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The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: Commentary Magazine referred to this article as “Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory.”  I am reminded of the saying: “paranoids can have real enemies.”  There are conspiracies.  The CIA, for example, has been “conspiring,” both at home and abroad since the end of WWII.  Hersch has based most of this report on a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) document that the DIA says never existed.  Someone is lying.  You will have to decide for yourself.

None of this surprises me.  What I really find interesting is that the real hawk when it came to the near all-out attack on Syria was none other than President Obama himself (with help from Secretary of State John Kerry, the country’s number one “diplomat”).  It was the generals and the Pentagon that didn’t want to go to war.  How’s that for irony?  And, while on the subject of irony, it took the neo-Stalinist Putin to bail Obama out from what likely would have been a Middle East holocaust.

 

Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

*

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

*

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

4 April

What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis March 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Russia, Ukraine.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: This article lays out in detail the overall geopolitical strategy of the most reactionary hawkish elements within the Obama government, including Hillary Clinton; and puts the Ukraine crisis in a broader perspective.  This situation is complex and has historical roots that get ignored in the main stream media which, for analysis, substitutes cheer leading  for U.S. interests, which have absolutely nothing to do with democracy, not to mention the best interests of the Ukrainian, Russian or American people.

 

 

President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.

The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a regionin southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.

 

President Barack Obama discusses the crisis in Ukraine for 90 minutes on March 1, 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (White House photo/Pete Souza)

Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.

Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.

If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.

The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.

U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.

The Rise of Obama

The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.

Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.

Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.

So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.

From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.

Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.

Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.

In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).

Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.

Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.

For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]

Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]

Unorthodox Foreign Policy

Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.

Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.

But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.

Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.

Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.

NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]

State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.

Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.

But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.

Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.

By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.

“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.

As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.

With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.

With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.

Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]

Separating Obama from Putin

The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.

It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.

But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”

The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.

Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”

The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.

But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.

By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.

“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”

The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.

Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.

The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.

Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.  … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.

As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.

That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

What The Government Shutdown Teaches Us About the Afghanistan War October 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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An Iraq war veteran’s perspective

By Mike Prysner, VFP Board Member and former U.S. Army corporal and Iraq war veteran.

Let’s look at this debate and the shutdown for what it really is, and what the attitudes about the politicians involved teach us about their management of our lives.

For veterans and service members, the government shut down means the closing down of many essential services. The Veterans Benefits Administration will be unable to process education and rehabilitation benefits, which are critical to so many vets being able to pay their bills. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals will be unable to hold hearings, extending our already outrageous wait period even longer.

If the shutdown continues, the 3.6 million veterans who receive disability and compensation payments for wounds in service—many of whom completely rely on these paychecks to eat—will not be paid. “Thank you for your service”?

The Republicans, on their quest to attack all social programs, civil rights and social rights, are mad that 50 million people will have access to healthcare who didn’t before. This is their opportunity to rally their base against “big government” to pad their pockets from lobbyist friends and boost their anti-worker election strategy.

The Democratic Party is cool with the shutdown. Instead of fighting the right-wing assault that will affect millions, they’re excited to use this towards their election strategy, too, with new ammunition to paint the Republicans as causing hardship for the “middle class”—so they’re happy to wait it out. No rush for them.

So these Congressmen, who are mostly millionaires and work only around 135 days out of the year, playing a political chess game and in their rich-guy spat consider our lives fair game to throw on the table. Our lives and the lives of our families are expendable, to enrich the lives and careers of these rich politicians.

These same politicians gush endlessly over loving the troops and veterans, especially when it comes to justifying multi-billion-dollar contracts to defense corporations—like the recent 1.2 billion (yes, billion) dollar deal to buy 48 missiles for the United Arab Emirates. Seems like our tax money well spent, if you’re a Lockheed Martin CEO or a prince in the UAE. (NPR, Sept. 23, 2013)

At home and abroad, their careers more important than our lives

U.S. troops are now dying and loosing
limbs patrolling areas the generals and
politicians knowwe will abandon.

Now the let’s look at how the politicians take this same attitude in the government shutdown to the war in Afghanistan. We’re about to mark its 12th year anniversary. The vast majority of Americans oppose it. But Congress has no qualms about approving funds to keep that war going endlessly.

Those same politicians know and acknowledge from their classified foreign policy briefings that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won. Just take it from the general who commanded the war (and the CIA), David Petraeus, when he thought nobody was listening: “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. … This is the kind of fight we’re in for our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

They tell us we’re fighting and dying and killing to keep the Taliban from coming back to power. But that isn’t actually true. The U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban behind the scenes and begging them to join a national unity government (i.e., putting them in power).

But they also know and acknowledge that the Taliban, bolstered by a national, multi-dimensional resistance movement against the U.S./NATO occupation, don’t really care about the offers that include bowing to the U.S. military, because they’re committed to a long war and know, like the U.S. commanders, that they’ve created a no-win situation for the U.S. military effort.

The people of the United States do not support this ridiculous exercise and the politicians also know that the U.S. must withdraw from Afghanistan. But they don’t want to do it right away because none of them want to take responsibility for telling the truth and saying that the war is lost and that we need to leave immediately.

Neither the politicians nor the generals want to even suggest that they would tarnish the image of the U.S. military as the most invincible, powerful force ever known. They use that a lot, in their dealings with many other countries, as we know.

So they keep us there. They “end” the war in a “phased withdrawal” that lasts several years. That way they can maintain the myth that the U.S. is not retreating from the battlefield without “victory.” We die and get badly wounded just so they can save face. What makes this even more disgusting is that these politicians are mostly privileged millionaires who, except in the rarest case, never see their children go to war nor served themselves.

In the meantime, they get bought dinner at 5-star steakhouses with their defense contractor friends, going home to their families in big homes, with no worries about putting their rich-mans-club career in jeopardy. At that same time, we do something very different.

We kill the time losing legs on pointless patrols through fields we know will return to the hands of the people resisting in them; we spend the time getting blown apart by rockets in outposts we know will close down when it is politically convenient for those rich politicians.

While the generals and politicians order us to retreat in slow motion, to protect their image and the endless flow of cash to the defense industry, countless lives and limbs are sacrificed.

Like their current posturing match, they are also playing a political chess game in Afghanistan, in which our lives are expendable to suit theirs.

The government shutdown charade and the saving-face strategy in Afghanistan are both examples of how our “leaders” are incapable of managing our lives, and why we shouldn’t follow their ridiculous orders.

Click here to learn about the movement of veterans and service members advocating for the right to refuse to fight in Afghanistan.

