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Friday, March 25, 2011

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations


Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al Saud family since its founding in 1932, wields significant global political and economic influence as the birthplace of the Islamic faith and by virtue of its large oil reserves. Close U.S.-Saudi official relations have survived a series of challenges since the 1940s, and, in recent years, shared concerns over Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and Iranian regional ambitions have provided a renewed logic for continued strategic cooperation. The ongoing political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa is changing the dynamics of long-running reform debates in the kingdom. The full effect of these events on the kingdom and on U.S.-Saudi relations has yet to be determined. Official U.S. concerns about human rights and religious freedom in the kingdom persist, and some Members of Congress have expressed skepticism about Saudi leaders’ commitment to combating religious extremism and supporting U.S. policy priorities in the Middle East and South Asia. However, Bush and Obama Administration officials have referred to the Saudi government as an important regional partner in recent years, and U.S. arms sales and related training programs have continued with congressional oversight. In October 2010, Congress was notified of the proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of dozens of F-15 fighter aircraft, helicopters, and related equipment and services, with a potential value of $60 billion.

Saudi leaders are now weighing a litany of economic and political reform demands from competing, energized groups of citizen activists. The prevailing atmosphere of regional unrest and increased international scrutiny of domestic political developments further complicates matters. Groups representing liberal, moderate, and conservative trends have submitted advisory petitions to King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz, and many recent reform statements refer to and echo past requests submitted to the king and his predecessor, the late King Fahd. Initiatives to organize nationwide protests on March 11, 2011 have gathered considerable nominal support, but also have been met with some popular criticism and official rejection. Some observers fear that public confrontations with unpredictable consequences could result from the apparent incompatibility of a government ban on all demonstrations and the political enthusiasm of activist groups. The Obama Administration has endorsed Saudi citizens’ rights to free assembly and free expression. Saudi leaders reject foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs.

Since taking power in 2005, King Abdullah has created greater public space for domestic social reform debates and has promoted the concept of a strong national identity among Saudis in the face of a determined domestic terrorism campaign. He also has codified royal succession rules, begun restructuring the justice system, and taken clear steps to exert stronger government control over religious authorities. Robust oil export revenues have strengthened the kingdom’s economic position and provide Saudi leaders with significant financial resources to meet domestic investment needs and provide social benefits. In this context, the United States and Saudi Arabia continue to grapple with a core challenge identified by the 9/11 Commission in its final report: defining a broader bilateral relationship that “leaders on both sides are prepared to publicly defend.” The Obama Administration has engaged the Saudi government as a strategic partner in efforts to promote regional stability and to defeat Al Qaeda, and current U.S. policy initiatives seek to help Saudi leaders address key domestic economic and security challenges. It remains to be seen whether these U.S. initiatives and, more importantly, Saudi leaders’ own reform efforts will enable the kingdom to meet the energy, education, employment, and security challenges that its citizens face. Shared challenges have long defined U.S.-Saudi relations, but questions about political, economic, and social reform may become more pressing in light of the calls for change that are now swirling around the kingdom.



Date of Report: March 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL33533
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Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Protests that erupted in Bahrain following the uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, demonstrate that Shiite grievances over the distribution of power and economic opportunities were not satisfied by previous efforts to include the Shiite majority in governance. Possibly because of concerns that a rise to power of the Shiite opposition could jeopardize the extensive U.S. military cooperation with Bahrain, the Obama Administration criticized the early use of violence by the government but subsequently praised the Al Khalifa regime for its offer of a dialogue with the demonstrators. It did not call for the King to step down, and Administration contacts with his government are widely credited for the decision of the regime to cease using force against the protesters as of February 19, 2011. However, as protests escalated in March 2011, Bahrain’s government, contrary to the advice of the Obama Administration, invited security assistance from other neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and subsequently moved to end the large gatherings. Some believe the crackdown has largely ended prospects for a negotiated political solution in Bahrain, and could widen the conflict to the broader Gulf region.

The 2011 unrest, in which some opposition factions have escalated their demands in response to the initial use of force by the government, comes four months after the October 23, 2010, parliamentary election. That election, no matter the outcome, would not have unseated the ruling Al Khalifa family from power, but the Shiite population was hoping that winning a majority in the elected lower house could give it greater authority. In advance of the elections, the government launched a wave of arrests intended to try to discredit some of the hard-line Shiite leadership as tools of Iran. On the other hand, Bahrain’s Shiite oppositionists, and many outside experts, accuse the government of inflating the intensity of contacts between Iran and the opposition in order to justify the use of force against Bahraini Shiites.

