. But on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down.

The first encouraging sign came in Dubai as I boarded my flight for Kabul. Afghanistan’s main private air carrier, Kam Air, has recently added a second daily round trip between Kabul and Dubai.

Once in Kabul I bought a new SIM card for my mobile phone and found that what would have cost me $40 a few years ago and $9 in September last year now cost only $3. Not surprisingly, mobile phones have spread to a broad section of Afghanistan’s 24 million people, with the two major providers, AWCC and Roshan, claiming a total of three million subscribers, up from two million in September last year. Amin Ramin, managing director of AWCC, estimates that his company alone will count two million subscribers by the end of 2007 and three million by the end of 2008.

I spotted similarly hopeful trends in three heavily Pashtun provinces–Nangarhar, Laghman and Khost–in eastern Afghanistan.

But first, it’s important to note that to talk about “reconstruction” is the biggest lie in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was long one of the poorest countries in the world and has never had a lot of infrastructure. There are ruins in the country, of course, but 95% of them are in or near Kabul itself. Most of Afghanistan lives much as it always has, subsisting on small-scale farming and trading.

We can do nothing about many of Afghanistan’s barriers to development. For starters, 86% of its land area is non-arable. It has also never had a broad distribution of income or land. According to Afghan-Australian historian Amin Saikal, up until the early 1920s when King Amanullah gave crown lands to the poor, only 20% of peasants worked their own properties.

This is why many foreign development experts working in Kabul say privately that if in a couple of decades Afghanistan reaches the level of Bangladesh–which in 2006 had a per capita GDP of about $419 per year, one of the lowest in the world–then they will judge their time in the country a success.

But I am more optimistic. Jalalabad, the largest city of eastern Afghanistan, with 400,000 people, is now just a three-hour drive to Kabul on a good road recently built by the European Union. Another hour’s drive brings you to Mehtar Lam, capital of Afghanistan’s Laghman province, on another good road funded by USAID.

The U.S. is now planning to start a second provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Nangarhar Province, and it will be staffed by military reservists who are farmers and ranchers in civilian life. This second PRT will work with local farmers in Nangahar’s lush river valley, while also building infrastructure to get crops to market–cold storage facilities and local roads. Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the commander of the existing PRT, says that blacktop roads will link all district centers in the province to the main road to Kabul by the end of this year.

“Every day we open 15 to 20 new accounts,” says Maseh Arifi, the 24-year-old manager of the Jalalabad branch of Azizi Bank, one of Afghanistan’s two homegrown consumer banks. The branch opened at the end of last August and has 18,000 accounts. Next door, rival Kabul Bank has opened 9,400 accounts totaling $7 million in two years. The 27,000 bank accounts represent about 15% of 660,000 adults of Jalalabad–and doesn’t count some of the most prosperous locals, who commute to Peshawar to do their banking. In Nangarhar, AWCC and Roshan together have about 206,000 mobile phone customers, 31% of the adults.

Further south is Khost, a province that received little help from the central government in recent decades. Now construction cranes hover over Khost City, with modern five- and six-story office buildings and shopping centers rising amid grimy two-story concrete bazaars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently finished building a new university in the city. And this month the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, an investment-facilitating agency, is inviting 300 overseas Khostis to come discuss building an industrial park.

Both Kabul Bank and Azizi Bank opened their Khost branches in the summer of 2006, and each have about 3,000 accounts. Both branch managers expect their numbers to double this year. The numbers are low because some local residents view even non-interest bearing accounts as un-Islamic. (Competing fatwas have been issued by various mullahs on the topic.) About 65,000 people have mobile phones in the province.

Many of its men emigrated to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and did well for themselves as merchants. As many as 200,000 overseas Khostis (about a million people live in the province) send $6 million to $12 million annually to their families at home. USAID spent just $10 million in the province from 2002-2006.

Culturally, Khost has always been an outward-looking place. It’s not an opium-producing province. In the 1970s and ’80s it was a stronghold of the Khalq Communist party, as the party provided a vehicle for the Ghilzai Pashtun to challenge leaders from other tribes. The 99% Pashtun population is also about 70% literate, according to Babaker Khil, a member of parliament from Khost.

Khost should really take off when it’s linked to Kabul by a blacktop road. Construction of a $70 million, 103-kilometer long Khost-Gardez road is slated to begin next spring (it will be built by USAID) and is supposed to be finished in September 2009. The U.S. Army, which moves at a much faster pace than USAID, expects to link 90% of the population of Khost to the main provincial road by the end of this year.

There have been no conventional attacks on Coalition or Afghan security forces in 2007 so far, but the long border with Pakistan makes suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IED) an ongoing threat.

The insurgents are seeking “soft targets” such as civilians. There have been at least 67 IED explosions this year, killing more than two-dozen Afghans and wounding one American. But, encouragingly, 51 IEDs were found and reported by locals before detonating in Khost. Twelve other devices were turned in by locals looking for reward money.

“We’ve got the wholehearted support of 85%-90% of the population here,” Major Timothy Kohn of the 82nd Airborne told me. “The mullahs have put out fatwas against suicide bombers, saying that the victims of these bombings are the martyrs, not the extremists. Thousands of people attended peace rallies in the city.”

The most economically backward of the eastern provinces I visited is Laghman. Its 400,000 people eke out a living by working rice paddies and wheat fields along the Alingar and Alishang Rivers. Even the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, is so small you could miss it driving by. It has only a couple of two-story buildings in the bazaar. Still, an astonishing 77% of Laghman’s 176,000 adults have mobile phones–also implying that a good percentage of the women have phones, too.

Nangarhar and Laghman are also known for relatively high levels of education, and in the eastern region overall, UNICEF reports that this year 737,975 children were enrolled in school, up 17,000 from 2006 and six times the figure for 2003.

Laghman is never going to be rich, but Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Ricci, the Mehtar Lam PRT commander, points out that the district of Qarghayi had Afghanistan’s highest per-hectare wheat production last year. The new Nangarhar PRT will help the local farmers here, too, while Mr. Ricci’s team fixes the roads so that farmers in remote areas can bring their crop to the provincial capital, and from there to Kabul. The PRT is planning to blacktop the dirt road from Mehtar Lam to the most remote district capital, Daulat Shah, 47 kilometers away, at a cost of around $16 million.

Security in Laghman is better than in the frontier provinces, but there is a well-established route for al Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters to cross from Pakistan and make their way north through Laghman. A suicide bombing in April seems to have been a turning point in Laghman. The bomber killed a mullah and several schoolgirls, and according to Mr. Ricci, local residents were so angry that they left the bomber’s body parts on the road, refusing him burial. Since then, just nine IEDs have been detonated in Laghman, while 25 were turned in by locals.

Of course, one suicide bombing or IED is one too many, but every society is violent in its own way. The 58 killed by IEDs and suicide bombers in Khost could be compared with the 2006 murders in some American cities with around Khost’s one-million population: There were 29 murders in San Jose, 108 in Indianapolis, and 373 in Detroit.

Afghanistan is still a poor rural country with a mainly illiterate population, but it’s improving rapidly, and with the exception of Helmand Province and a few bad districts in Uruzgun, Kandahar and Loghar, it’s much like any number of developing countries in terms of security. We can’t give every country everything they’d like, and it will take decades for the rule of law to be as firmly established here as it is in the West. But we can and are helping the Afghans pull themselves up to the next rung on the development ladder.

Ms. Marlowe is author of “The Book of Trouble” (Harcourt, 2006), a memoir.


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