The Crime of Truth: Obama’s Persecution of the Peacemaker March 11, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, War.
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If any one person can be said to have ended the direct involvement of the United States military in Iraq, it is not the man whose champions  claim this deed as one of his glorious accomplishments: Barack Obama. As we all know (and 99 percent of us have forgotten), Obama fought  doggedly to extend the murderous occupation of Iraq into the indefinite  future.
No, if you had to choose one person whose actions were  the most instrumental in ending the overt phase of the war, it would not the commander-in-chief of the most powerful war machine in world  history, but a lowly foot-soldier — mocked, shackled, tortured,  defenseless — Bradley Manning

William Blum points this out in his latest “Anti-Empire Report,” as he recaps the impact of the revelations made by Manning and  Wikileaks. He begins by noting a painful irony: Manning’s own defense  team is playing down the heroic nature of this act and instead insisting that such a “sexually troubled” young man should never have been sent  to the homophobic environment of the American occupation force in the  first place. He was under too much stress, acting irrationally, they  say, and thus should not be held accountable for his actions.

 

As Blum  notes, this defense — though doubtless well-intentioned, a desperate  bid to keep Obama’s massive war machine from crushing Manning completely under its wheels — partakes of the same deceitful twisting of reality  that has characterized the entire war crime from the beginning. Blum:

“It’s unfortunate and disturbing that  Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal  defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are  what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of  classified government files to Wikileaks. They should not be presenting  him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or  traitor. He should be hailed as a national hero. Yes, even when the  lawyers are talking to the military mind. May as well try to penetrate  that mind and find the freest and best person living there. Bradley also wears a military uniform.

“Here are Manning’s own words from an  online chat: ‘If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the  public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in  Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people  to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make  informed decisions as a public.’
Is the world to believe that  these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person? Do not the  Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty  than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes  of that government?”

Every scrap of evidence presented about Manning’s alleged crimes  makes it clear that he was acting from rational, well-considered  motives, based on the highest ideals. Indeed, wasn’t Manning simply  following the words of Jesus Christ — words carved in stone, with the  most bitter irony, in the entranceway of the original headquarters of  the CIA: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you  free.”
In any case, as Blum points out, the effects of Manning’s actions were far-reaching:

“It was after seeing American war crimes  such as those depicted in the video ‘Collateral Murder’ and documented  in the ‘Iraq War Logs,’ made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the  Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes.  The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering  several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the  wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the  attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in  Philadelphia.
“The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal  jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law –  something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many  countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama  administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.
“If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today …”

But he is not a free man, of course. It is very likely that he will  never be free again. He will spend the rest of his life in a federal  prison for the unforgivable crime of telling the truth to people who  don’t want to hear it.

 
NOTE: A tribute to Bradley and his fellow truth-tellers can be found here: The Good Corporal: To the Exposers of Power and the Troublers of Dreams.

 

This one goes out to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds, and “all those who speak the hard truth to the state.”

 

The Good Corporal

Good corporal, good corporal, now what have you done?

You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.

 You’ve opened the door where the dark deeds go on,

Where the fine words of freedom are broken like bones.

Good corporal, good corporal, you tell us of crime

Done in the name of your country and mine.

Of torture and murder, corruption and lies,

In a land where no echo will carry the cries.

Good corporal, good corporal, now who do we blame

For the horrors you bring us, for this undying shame?

Should we lay all the guilt on the grunts with no name,

Or the high and the mighty who rigged up this game?
Good corporal, good corporal, don’t you know the fate

Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State

And all who trouble the people’s sweet dreams?

They’re mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams.

Good corporal, good corporal, what have you done?

You’ve laid out the dead in the light of the sun.

  © 2010 by Chris Floyd

Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more…)

The Anti-Empire Report

March 5th, 2012   by William Blum www.killinghope.org

The Saga of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks, to be put to ballad and film

“Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there … They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.” (Associated Press, February 3)

It’s unfortunate and disturbing that Bradley Manning’s attorneys have chosen to consistently base his legal defense upon the premise that personal problems and shortcomings are what motivated the young man to turn over hundreds of thousands of classified government files to Wikileaks.  They should not be presenting him that way any more than Bradley should be tried as a criminal or traitor.  He should be hailed as a national hero.  Yes, even when the lawyers are talking to the military mind.  May as well try to penetrate that mind and find the freest and best person living there.  Bradley also wears a military uniform.

Here are Manning’s own words from an online chat: “If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? … God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. … I want people to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Is the world to believe that these are the words of a disturbed and irrational person?  Do not the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Geneva Conventions speak of a higher duty than blind loyalty to one’s government, a duty to report the war crimes of that government?

Below is a listing of some of the things revealed in the State Department cables and Defense Department files and videos.  For exposing such embarrassing and less-than-honorable behavior, Bradley Manning of the United States Army and Julian Assange of Wikileaks may spend most of their remaining days in a modern dungeon, much of it while undergoing that particular form of torture known as “solitary confinement”.  Indeed, it has been suggested that the mistreatment of Manning has been for the purpose of making him testify against and implicating Assange.  Dozens of members of the American media and public officials have called for Julian Assange’s execution or assassination.  Under the new National Defense Authorization Act, Assange could well be kidnaped or assassinated.  What century are we living in?  What world?

It was after seeing American war crimes such as those depicted in the video “Collateral Murder” and documented in the “Iraq War Logs,” made public by Manning and Wikileaks, that the Iraqis refused to exempt US forces from prosecution for future crimes.  The video depicts an American helicopter indiscriminately murdering several non-combatants in addition to two Reuters journalists, and the wounding of two little children, while the helicopter pilots cheer the attacks in a Baghdad suburb like it was the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

The insistence of the Iraqi government on legal jurisdiction over American soldiers for violations of Iraqi law — something the United States rarely, if ever, accepts in any of the many countries where its military is stationed — forced the Obama administration to pull the remaining American troops from the country.

If Manning had committed war crimes in Iraq instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today, as are the many hundreds/thousands of American soldiers guilty of truly loathsome crimes in cities like Haditha, Fallujah, and other places whose names will live in infamy in the land of ancient Mesopotamia.

Besides playing a role in writing finis to the awful Iraq war, the Wikileaks disclosures helped to spark the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia.

When people in Tunisia read or heard of US Embassy cables revealing the extensive corruption and decadence of the extended ruling family there — one long and detailed cable being titled: “CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA: WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE” — how Washington’s support of Tunisian President Ben Ali was not really strong, and that the US would not support the regime in the event of a popular uprising, they took to the streets.