Unrest in Bahrain directly affects U.S. national security interests. Bahrain, in exchange for a tacit U.S. security guarantee, has provided key support for U.S. interests by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years and by providing facilities and small numbers of personnel for U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bahraini facilities have been pivotal to U.S. strategy to deter any Iranian aggression as well as to interdict the movement of terrorists and weapons-related technology on Gulf waterways. The United States has designated Bahrain as a “major non-NATO ally,” and it provides small amounts of security assistance to Bahrain. On other regional issues such as the Arab-Israeli dispute, Bahrain has tended to defer to Saudi Arabia or other powers to take the lead in formulating proposals or representing the position of the Persian Gulf states, collectively.

Fueling Shiite unrest is the fact that Bahrain is generally poorer than most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies, in large part because Bahrain has largely run out of crude oil reserves. It has tried to compensate through diversification, particularly in the banking sector and some manufacturing. In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169).



Date of Report: March 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: 95-1013
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Stated U.S. policy is to ensure that Afghanistan will not again become a base for terrorist attacks against the United States. Following three policy reviews on Afghanistan, the latest in December 2010, the Obama Administration asserts that it is pursuing a well-resourced and integrated military-civilian strategy intended to pave the way for a gradual transition to Afghan leadership beginning in July 2011 and to be completed by the end of 2014. Amid widespread doubts that Afghan governance and security institutions will be strong enough to protect themselves by that time, U.S. officials say that the U.S. intent is for a long term relationship with Afghanistan that might include U.S. military involvement long after 2014. A total of 51,000 additional U.S. forces were authorized by the two reviews, which has brought U.S. troop numbers to their current level of about 100,000, with partner forces adding about 41,000.

The summary of the 2010 review, released December 16, 2010, states that insurgent momentum has been blunted but that gains remain “fragile and reversible.” U.N. assessments and some outside experts are more pessimistic than U.S. official views, asserting that the insurgents have expanded their presence in northern Afghanistan and will reassert themselves as international forces draw down. Because of the lack of certainty of the durability of reported progress, the pace of any transition to Afghan security leadership is likely to be gradual. In order to permit a more rapid transition, the top U.S. and NATO commander, General David Petraeus, is attempting to accelerate local security solutions and to step up the use of air strikes and special forces operations to compel Taliban commanders to consider a negotiated settlement. However, there are major concerns among Afghanistan’s minorities and among its women that reconciliation, if it were to occur, might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001.

Many strategists, using lessons learned from other U.S.-led campaigns, doubt that Afghanistan can be rendered sufficiently stable unless militants are denied safe haven in Pakistan. That debate raises the question of the degree to which Pakistan envisions Afghanistan as part of its strategy to avoid encirclement by or pressure from Pakistan’s historic rival, India. Nonetheless, Afghanistan is achieving ever higher degrees of economic and political integration with its neighbors in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Others believe that the crucial question is the quality and extent of Afghan governance. In particular, President Hamid Karzai’s failure to forcefully confront governmental corruption has caused a loss of Afghan support for his government. Others believe that governance is expanding and improving slowly and does not constitute an impediment to the U.S.-led transition plan. Still others say that strong economic growth and economic development might be sufficient to win the support of the population. Several major mining, agricultural export, and even energy development programs, mostly funded by private investment rather than international aid donors, have gotten under way in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration or contract award. Additional development has been accomplished with foreign, particularly U.S., help: through the end of FY2010, the United States has provided over $54.5 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $30 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. For FY2012, about $18 billion in aid (including train and equip) is requested, in addition to about $100 billion for U.S. military operations there. (See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.)



Date of Report: March 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 94
Order Number: RL30588
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians


Susan G. Chesser
Information Research Specialist

This report collects statistics from a variety of sources on casualties sustained during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which began on October 7, 2001, and is ongoing. OEF actions take place primarily in Afghanistan; however, OEF casualties also includes American casualties in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Yemen.

