Hezbollah: Exporting the Political Paramilitary Organization Model

Thursday evening, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah phoned six fighters in his paramilitary political party recalling them to Lebanon following months of support in Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s defense against Syrian rebel fighters. “You accomplished the greatest [accomplishment] of steadfastness, triumph, and fortitude in the history of Hezbollah,” said the incumbent who has held leadership over Hezbollah, a terrorist group according to the United States among others, since 1992.

The praised fighters were assisting in the defense of two Shia-majority towns from rebel siege in Northern Syria. On Tuesday, a deal was struck between Syrian government backers, Russia, and rebel backers, Turkey, wherein several thousand civilians are to be evacuated, thus ending the siege and allowing the Hezbollah fighters to return home.

In the last five years, this is not an unfamiliar story. This update regarding Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War is part of a spiking-trend involving the organization and its growing influence. This is the case politically in Lebanon as well as worldwide.

Hezbollah is the quintessential political paramilitary organization success story: highly trained, heavily armed, and politically and economically influential. Their influence and highly efficient communication present an even more dangerous situation.

Foreign extremists traveling to train in Lebanon, and vice-versa, hinder the fight to end extremism and strengthens such groups. But how does Lebanon secure an end to such training without drawing the ire of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran?

Beyond Syria, eight Hezbollah fighters were killed less than a month ago by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The fighters were providing military support to the Iran-aligned Houthi (Ansar Allah) group. Hezbollah denied the deaths, but are yet to rule out their involvement in the Yemeni proxy war. Saudi-backed Yemeni government officials have accused Iran, for years, of backing the Houthis in an effort to transform them into a carbon copy of Hezbollah.

Such reports coupled with ones highlighting Hezbollah’s training of Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria to legitimize the idea that Hezbollah has established itself as the manifestation of what terrorist-backers want such groups to become.

Furthermore, the continued development of these organizations’ communication methods reinforces one’s sense that the best way to cripple Hezbollah’s training and scope is to break its communication apparatus. Easier said than done, especially in Lebanon. The Lebanese military can barely secure its frontier. And due to Hezbollah’s Parliamentary presence, any military intervention against it would instantly unravel the country.

Ethical hacking methods exist, and while their implementation is difficult, and therefore improbable, a reduction in the flood of foreign financial support, and increased border security technologies could go away toward limiting extremist trainees’ movement to and from Lebanon. These considerations also come with consequences, so the question lingers, can Lebanon solve its problems without creating new ones?

Hezbollah training ME Shiites to fight in Syria

US-Taliban Peace Talks: An Opportunity For Peace?

The United States is planning to lead direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

The United States plans to lead peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported in recent weeks U.S. delegates have visited Kabul and Pakistan to discuss the aforementioned US-Taliban talks.

Last week, Secretary Pompeo promised to support the Afghan government in peace negotiations. Pompeo reiterated the strategy announced last year by President Donald Trump which focuses on additional U.S. troops in the country as a tool to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leadership. “The strategy sends a clear message to the Taliban that they cannot wait us out,” Pompeo said.

The Taliban and Afghan security forces greet each other during the cease-fire in Kabul. Photo by Ahmad Mohibi, June 16, 2018

Tuesday, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen John. Nicholson said the U.S. is not replacing the Afghan government in the peace talks. “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said.

But during his trip to Kandahar, he said, “Our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces.  We hope this will help move the peace process forward.”

The State Department added that “any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

The Taliban cheered the prospect of direct U.S. talks. They do not want to negotiate with Afghan leadership, which see as illegitimate and incapable of offering them valuable concessions. Sohail Shahin, spokesman from the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Aljazeera, “This is what we wanted, and what were waiting for – to sit with the U.S. directly and discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops.”

Political leaders and Afghans believe peace is possible if Afghans lead the way. Only the Afghans can win this war. Neither U.S. troops nor U.S.-Taliban peace talks will pacify Afghanistan.

In fact, U.S. involvement may be exacerbating fundamental tensions. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai stated recently in an interview with Ahmad Mohibi, “The Taliban want to negotiate with the U.S. because the Afghan National Unity Government is weak. The Taliban sees themselves as stronger than the Afghan government. They believe the U.S. is the power-holder in this dynamic.” Karzai advocates an Afghan peace process led and implemented by Afghans. “Peace is possible in Afghanistan if it’s a pure process in which Afghans are involved in every aspect of talks,” Karzai said

Taliban supporter biking around the city of Kabul during the ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. June 17, 2018 Photo by Ahmad Mohibi

Attempts at Afghan peace talks date back to 2006 – a year of deadly terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that saw in excess of 4,000 people dead, including 170 foreigners. This was a dramatic uptick in suicide bombings and it came in the wake of the War on Terror, which began in 2001. But that same year, 2006, at a Shia religious gathering, Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to participate in peace talks. Karzai said, “While we are fighting for our honor, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with an enemy who is shedding our blood and bent our annihilation.”