Here is a sample of some of the other Wikileaks revelations that make the people of the world wiser:

      • In 2009 Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano became the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays the leading role in the investigation of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons or is working only on peaceful civilian nuclear energy projects.  A US embassy cable of October 2009 said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency.  Amano reminded the [American] ambassador on several occasions that … he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
      • Russia refuted US claims that Iran has missiles that could target Europe.
      • The British government’s official inquiry into how it got involved in the Iraq War was deeply compromised by the government’s pledge to protect the Bush administration in the course of the inquiry.
      • A discussion between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and American Gen. David H. Petraeus in which Saleh indicated he would cover up the US role in missile strikes against al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.  “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Petraeus.
      • The US embassy in Madrid has had serious points of friction with the Spanish government and civil society: a) trying to get the criminal case dropped against three US soldiers accused of killing a Spanish television cameraman in Baghdad during a 2003 unprovoked US tank shelling of the hotel where he and other journalists were staying; b )torture cases brought by a Spanish NGO against six senior Bush administration officials, including former attorney general Alberto Gonzales; c) a Spanish government investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; d) a probe by a Spanish court into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for American extraordinary rendition (= torture) flights; e )continual criticism of the Iraq war by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, who eventually withdrew Spanish troops.
      • State Department officials at the United Nations, as well as US diplomats in various embassies, were assigned to gather as much of the following information as possible about UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, permanent security council representatives, senior UN staff, and foreign diplomats: e-mail and website addresses, internet user names and passwords,  personal encryption keys, credit card numbers, frequent flyer account numbers, work schedules, and biometric data.  US diplomats at the embassy in Asunción, Paraguay were asked to obtain dates, times and telephone numbers of calls received and placed by foreign diplomats from China, Iran and the Latin American leftist states of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.  US diplomats in Romania, Hungary and Slovenia were instructed to provide biometric information on “current and emerging leaders and advisers” as well as information about “corruption” and information about leaders’ health and “vulnerability”.  The UN directive also specifically asked for “biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats”. A similar cable to embassies in the Great Lakes region of Africa said biometric data included DNA, as well as iris scans and fingerprints.
      • A special “Iran observer” in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku reported on a dispute that played out during a meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.  An enraged Revolutionary Guard Chief of Staff, Mohammed Ali Jafari, allegedly got into a heated argument with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and slapped him in the face because the generally conservative president had, surprisingly, advocated freedom of the press.
      • The State Department, virtually alone in the Western Hemisphere, did not unequivocally condemn a June 28, 2009 military coup in Honduras, even though an embassy cable declared: “there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch”.  US support of the coup government has been unwavering ever since.
      • The leadership of the Swedish Social Democratic Party — neutral, pacifist, and liberal Sweden, so the long-standing myth goes — visited the US embassy in Stockholm and asked for advice on how best to sell the war in Afghanistan to a skeptical Swedish public, asking if the US could arrange for a member of the Afghan government to come visit Sweden and talk up NATO’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of Afghan children, and so forth.  [For some years now Sweden has been, in all but name, a member of NATO and the persecutor of Julian Assange, the latter to please a certain Western power.]
      • The US pushed to influence Swedish wiretapping laws so communication passing through the Scandinavian country could be intercepted.  The American interest was clear: Eighty per cent of all the internet traffic from Russia travels through Sweden.
      • President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy told US embassy officials in Brussels in January 2010 that no one in Europe believed in Afghanistan anymore.  He said Europe was going along in deference to the United States and that there must be results in 2010, or “Afghanistan is over for Europe.”
      • Iraqi officials saw Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to the integrity and cohesion of their fledgling democratic state.  The Iraqi leaders were keen to assure their American patrons that they could easily “manage” the Iranians, who wanted stability; but that the Saudis wanted a “weak and fractured” Iraq, and were even “fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government”.  The Saudi King, moreover, wanted a US military strike on Iran.
      • Saudi Arabia in 2007 threatened to pull out of a Texas oil refinery investment unless the US government intervened to stop Saudi Aramco from being sued in US courts for alleged oil price fixing.  The deputy Saudi oil minister said that he wanted the US to grant Saudi Arabia sovereign immunity from lawsuits
      • Saudi donors were the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba,  which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
      • Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial 1996 drug trial involving children with meningitis.
      • Oil giant Shell claimed to have “inserted staff” and fully infiltrated Nigeria’s government.
      • The Obama administration renewed military ties with Indonesia in spite of serious concerns expressed by American diplomats about the Indonesian military’s activities in the province of West Papua, expressing fears that the Indonesian government’s neglect, rampant corruption and human rights abuses were stoking unrest in the region.
      • US officials collaborated with Lebanon’s defense minister to spy on, and allow Israel to potentially attack, Hezbollah in the weeks that preceded a violent May 2008 military confrontation in Beirut.
      • Gabon president Omar Bongo allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds from central African states, channeling some of it to French political parties in support of Nicolas Sarkozy.
      • Cables from the US embassy in Caracas in 2006 asked the US Secretary of State to warn President Hugo Chávez against a Venezuelan military intervention to defend the Cuban revolution in the eventuality of an American invasion after Castro’s death.
      • The United States was concerned that the leftist Latin American television network, Telesur, headquartered in Venezuela, would collaborate with al Jazeera of Qatar, whose coverage of the Iraq War had gotten under the skin of the Bush administration.
      • The Vatican told the United States it wanted to undermine the influence of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in Latin America because of concerns about the deterioration of Catholic power there.  It feared that Chávez was seriously damaging relations between the Catholic church and the state by identifying the church hierarchy in Venezuela as part of the privileged class.
      • The Holy See welcomed President Obama’s new outreach to Cuba and hoped for further steps soon, perhaps to include prison visits for the wives of the Cuban Five.  Better US-Cuba ties would deprive Hugo Chávez of one of his favorite screeds and could help restrain him in the region.
      • The wonderful world of diplomats: In 2010, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the question of visas for two wives of members of the “Cuban Five”.  “Brown requested that the wives (who have previously been refused visas to visit the U.S.) be granted visas so that they could visit their husbands in prison. … Our subsequent queries to Number 10 indicate that Brown made this request as a result of a commitment that he had made to UK trade unionists, who form part of the Labour Party’s core constituency.  Now that the request has been made, Brown does not intend to pursue this matter further.  There is no USG action required.”
      • UK Officials concealed from Parliament how the US was allowed to bring cluster bombs onto British soil in defiance of a treaty banning the housing of such weapons.
      • A cable was sent by an official at the US Interests Section in Havana in July 2006, during the runup to the Non-Aligned Movement conference.  He noted that he was actively looking for “human interest stories and other news that shatters the myth of Cuban medical prowess”.  [Presumably to be used to weaken support for Cuba amongst the member nations at the conference.]
      • Most of the men sent to Guantánamo prison were innocent people or low-level operatives; many of the innocent individuals were sold to the US for bounty.
      • DynCorp, a powerful American defense contracting firm that claims almost $2 billion per year in revenue from US tax dollars, threw a “boy-play” party for Afghan police recruits.  (Yes, it’s what you think.)
      • Even though the Bush and Obama Administrations repeatedly maintained publicly that there was no official count of civilian casualties, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs showed that this claim was untrue.
      • Known Egyptian torturers received training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
      • The United States put great pressure on the Haitian government to not go ahead with various projects, with no regard for the welfare of the Haitian people.  A 2005 cable stressed continued US insistence that all efforts must be made to keep former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the United States had overthrown the previous year, from returning to Haiti or influencing the political process.  In 2006, Washington’s target was President René Préval for his agreeing to a deal with Venezuela to join Caracas’s Caribbean oil alliance, PetroCaribe, under which Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60 percent up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 percent interest.  And in 2009, the State Department backed American corporate opposition to an increase in the minimum wage for Haitian workers, the poorest paid in the Western Hemisphere.
      • The United States used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at the crucial 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.
      • Mahmoud Abbas, president of The Palestinian National Authority, and head of the Fatah movement, turned to Israel for help in attacking Hamas in Gaza in 2007.
      • The British government trained a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”.
      • A US military order directed American forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis.
      • The US was involved in the Australian government’s 2006 campaign to oust Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
      • A 2009 US cable said that police brutality in Egypt against common criminals was routine and pervasive, the police using force to extract confessions from criminals on a daily basis.
      • US diplomats pressured the German government to stifle the prosecution of CIA operatives who abducted and tortured Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen.  [El-Masri was kidnaped by the CIA while on vacation in Macedonia on December 31, 2003.  He was flown to a torture center in Afghanistan, where he was beaten, starved, and sodomized.  The US government released him on a hilltop in Albania five months later without money or the means to go home.]
      • 2005 cable re “widespread severe torture” by India, the widely-renowned “world’s largest democracy”: The International Committee of the Red Cross reported: “The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-GOI [Government of India] dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that New Delhi condones torture.”  Washington was briefed on this matter by the ICRC years ago.  What did the United States, one of the world’s leading practitioners and teachers of torture in the past century, do about it?  American leaders, including the present ones, continued to speak warmly of “the world’s largest democracy”; as if torture and one of the worst rates of poverty and child malnutrition in the world do not contradict the very idea of democracy.
      • The United States overturned a ban on training the Indonesian Kopassus army special forces — despite the Kopassus’s long history of arbitrary detention, torture and murder — after the Indonesian President threatened to derail President Obama’s trip to the country in November 2010.
      • Since at least 2006 the United States has been funding political opposition groups in Syria, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country.