Casualty data of U.S. military forces are compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), as tallied from the agency’s press releases. Also included are statistics on those wounded but not killed. Statistics may be revised as circumstances are investigated and as records are processed through the U.S. military’s casualty system. More frequent updates are available at DOD’s website at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/ under “Casualty Update.”

A detailed casualty summary of U.S. military forces that includes data on deaths by cause, as well as statistics on soldiers wounded in action, is available at the following DOD website: http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/castop.htm.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not post casualty statistics of the military forces of partner countries on the ISAF website at http://www.isaf.nato.int/. ISAF press releases state that it is ISAF policy to defer to the relevant national authorities to provide notice of any fatality. For this reason, this report uses fatality data of coalition forces as compiled by CNN.com and posted online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/oef.casualties/index.html.

Reporting on casualties of Afghans did not begin until 2007, and a variety of entities now report the casualties of civilians and security forces members. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports casualty data of Afghan civilians semiannually, and the U.S. Department of Defense occasionally includes civilian casualty figures within its reports on Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, http://www.aihrc.org.af/ 2010_eng/, and the Afghan Rights Monitor, http://www.arm.org.af/, are local watchdog organizations that periodically publish reports regarding civilian casualties. From July 2009 through April 2010, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) included statistics of casualties of members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in its quarterly reports to Congress. SIGAR has ceased this practice, and there is no other published compilation of these statistics. This report now derives casualty figures of Afghan soldiers and police from the press accounts of the Reuters “Factbox: Security Developments in Afghanistan” series, the Pajhwok Afghan News agency. Both services attribute their reported information to officials of the NATO-led ISAF or local Afghan officials. Pajhwok Afghan News frequently concludes its accounts with statements from representatives of the Taliban, however, these figures are not included in this report.

Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact.



Date of Report: March 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number: R41084
Price: $19.95

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The UAE’s relatively open borders, economy, and society have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East while producing financial excesses, social ills such as prostitution and human trafficking, and relatively lax controls on sensitive technologies acquired from the West. The UAE government is authoritarian, although it allows substantial informal citizen participation and consensus-building. The openness of its society and its economic wealth have allowed the UAE to largely avoid the popular unrest in the Middle East thus far. What could cause full change that is the perception that members of the elite (the ruling families of the seven emirates and clans allied with them) routinely obtain favored treatment in court cases, obtain access to lucrative business opportunities, and exert preponderant influence on national decisions.

Until now, political reform has been limited and halting. After several years of resisting electoral processes similar to those instituted by other Gulf states, and despite an absence of popular pressure for elections, the UAE undertook its first electoral process for its consultative “Federal National Council” in December 2006. The process was criticized as far from instituting Westernstyle democratic processes, because the electorate was limited to about 1% of the citizenry, and it voted for only half of the membership of the body. The other half of the body continues to be appointed. Possibly to try to head off any unrest, in March 2011 the government altered rules for the September 2011 election process that will allow more citizens to participate in the voting. The government has not announced an expansion of the FNC’s powers, which some intellectuals seek.

Partly because of substantial UAE federal government financial intervention and ample financial reserves, the political and social climate remained calm through the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and recession. The downturn hit Dubai emirate particularly hard and called into question its strategy of rapid, investment-fueled development, especially of luxury projects. Many expatriate workers left UAE after widespread layoffs, particularly in the financial and real estate sectors, and the decline affected property investors and the economies of several neighboring countries, including Afghanistan. The downturn also touched Afghanistan in the form of major losses among large shareholders of Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest private banking institution. At the outset of 2011, however, some economists were becoming more optimistic that Dubai emirate was poised for a rebound.

For the Obama Administration and many in Congress, there are concerns about the UAE oversight and management of a complex and technically advanced initiative such as a nuclear power program. This was underscored by dissatisfaction among some members of Congress with a U.S.-UAE civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. The agreement was signed on May 21, 2009, and submitted to Congress that day. It entered into force on December 17, 2009. However, U.S. concerns about potential leakage of U.S. and other advanced technologies through the UAE to Iran, in particular, are far from alleviated. For details and analysis of the U.S.-UAE nuclear agreement and legislation concerning that agreement, see CRS Report R40344, The United Arab Emirates Nuclear Program and Proposed U.S. Nuclear Cooperation, by Christopher M. Blanchard and Paul K. Kerr.



Date of Report: March 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RS21852
Price: $29.95

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