SEEMA MUSTAFA | 31 MARCH, 2015
WARS IN WEST ASIA BEING FOUGHT WITH US ARMS AND MONEY
Islamic state militants with Made in US weapons
NEW DELHI: The new war that has Yemen as the battlefield might be the most devastating of all with Saudi Arabia moving to build a coalition of Sunni states against Iran whose presence in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine has been a major bone of contention for a while. The US talks with Iran on the nuclear issue seem to be now the final straw off the sectarian camels back with American ally Saudi Arabia moving for a full fledged war at a time when the entire region is under conflict and violence.
West Asia is the most militarized region in the world with arms pouring into the countries from all over, with the US of course being the largest supplier. A quick look at headlines over the past years speaks of millions of dollars arms deals between the US and different countries, with sophisticated weaponry pouring in on a regular basis. The invasion of Iraq began the process although even before the build up was considerable, in that West Asia surpassed the worlds arms imports nine times over in the 1980’s itself. From $4.7billion in 1962 the military expenditure of this region went up to $46.7 in 1980, and this was before the American footprint was as clearly and obviously implanted on desert sand as it is now.
The first tanks that rolled into Iraq after the major ‘shock and awe’ bombardment from the air began a process that has the world divided into two positions. One, that the Americans are in command and the unrest and violence is as planned. And two, that the US has lost its grip over the region and is now floundering, with the violence now completely unplanned. There are enough facts for both arguments to be convincing, but the one indisputable fact is that the US has struck heavy weapon deals with most of the states during this period of conflict, and has flooded the region with weapons that are now being used by all rebel groups, starting from the rebels in Syria who were deliberately supplied with state of the art arms to the dreaded Islamic State.
Every now and again reports appear in the American press of Pentagon worry that the weapons it sent to the region for a “good cause” might fall into the hands of terrorists. Statements basically claiming ‘innocence” : we do not know where our weapons have gone, these bad people have taken them. And just before the war escalates in Yemen the Pentagon again has leaked a report maintaining that it cannot account for more than $500 million in military aid given to Yemen. And of course the source based reports express fear that the weapons, aircraft and equipment might be seized by Iranian backed rebels or al-Qaeda. Just as the weapons that were supplied to the Syrian rebels now are in the hands of the Islamic State.
As always the Pentagon officials are reported to have told the Congress that there is little they can do now to prevent the weapons from falling into the “wrong hands.” The hands become “right” or “wrong” with fluid rapidity insofar as Washington is concerned. “We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, to the US media. Words that have been spoken many times by different persons over the years.
Instability of the region is the excuse given over and over again for the disappearance of US heavy weaponry including armoured vehicles, tanks, humvees, guns, night vision equipment. In an environment where news is as the US makes it to be, there is no accountability for the weaponry that has found its way into the hands of the Islamic State for instance. Every now and again reports that go largely unnoticed speak of rebels raiding military depots and walking away with valuable ammunition and weapons. There has been little to no response as to how these were left unguarded leading to serious speculation across West Asia that many of the rebel groups are creations of the US and being armed and funded by them. Baseless perhaps, but a serious perception nevertheless.
Yemen will merely bring the strands together for a truly sectarian war. But the region has been in turmoil ever since former US President George W.Bush decided to shift his strategy and his military to West Asia. Iraq remains in the grip of violence with suicide bombers striking every now and again. This writer had visited the country just before the US invasion to find it suffering under 12 years of heavy sanctions, without medicines, books, or basic essential commodities. Then President Saddam Hussein was using his oil to buy food that was then given free to the residents. The only weapons visible were old guns that the Iraqi’s used to fire into the air on joyous occasions.
Libya has been destroyed by the US and Nato forces, and remains in the grip of violence, with the reverberations felt by neighbouring states like Tunisia on a daily basis. Bitter fighting is going on, and none of the groups are complaining of a shortage of weapons.
Syria remains in turmoil, with President Bashar al Assad presiding over a nation torn apart with conflict and war. This writer was in Syria several times over when the rebel fighting started, and it was clear from the onset that heavy weapons and money was being supplied to the fighters. The Assad government made it clear that al Qaeda fighters had joined the so called rebels, and that the weapons that had been brought to fight them initially were now being handed over to them on the platter. The Americans denied this, and then eventually confirmed it. But by then it was too late, and the al Qaeda had been overtaken by the Islamic State.
Yemen, after the first stirring of a true Arab Spring, has been overtaken by a sectarian war that is now set to escalate. Egypt remains unsteady and unstable.
In the midst of this rebel groups continue to wreak violence in respective states. Of these the Islamic State seems to be the most powerful and well equipped as it controls large swathes of territory. Using the IS as the pretext now the violence is added to by the US with targeted attacks that are increasing in frequency in different parts of the region. As President Assad recently said these air strikes have made no difference to the Islamic State.
The new war thus has the potential of igniting fires that will be now felt not just by West Asia but also other parts of the world. Pakistan is extremely reluctant to participate but cannot easily refuse old ally Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan is far from settled, with the withdrawal of the US troops marked with almost daily and persistent violence in the form of bomb blasts and suicide attacks.
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