William Blum is the author of:

      • Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
      • Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
      • West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
      • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org

A Secret War in 120 Countries: The Pentagon’s New Power Elite August 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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Published on Thursday, August 4, 2011 by TomDispatch.com

  by  Nick Turse

Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission.  Now, say that 70 times and you’re done… for the day.  Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries.  This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.  Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

After a U.S. Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight.  It was atypical.  While it’s well known that U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency.  By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120.  “We do a lot of traveling — a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently.  This global presence — in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged — provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

The Rise of the Military’s Secret Military

Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran, in which eight U.S. service members died, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was established in 1987.  Having spent the post-Vietnam years distrusted and starved for money by the regular military, special operations forces suddenly had a single home, a stable budget, and a four-star commander as their advocate.  Since then, SOCOM has grown into a combined force of startling proportions.  Made up of units from all the service branches, including the Army’s “Green Berets” and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, and Marine Corps Special Operations teams, in addition to specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, civil affairs personnel, para-rescuemen, and even battlefield air-traffic controllers and special operations weathermen, SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialized and secret missions.  These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

One of its key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists.  Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes American citizens.  It has been operating an extra-legal “kill/capture” campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.”

This assassination program has been carried out by commando units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force as well as via drone strikes as part of covert wars in which the CIA is also involved in countries like Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen.  In addition, the command operates a network of secret prisons, perhaps as many as 20 black sites in Afghanistan alone, used for interrogating high-value targets.

Growth Industry

From a force of about 37,000 in the early 1990s, Special Operations Command personnel have grown to almost 60,000, about a third of whom are career members of SOCOM; the rest have other military occupational specialties, but periodically cycle through the command.  Growth has been exponential since September 11, 2001, as SOCOM’s baseline budget almost tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.3 billion.  If you add in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has actually more than quadrupled to $9.8 billion in these years.  Not surprisingly, the number of its personnel deployed abroad has also jumped four-fold.  Further increases, and expanded operations, are on the horizon.

Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, the former head of the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command — the last of the service branches to be incorporated into SOCOM in 2006 — indicated, for instance, that he foresees a doubling of his former unit of 2,600.  “I see them as a force someday of about 5,000, like equivalent to the number of SEALs that we have on the battlefield. Between [5,000] and 6,000,” he said at a June breakfast with defense reporters in Washington.  Long-term plans already call for the force to increase by 1,000.

During his recent Senate confirmation hearings, Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, the incoming SOCOM chief and outgoing head of JSOC (which he commanded during the bin Laden raid) endorsed a steady manpower growth rate of 3% to 5% a year, while also making a pitch for even more resources, including additional drones and the construction of new special operations facilities.

A former SEAL who still sometimes accompanies troops into the field, McRaven expressed a belief that, as conventional forces are drawn down in Afghanistan, special ops troops will take on an ever greater role.  Iraq, he added, would benefit if elite U.S forces continued to conduct missions there past the December 2011 deadline for a total American troop withdrawal.  He also assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that “as a former JSOC commander, I can tell you we were looking very hard at Yemen and at Somalia.”

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, the outgoing chief of Special Operations Command, pointed to a composite satellite image of the world at night.  Before September 11, 2001, the lit portions of the planet — mostly the industrialized nations of the global north — were considered the key areas. “But the world changed over the last decade,” he said.  “Our strategic focus has shifted largely to the south… certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren’t.”

To that end, Olson launched “Project Lawrence,” an effort to increase cultural proficiencies — like advanced language training and better knowledge of local history and customs — for overseas operations.  The program is, of course, named after the British officer, Thomas Edward Lawrence (better known as “Lawrence of Arabia”), who teamed up with Arab fighters to wage a guerrilla war in the Middle East during World War I.  Mentioning Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, and Indonesia, Olson added that SOCOM now needed “Lawrences of Wherever.”

While Olson made reference to only 51 countries of top concern to SOCOM, Col. Nye told me that on any given day, Special Operations forces are deployed in approximately 70 nations around the world.  All of them, he hastened to add, at the request of the host government.  According to testimony by Olson before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, approximately 85% of special operations troops deployed overseas are in 20 countries in the CENTCOM area of operations in the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.  The others are scattered across the globe from South America to Southeast Asia, some in small numbers, others as larger contingents.

Special Operations Command won’t disclose exactly which countries its forces operate in.  “We’re obviously going to have some places where it’s not advantageous for us to list where we’re at,” says Nye.  “Not all host nations want it known, for whatever reasons they have — it may be internal, it may be regional.”

But it’s no secret (or at least a poorly kept one) that so-called black special operations troops, like the SEALs and Delta Force, are conducting kill/capture missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, while “white” forces like the Green Berets and Rangers are training indigenous partners as part of a worldwide secret war against al-Qaeda and other militant groups. In the Philippines, for instance, the U.S. spends $50 million a year on a 600-person contingent of Army Special Operations forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators, and others that carries out counterterrorist operations with Filipino allies against insurgent groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf.

Last year, as an analysis of SOCOM documents, open-source Pentagon information, and a database of Special Operations missions compiled by investigative journalist Tara McKelvey (for the Medill School of Journalism’s National Security Journalism Initiative) reveals, America’s most elite troops carried out joint-training exercises in Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Germany, Indonesia, Mali, Norway, Panama, and Poland.  So far in 2011, similar training missions have been conducted in the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Romania, Senegal, South Korea, and Thailand, among other nations.  In reality, Nye told me, training actually went on in almost every nation where Special Operations forces are deployed.  “Of the 120 countries we visit by the end of the year, I would say the vast majority are training exercises in one fashion or another.  They would be classified as training exercises.”