Since then, Afghan and American governments, the international community, NATO, and Afghanistan’s neighbors have supported peace talks. Yet, despite the deployment of 15,000 U.S. troops and 17 years of U.S. and international support, the Taliban has gained territory, suicide bombings surge, and more terror groups are coalescing. And the Taliban are unwilling to negotiate with the Afghan government.

However, that the role of the United States in the peace process remains necessary to ensure other state actors, such as Pakistan, which continues to provide material support to the Taliban, push them to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. Together peace can be achieved, but only through a recognition of the Afghan lead in these efforts.

There is still a chance for peace. Afghans are hardworking people with the courage to build their homeland.  Americans are thoughtful and passionate people that are willing to help Afghans win the peace. 

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is founder and president of Rise to Peace and a national security expert. Ahmad Mohibi is a published writer as well as a George Washington University and George Mason University Alumni. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

Ahmad Mohibi discusses US’s direct talks with the Taliban on Tolonews

After the New York Times reported that the White House ordered diplomats to hold direct talks with the Taliban, Rise to Peace founder Ahmad Mohibi told Tolonews, “The United States will not negotiate with the Taliban directly. The U.S. is facilitating the peace process, and U.S. talks with the Taliban will expedite the process.” Mr. Mohibi added, “Negotiations must occur between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Because it’s a war among Afghans, they are responsible for fixing it. Peace is critical and achievable, but it must come from the indigenous people.”

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is founder and president of Rise to Peace and a national security expert. Mr. Mohibi is a published writer and a George Washington University and George Mason University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

On Africa’s East Coast, Two Reformers Work to Keep the Peace

Ethiopia’s President, Mulatu Teshome

Political rallies in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were disrupted by grenade attacks on June 23, shedding light on the dangers that the political opposition represents to politicians in these countries. In Ethiopia, a grenade attack killed two and wounded more than 150 at a rally featuring the country’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed.

The rally took place in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square and was attended by tens of thousands of people. Thirty were arrested after the attack, but the culprits are yet unknown. Abiy’s office claimed the attack was part of a larger disruption of the economy: power and telecommunications outages occurred and government agencies have been prevented from delivering services.

Abiy’s office said in a statement in the week following the attack that the attack stemmed from anger at reforms implemented by Abiy in April. Abiy, who replaced former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn after he resigned in February, is the first prime minister from the Oromo ethnic group in 27 years. Abiy found support from young Ethiopians after he released jailed dissidents, liberalized the economy by opening state-owned companies to private investment, and allowed for greater media freedoms.

He has also asserted his willingness to implement a peace deal with Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, to end their two-year war. But Abiy still faces political opposition from within the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the dominant party in Ethiopia’s governing coalition.

Ethiopia has created a committee to investigate plots against the reforms, which include efforts to sabotage infrastructure and increase inflation. According to Ethiopian scholar Mohammad Girma, if Ethiopia is to continue to liberalize, Abiy must continue spreading his message in the face of “anti-peace elements” who are attempting to halt progress and damage his narrative.

Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa

In Zimbabwe, two people died and nearly 50 were injured in a grenade attack at a Zanu-PF rally in Bulawayo. President Emmerson Mnangagwa described the attack as an attempt on his life. On July 1, two men were arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. Both suspects were from Bulawayo despite Mnangagwa’s claims that they were assassins from another province. The men are being held on charges of insurgency, banditry, sabotage, or terrorism.

Just as Ethiopia’s Abiy faces internal political opposition, Mnangagwa’s party control is being questioned by the Generation 40 faction lead by Grace Mugabe, wife of former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction has seen the internal rivalry with Generation 40 since battling them for succession in 2016.

Mnangagwa blamed members of Generation 40 for carrying out the grenade attack, although there is no conclusive evidence as yet. With national elections taking place in Zimbabwe on July 30, it is yet to be seen how Zanu-PF’s squabbles will impact the political landscape. Mnangagwa is running against Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change, and more than five million Zimbabweans have registered to vote. Like his neighboring reformer, Abiy, Mnangagwa will allow international observers into the country to ensure it is a fair election.

Hudaydah’s Resistance: An Inflection Point for the War in Yemen?

The Arab coalition’s operation against the Houthis in Yemen has been heavily bombarding Hudaydah for days. Hudaydah is a Yemeni port city on the Red Sea that is of great strategic significance. Through it, the Houthis have established a support line to give supplies to their base in the capital Sana’a.

A week ago, the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began a major offensive to assist the internationally recognized Yemeni Government to retake control of the city. On Monday, the coalition stated that it had killed 600 Houthi fighters and destroyed more than 200 targets since the operation began.