The Pentagon’s Power Elite

Once the neglected stepchildren of the military establishment, Special Operations forces have been growing exponentially not just in size and budget, but also in power and influence.  Since 2002, SOCOM has been authorized to create its own Joint Task Forces — like Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines — a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant commands like CENTCOM.  This year, without much fanfare, SOCOM also established its own Joint Acquisition Task Force, a cadre of equipment designers and acquisition specialists.

With control over budgeting, training, and equipping its force, powers usually reserved for departments (like the Department of the Army or the Department of the Navy), dedicated dollars in every Defense Department budget, and influential advocates in Congress, SOCOM is by now an exceptionally powerful player at the Pentagon.  With real clout, it can win bureaucratic battles, purchase cutting-edge technology, and pursue fringe research like electronically beaming messages into people’s heads or developing stealth-like cloaking technologies for ground troops.  Since 2001, SOCOM’s prime contracts awarded to small businesses — those that generally produce specialty equipment and weapons — have jumped six-fold.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, but operating out of theater commands spread out around the globe, including Hawaii, Germany, and South Korea, and active in the majority of countries on the planet, Special Operations Command is now a force unto itself.  As outgoing SOCOM chief Olson put it earlier this year, SOCOM “is a microcosm of the Department of Defense, with ground, air, and maritime components, a global presence, and authorities and responsibilities that mirror the Military Departments, Military Services, and Defense Agencies.”

Tasked to coordinate all Pentagon planning against global terrorism networks and, as a result, closely connected to other government agencies, foreign militaries, and intelligence services, and armed with a vast inventory of stealthy helicopters, manned fixed-wing aircraft, heavily-armed drones, high-tech guns-a-go-go speedboats, specialized Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, as well as other state-of-the-art gear (with more on the way), SOCOM represents something new in the military.  Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as “the president’s private army,” today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach.

In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.  Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.  Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral Olson: “I am convinced that the forces… are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer.”

Recently at the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Olson offered up similarly gilded comments and some misleading information, too, claiming that U.S. Special Operations forces were operating in just 65 countries and engaged in combat in only two of them.  When asked about drone strikes in Pakistan, he reportedly replied, “Are you talking about unattributed explosions?”

What he did let slip, however, was telling.  He noted, for instance, that black operations like the bin Laden mission, with commandos conducting heliborne night raids, were now exceptionally common.  A dozen or so are conducted every night, he said.  Perhaps most illuminating, however, was an offhand remark about the size of SOCOM.  Right now, he emphasized, U.S. Special Operations forces were approximately as large as Canada’s entire active duty military.  In fact, the force is larger than the active duty militaries of many of the nations where America’s elite troops now operate each year, and it’s only set to grow larger.

Americans have yet to grapple with what it means to have a “special” force this large, this active, and this secret — and they are unlikely to begin to do so until more information is available.  It just won’t be coming from Olson or his troops.  “Our access [to foreign countries] depends on our ability to not talk about it,” he said in response to questions about SOCOM’s secrecy.  When missions are subject to scrutiny like the bin Laden raid, he said, the elite troops object.  The military’s secret military, said Olson, wants “to get back into the shadows and do what they came in to do.”

This article is a collaboration between Alternet.org and TomDispatch.com.

© 2011 Nick Turse

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Nick Turse

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives and The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His website is Nick Turse.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

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Traitors (How Congress Profits from War) May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, War.
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‘When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not fighting a “war on terror”, you’re getting fleeced by Congress and crooked private contractors who are opposed to any “exit strategy”‘.

By Christopher Rice
(about the author)// March 27, 2011

opednews.com

In his opening statement, Gates (before Congress on March 2nd 2011) fervently appealed for funds requested by Gen. David
Petraeus for equipment to protect troops in Afghanistan. The money has been held up because it would be taken from a
project benefiting a major contributor to the committee chairman, Bill Young, R-Fa.
“Mr. Chairman, our troops need this force-protection equipment, and they need it now,” Gates pleaded. “Every day that goes
by without this equipment, the lives of our troops are at greater risk.”
He urged action “today” on the funds, admonishing: “We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs
or contractors.”
Gates warned that the military would “face a crisis” if Congress continues to fund the government with short-term spending
resolutions, or if it enacts the spending bill recently passed by House Republicans. (L.A. Times 3/6/2011) Gates said it
would leave the military unable “to properly carry out its mission, maintain readiness and prepare for the future.”
But the members of Congress could not function at such a high level of thought.
Gates couldn’t get the lawmakers to agree to his urgent request to shift $1.2 billion in Pentagon funds to protect soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan. He asked for the money a month before, but Young’s committee hadn’t acted.
Because Young objects to the money being taken away from the Army’s Humvee program. Never mind that the Army has more
Humvees than it wants. They are manufactured by AM General – which happens to be Young’s third-largest campaign
contributor. Its executives have funneled him more than $80,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Gates told Young that his delay was putting lives at risk, but the gentlemen from AM General was unmoved.
WHY ARE WE STILL AT WAR? FOLLOW THE MONEY….
Republican and Democratic lawmakers invested $161.3 million in companies under contract with the DoD
When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not fighting a “war on terror”, you’re getting fleeced by Congress and crooked private contractors who are opposed to any “exit strategy”.
The State Department’s inspector general says bomb-sniffing dogs used in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t being tested properly
and may not be able to detect explosives.
The inspector general said its review found that the companies hired to supply and train the dogs weren’t testing them for
the most commonly encountered explosives, increasing the chance of a dog missing a bomb in a vehicle or luggage. That puts
U.S. lives at risk. (The Sun 10/09/2010 AP)
The companies also used expired or contaminated materials for the scent tests.
Sources:
LA TIMES 3/6/2011 Dana Milbank “Congress earns low reputation”
The Sun 10/9/2010 AP “Bomb-sniffing dog tests fall short”

A more militarized CIA for a more militarized America April 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, War.
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Glenn Greenwald

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011 09:29 ET

 

AP
Gen. David Petraeus

The first four Directors of the CIA (from 1947-1953) were military officers, but since then, there has been a tradition (generally though imperfectly observed) of keeping the agency under civilian rather than military leadership. That’s why George Bush’s 2006 nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to the CIA provoked so many objections from Democrats (and even some Republicans).

The Hayden nomination triggered this comment from the current Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: “You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence. The CIA is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency.” The then-top Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, said “she hears concerns from civilian CIA professionals about whether the Defense Department is taking over intelligence operations” and “shares those concerns.” On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi cited tensions between the DoD and the CIA and said: “I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden worried that the CIA, with a General in charge, will “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department.” Even the current GOP Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, voiced the same concern about Hayden: “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”

Of course, like so many Democratic objections to Bush policies, that was then and this is now. Yesterday, President Obama announced — to very little controversy — that he was nominating Gen. David Petraeus to become the next CIA Director. The Petraeus nomination raises all the same concerns as the Hayden nomination did, but even more so: Hayden, after all, had spent his career in military intelligence and Washington bureaucratic circles and thus was a more natural fit for the agency; by contrast, Petraues is a pure military officer and, most of all, a war fighting commander with little background in intelligence. But in the world of the Obama administration, Petraeus’ militarized, warrior orientation is considered an asset for running the CIA, not a liability.

That’s because the CIA, under Obama, is more militarized than ever, as devoted to operationally fighting wars as anything else, including analyzing and gathering intelligence. This morning’s Washington Post article on the Petraeus nomination — headlined: “Petraeus would helm an increasingly militarized CIA” — is unusual in presenting such a starkly forthright picture of how militarized the U.S. has become under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner:

Gen. David H. Petraeus has served as commander in two wars launched by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. If confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus would effectively take command of a third — in Pakistan.

Petraeus’s nomination comes at a time when the CIA functions, more than ever in its history, as an extension of the nation’s lethal military force.

CIA teams operate alongside U.S. special operations forces in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Yemen. The agency has also built up a substantial paramilitary capability of its own. But perhaps most significantly, the agency is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones.

Since Obama took office there have been at least 192 drone missile strikes, killing as many as 1,890 militants, suspected terrorists and civilians. Petraeus is seen as a staunch supporter of the drone campaign, even though it has so far failed to eliminate the al-Qaeda threat or turn the tide of the Afghan war. . . .Petraeus has spent relatively little time in Washington over the past decade and doesn’t have as much experience with managing budgets or running Washington bureaucracies as CIA predecessors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden. But Petraeus has quietly lobbied for the CIA post, drawn in part by the chance for a position that would keep him involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.

 

It’s rare for American media outlets to list all of our “wars” this way, including the covert ones (and that list does not even include the newest one, in Libya, where drone attacks are playing an increasingly prominent role as well). But Barack Obama does indeed preside over numerous American wars in the Muslim world, including some that he started (Libya and Yemen) and others which he’s escalated (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Because our wars are so often fought covertly, the CIA has simply become yet another arm of America’s imperial war-fighting machine, thus making it the perfect fit for Bush and Obama’s most cherished war-fighting General to lead (Petraeus will officially retire from the military to take the position, though that obviously does not change who he is, how he thinks, and what his loyalties are).

One reason why it’s so valuable to keep the CIA under civilian control is because its independent intelligence analyst teams often serve as one of the very few capable bureaucratic checks against the Pentagon and its natural drive for war. That was certainly true during the Bush years when factions in the CIA rebelled against the dominant neocon Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith clique, but it’s been true recently as well:

Others voiced concern that Petraeus is too wedded to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the troop-heavy, counterinsurgency strategy he designed — to deliver impartial assessments of those wars as head of the CIA.

Indeed, over the past year the CIA has generally presented a more pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than Petraeus has while he has pushed for an extended troop buildup.

 

That’s why, noted The Post, there is “some grumbling among CIA veterans opposed to putting a career military officer in charge of an agency with a long tradition of civilian leadership.” But if one thing is clear in Washington, it’s that neither political party is willing or even able to stand up to the military establishment, and especially not a General as sanctified in Washington circles as Petraeus. It’s thus unsurprising that “Petraeus seems unlikely to encounter significant opposition from Capitol Hill” and that, without promising to vote for his confirmation, Sen. Feinstein — who raised such a ruckus over the appointment of Hayden — yesterday “signaled support for Petraeus.”

The nomination of Petraeus doesn’t change much; it merely reflects how Washington is run. That George Bush’s favorite war-commanding General — who advocated for and oversaw the Surge in Iraq — is also Barack Obama’s favorite war-commanding General, and that Obama is now appointing him to run a nominally civilian agency that has been converted into an “increasingly militarized” arm of the American war-fighting state, says all one needs to know about the fully bipartisan militarization of American policy. There’s little functional difference between running America’s multiple wars as a General and running them as CIA Director because American institutions in the National Security State are all devoted to the same overarching cause: Endless War.

* * * * *

I’m excited to be speaking tonight at FAIR’s 25th anniversary event in New York, along with Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and Michael Moore. The event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is sold out, but will be live-streamed in its entirety here

How Many Afghan Kids Need to Die to Make the News? March 8, 2011

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http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4257

3/8/11

The number of Afghan boys gathering firewood killed by a March 1 U.S./NATO helicopter attack in Kunar Province: Nine.

The number of stories about the killing of the nine children on ABC, CBS or NBC morning or evening news shows (as of March 6): Two.

One was an 80-word report on NBC Nightly News (3/2/11), the other a brief ABC World News Sunday story (3/6/11) about Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s “harsh words for the U.S.” after the “mistaken killing of nine Afghan boys in an airstrike.”

On the PBS NewsHour? Two brief mentions (3/2/11, 3/7/11), both during the “other news of the day” segment.

On NPR? Nothing. On the”liberal” MSNBC? Zero. Fox News Channel? Zero.

CNN had several mentions of the killings. In one report (3/2/11), correspondent Michael Holmes remarked: “It does a lot of damage to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. You don’t win hearts and minds that way.”

In the Washington Post (3/3/11), the children’s deaths were called “the latest irritant” in the relationship between U.S./NATO forces and the Afghan government. Civilian casualties are “a sore point,” and U.S. commander David Petraeus “has had to walk a fine line. Civilian casualties undermine NATO’s counterinsurgency mission here by angering Afghan civilians and bolstering the Taliban’s attempt to portray foreign troops as ruthless invaders.”

In contrast to the corporate media, Democracy Now! (3/3/11) talked about the attack as part of the larger story of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. “It was at least the third instance in two weeks in which the Afghan government accused NATO forces of killing large numbers of civilians in airstrikes,” host Juan Gonzalez noted in introducing a discussion. “An Afghan government panel is still investigating claims some 65 people, including 40 children, were killed in a U.S.-led attack last week.”

It is often said that Afghanistan is largely a forgotten war–a critique usually meant as a comment on the lack of attention paid to the hardships of U.S. military personnel. Far less consideration is granted to the Afghans who are suffering in far greater numbers

Afghans Overwhelmingly Want US Troops Out – and Soon December 12, 2010

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Thursday 09 December 2010

by: Jean MacKenzie  |  GlobalPost | Report

Afghans Overwhelmingly Want US Troops Out - and Soon
Two young Afghan boys watch a group of armored vehicles. (Photo: MCpl Kevin Paul / lafrancevi)

Kabul, Afghanistan — First the good news: U.S. forces are still more popular in Afghanistan than Osama bin Laden. Fully 6 percent of respondents in a new poll expressed a “very favorable” opinion of American troops, versus just 2 percent for the fugitive Al Qaeda leader.

To be fair, the United States scored much higher in the more grudging “somewhat favorable” category, outstripping the world’s most wanted man by 36 percent to just 4. But more than half of all Afghans — 55 percent — want U.S. forces out of their country, and the sooner the better.