The UAE, the biggest contributor to the coalition after  Saudi Arabia, estimates that there are 3,000 Houthi fighters in Hudaydah and that the battle is over the airport where coalition forces have said they were based on the western side while the Houthis are in the north. On Tuesday, the Yemeni Army claimed they had taken full control of the airport, thus cutting the Houthis main supply-line, a major advance in its attempt to retake full control of Hudaydah. Outcomes, however, remain to be seen.

Around 27 million people have been caught in the middle of Yemen’s war. AFP/Reuters

The latest offensive has alarmed the United Nations because Hudaydah accounts for 80% of Yemen’s humanitarian supplies and serves as a lifeline for relief from an impending famine. The United Nations has warned that the famine crisis in Yemen could be one of the worst the world has ever seen, threatening more than eight million Yemenis. Earlier this month, The Red Cross evacuated workers from Hudaydah amid rising security concerns.

Meanwhile, UN officials held administrative talks with the Houthis over the city’s port to maintain the flow of assistance. When the war in Yemen broke out in 2015, the Houthis managed to exile the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to Riyadh. However, last week, Hadi and many members of his government returned to Aden, with permission from the coalition, for the first time in a year. Hadi’s return signals optimism on the ground but it does not guarantee an end to the conflict and the humanitarian crisis continues.

Hudaydah is home to 400,000 people. The coalition’s conundrum in Hudaydah is that civilians have no place to go. Gas prices have increased, there has been no genuine effort to protect civilians in harm’s way, food is scarce and getting medicine to Yemenis in the populous areas of Northern Yemen is near impossible, spelling all but worst-case scenarios for locals. The rub with the Arab coalition offensive from a military perspective is that for there to be a winner and loser the coalition might wage an operation that could take two more months causing untold devastation to an already devastated country.

Such humanitarian conditions would inevitably undermine peace. This state of affairs suggests point to realities: ongoing negotiations have failed, and there is either a military solution or no solution at all. No one, not the Arab coalition, the Houthis, nor the Yemeni Government are backing down. Each is choosing self-interest over consideration for civilians and that is most devastating of all.

At least seven Yemeni civilians were killed, including a child, and more than sixty injured when the US-backed Saudi-led aggression coalition launched over 46 airstrikes on several provinces of Yemen during the past 24 hours, officials and medics told Yemen News Agency on Monday.

That there is no military solution in Yemen in a foregone conclusion, but a political solution must be pursued. For that,  all parties to the conflict must be willing to negotiate. There have been negotiations between the EU Four (France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy) with Iran, which have seen baby steps toward a political solution. Europe has shown goodwill toward Iran with its willingness to have peace talks, but there is persistent doubt in the Arab Coalition about moving toward serious peace negotiations and political procedures to end the crisis.

27,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the start of the war in 2015 and predictably the war is destroying the country. 17,000 airstrikes have been executed by the Arab coalition, backed by the United States and European powers, with a third of them hitting non-military targets. Extreme food, water, and medical supply shortages exemplify Saudi Arabia’s blockade on imports.

Half of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed, 8,000,000 people are on the brink of starvation, 2,000,000 children face malnutrition, and a Cholera outbreak has plagued the country. Yemen remains the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis according to the United Nations. Schools, hospitals, roads, and markets have also suffered from bombing campaigns during three years of war. Monitoring groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International get no rest.

The Hudaydah situation is built on an already dire humanitarian crisis with two dimensions: civilians in the city face the threat of constant artillery fire and aerial bombardment. Additionally, the disruption of supplies moving through the port is consummate. Even in mass ‘Houthi-free’ sections of Yemen, there remains a lack of stability, a failure on the government’s part to manage the situation, and the mismanagement of war zone finances.

How to back away when both sides seek total victory with the Arab coalition having invested a ton to look like victors? Perhaps the most realistic scenario would be for the United Nations to propose a settlement wherein Houthis would surrender the port to the Arab coalition and the Yemeni Government could make room for negotiations and a political solution in exchange for peace.

Of all the Middle East conflicts, Yemen is one where things could be manageable were their political will on both sides sufficient to meet at a negotiating table. The fighting must stop, military force mustn’t advance political agendas, The UN must issue a ceasefire and humanitarian assistance like food, shelter, and medicine must reach displaced Yemenis. Regional dialogue on Yemen must advance a power-sharing system.

Thereafter the UN must oversee a free election and Yemenis must adopt a constitution that makes room for a new president and political system. The United States could use its leverage to end the crisis. And indeed congressional voices are calling even now for the U.S to stop the disaster in Yemen and take steps to aid the humanitarian situation. Absolute victory is beyond everyone’s grasp in Yemen, but the cost in human lives even to a prospective victor is too great. It is time for Yemen to be a cohesive country again.