Add it all up, and it is pretty bad news for the U.S. military as it examines its options ahead of next week’s Afghanistan strategy review.

During U.S. President Barack Obama’s lightening visit to Kabul on Dec. 3, White House aides said confidently that no major adjustments were expected to the present strategy, which, in the minds and words of most military leaders, is now firmly on course.

That strategy has foreign troops in Afghanistan for at least another four years, while the focus turns to training and equipping Afghan forces to handle their own security, the much-vaunted “transition” to full Afghan sovereignty.

But the poll, commissioned by The Washington Post, ABC, the BBC and Germany’s ARD, and conducted by the perennial survey organization ACSOR (Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research), shows a nation yearning for an end to hostilities.

While human rights organizations and women’s advocacy groups mount a spirited campaign against any accommodation with the Taliban, 73 percent of those polled said it was time to negotiate with the insurgents. While the Taliban do not enjoy much popularity in the country — only 9 percent said they would prefer them to the current government — it seems that the appetite for conflict has waned among Afghans, who mainly just want to get on with their lives.

Those who moan about the lack of readiness among the Afghan National Security Forces might be surprised to learn that more than twice as many Afghans think the police are better able to provide security in their areas than U.S. or NATO forces. Of those polled, only 36 percent said they trusted the foreigners to protect them, while 77 percent voted for their local police.

They show a lot more optimism than Gen. David Petraeus, who told ABC news over the weekend that it was far from a sure thing that Afghan troops would be able to take over from the United States and NATO by 2014, the new target date set by the NATO summit in Lisbon last month.

“I don’t know that you say confident. I think no commander ever is going to come out and say ‘I’m confident that we can do this,’” Petraeus said in answer to a question about the likelihood that Afghan forces would be competent to assume the burden four years from now.

Consistency is not a particularly strong suit among Afghans, if the poll data is to be trusted. The same respondents who lauded the Afghan troops complained bitterly about corruption in the police, with 85 percent of respondents saying it was a big or moderate problem in their area.

Polls are tricky tools, especially in conflict zones. ACSOR itself freely acknowledges that there were many areas it could not go to because of security concerns. That real estate would, of course, include the south, where U.S. and NATO forces are now battling the Taliban.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the popularity of U.S. forces would be even lower in these areas, given the higher incidence of civilian casualties from airstrikes, and the greater frequency of night raids, in which U.S. Special Forces descend on housing compounds, often with a mission to kill or capture alleged Taliban fighters.

The latter was a bitterly disputed topic last month, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the media that he wanted the night raids stopped, prompting Petraeus to say that such an attitude risked making his own position “untenable.”

The poll shows that Afghans are implacably against airstrikes by U.S. or NATO troops, with 73 percent saying that they opposed them even if they help to defeat the Taliban.

There is, of course, some doubt as to the validity of any public opinion surveys in a country with a largely uneducated and unsophisticated population, suspicious of strangers and unwilling to share personal information for fear of possible consequences.

But to the extent that ACSOR’s data is deemed reliable, it paints a fairly depressing picture for the international community hoping to gain public support in their struggle with a surprisingly resilient insurgency.

Fewer than half of respondents — 49 percent — support the U.S. troop surge that added 30,000 pairs of boots on the ground over the past year. The same number opposed the surge.

More troops almost always means more violence; 39 percent of respondents said that civilian casualties had increased over the past 12 months; 30 percent thought they had decreased, while 31 percent said there had been no change.

In fact, civilian casualties are up sharply, according to a United Nations report released in August. And the poll shows that Afghans primarily blame the international forces, rather than the Taliban, when innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

Of those polled, 35 percent said that U.S. and NATO troops bore responsibility, 32 percent blamed the “anti-government forces,” and an equal number assigned blame to both.

As the recent WikiLeaks revelations have shown, Karzai is not the U.S. government’s favorite international partner. He is seen as weak, unpredictable, often paranoid and incapable of effective governance, according to the leaked cables.

None of that holds sway with the Afghan people, though, 82 percent of whom judged Karzai favorably. Only 62 percent gave his government as a whole such high marks, however.

Perhaps most striking is the sense of lost opportunity revealed in the poll. While the vast majority of Afghans — 74 percent — still support the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, they are now convinced that they would be better off alone.

This, according to Western observers, is part and parcel of Afghan psychology.

“They just do not want us here,” said one foreign diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Western troops, when they came here [in 2001] said ‘the Soviets were invaders, we are liberators. But for Afghans it is all the same — we are all ‘foreigners.’ They will fight anyone who comes here.”  

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

How Much “Success” Can Afghans Stand? September 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncategorized.
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Sunday 12 September 2010

by: Nick Turse  |  TomDispatch | News Analysis

photo
Soldiers of Alpha Company(A Coy) in the Panjwaii District of Kandahar Province. (Photo: Sgt Lou Penney / lafrancevi)

With the arrival of General David Petraeus as Afghan War commander, there has been ever more talk about the meaning of “success” in Afghanistan. At the end of July, USA Today ran an article titled, “In Afghanistan, Success Measured a Step at a Time.” Days later, Stephen Biddle, a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, held a conference call with the media to speak about “Defining Success in Afghanistan.” A mid-August editorial in the Washington Post was titled: “Making the Case for Success in Afghanistan.” And earlier this month, an Associated Press article appeared under the headline, “Petraeus Talks Up Success in Afghan War.”

Unlike victory, success turns out to be a slippery term. As the United States approaches the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, pundits have been chewing over just what “success” in Afghanistan might mean for Washington. What success might mean for ordinary Afghans hasn’t, however, been a major topic of conversation, even though U.S. officials have regularly promised them far better lives and trumpeted American efforts to reconstruct that war-torn land.

Between 2001 and 2009, according to the Afghan government, the country has received $36 billion in grants and loans from donor nations, with the United States disbursing some $23 billion of it. U.S. taxpayers have anted up another $338 billion to fund the war and occupation. Yet from poverty indexes to risk-of-rape assessments, from childhood mortality figures to drug-use stats, just about every available measure of Afghan wellbeing paints a grim picture of a country in a persistent state of humanitarian crisis, often involving reconstruction and military failures on an epic scale. Pick a measurement affecting ordinary Afghans and the record since November 2001 when Kabul fell to Allied forces is likely to show stagnation or setbacks and, almost invariably, suffering.

Almost a decade after the U.S. invasion, life for Afghan civilians is not a subject Americans care much about and so, not surprisingly, it plays little role in Washington’s discussions of “success.” Have a significant number of Afghans found the years of occupation and war “successful”? Has there been a payoff in everyday life for the indignities of the American years — the cars stopped or sometimes shot up at road checkpoints, the American patrols trooping through fields and searching homes, the terrifying night raids, the imprisonments without trial, or the way so many Afghans continue to be treated like foreigners, if not criminal suspects, in their own country?

For years, American leaders have hailed the way Afghans are supposedly benefiting from the U.S. role in their country. But are they?

The promises began early. In April 2002, for instance, speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, President George W. Bush proclaimed that in Afghanistan “peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls which works.” He added, “We’re working hard in Afghanistan: We’re clearing mine fields. We’re rebuilding roads. We’re improving medical care. And we will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world’s demand for drugs.”

When, on May 1, 2003, President Bush strode across the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver his “mission accomplished” speech, declaring an end to “major combat operations in Iraq,” he also spoke of triumph in the other war and once again offered a rosy picture of Afghan developments. “We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals, and educate all of their children,” he said. Five years later, he was still touting American aid to Afghans, noting that the U.S. was “working to ensure that our military progress is accompanied by the political and economic gains that are critical to the success of a free Afghanistan.”

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama seemed to suggest that efforts to promote Afghan wellbeing had indeed been a success: “There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years — in education, in health care and economic development, as I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed — lights that would not have been visible just a few years earlier.”

So, almost 10 years on, just what are the lives of ordinary Afghans like? Has childhood mortality markedly improved? Are women, if not equal in terms of civil rights, at least secure in the knowledge that men are not able to rape them with impunity? Have all Afghan children — or even most — started on the road to a decent education?

Or how about a more basic question? After almost a decade of war and tens of billions in international aid, do Afghans have enough to eat? I recently posed that question to Challiss McDonough of the United Nation’s World Food Program in Afghanistan.

Food Insecurity

In October 2001, the BBC reported that more than seven million people were “at risk of malnutrition or food shortages across Afghanistan.” In an email, McDonough updated that estimate: “The most recent data on food insecurity comes from the last National Risk and Vulnerability Assesment (NRVA), which was conducted in 2007/2008 and released in late October 2009. It found that about 7.4 million people are food-insecure, roughly 31 percent of the estimated population. Another 37 percent are considered to be on the borderline of food insecurity, and could be pushed over the edge by shocks such as floods, drought, or conflict-related displacement.”

Food insecurity indicators, McDonough pointed out, are heading in the wrong direction. “The NRVA of 2007/08 showed that the food security had deteriorated in 25 out of the 34 provinces compared to the 2005 NRVA. This was the result of a combination of factors, including high food prices, rising insecurity and recurring natural disasters.” As she also pointed out, “About 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford basic necessities. Staple food prices remain higher than they are in neighboring countries, and higher than they were before the global high-food-price crisis began in 2007.”

Recently, the international risk management firm Maplecroft put together a food security index — using 12 criteria developed with the United Nations’ World Food Program — to evaluate the threat to supplies of basic food staples in 163 countries. Afghanistan ranked dead last and was the only non-African nation among the 10 most food-insecure countries on the planet.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and the grim years of Taliban rule in the later 1990s, millions of Afghans fled their country. While many returned after 2001, large numbers have continued to live abroad. More than one million registered Afghans reportedly live in Iran. Another 1.5 million or more undocumented, unregistered Afghan refugees may also reside in that country. Some 1.7 million or more Afghan refugees currently live in Pakistan — 1.5 million of them in recently flood-ravaged provinces, according to Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Many Afghans who still remain in their country cannot return home either. According to a 2008 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 235,833 internally displaced persons nationwide. As of the middle of this year, the numbers had reportedly increased to more than 328,000.

Children’s Well-Being

In 2000, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), mortality for children under five years of age stood at 257 per 1,000. In 2008, the last year for which data was available, that number had not budged. It had, in fact, only slightly improved since 1990, when after almost a decade of Soviet occupation and brutal warfare, the numbers stood at 260 per 1,000. The figures were similar for infant mortality — 168 per 1,000 in 1990, 165 per 1,000 in 2008.

In 2002, according to the U.N., about 50% of Afghan children were chronically malnourished. The most recent comprehensive national survey, done two years into the U.S. occupation, found (according to the World Food Program’s McDonough) about 60% of children under five chronically malnourished.

Childhood education is a rare area of genuine improvement. Afghan government statistics show steady growth — from 3,083,434 children in primary school in 2002 to 4,788,366 enrolled in 2008. Still, there are more young children outside than in the classroom, according to 2010 UNICEF numbers, which indicate that approximately five million Afghan children do not attend school — most of them girls.

Many youngsters find themselves on the streets. Reuters recently reported that there are no fewer than 600,000 street children in Afghanistan. Shafiqa Zaher, a social worker with Aschiana, a children’s aid group receiving U.S. funds, told reporter Andrew Hammond that most have a home, even if only a crumbling shell of a building, but their caregivers are often disabled and unemployed. Many are, therefore, forced into child labor. “Poverty is getting worse in Afghanistan and children are forced to find work,” said Zaher.

In 2002, the U.N. reported that there were more than one million children in Afghanistan who had lost one or both parents. Not much appears to have changed in the intervening years. “I have seen estimates that there are over one million Afghan children whose father or mother is deceased,” Mike Whipple, the Chairman and CEO of International Orphan Care, a U.S.-based humanitarian organization that operates schools and medical clinics in Afghanistan, told me by email recently.

Increasingly, even Afghan youngsters with families are desperate enough to abandon their homeland and attempt a treacherous overland journey to Europe and possible asylum. This year, UNHCR reported that ever more Afghan children are fleeing their country alone. Almost 6,000 of them, mostly boys, sought asylum in European countries in 2009, compared to about 3,400 a year earlier.

Women’s Rights

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush told Congress: “The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free and are part of Afghanistan’s new government.” Last year, when asked about a new Afghan law sanctioning the oppression of women, President Obama asserted that there were “certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.”

Recently, the plight of women in Afghanistan again made U.S. headlines thanks to a shocking TIME magazine cover image of Bibi Aisha, an Afghan whose ears and nose were sliced off after she ran away from her husband’s house. “What Happens When We Leave Afghanistan” was TIME’s headline, but reporter Ann Jones, who has worked closely with women in Afghanistan and talked to Bibi Aisha, took issue with the TIME cover in the Nation magazine, pointing out that it was evidently not the Taliban who mutilated Aisha and that the brutal assault took place eight years into the U.S. occupation. Life for women in Afghanistan has not been the bed of roses promised by Bush nor typified by the basic rights proffered by Obama, as Jones noted:

“Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai government. Restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, access to work and rights within the family have steadily tightened as the result of a confluence of factors, including the neglect of legal and judicial reform and the obligations of international human rights conventions; legislation typified by the infamous Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL), gazetted in 2009 by President Karzai himself despite women’s protests and international furor; intimidation; and violence.”

Her observations are echoed in a recent report by Medica Mondiale, a German non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of women and girls in war and crisis zones around the world. As its blunt briefing began, “Nine years after 11 September and the start of the operation ‘Enduring Freedom,’ which justified its commitment not only with the hunt for terrorists, but also with the fight for women’s rights, the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan still is catastrophic.” Medica Mondiale reported that 80% of all Afghan marriages are still “concluded under compulsion.”

The basic safety of women in Afghanistan in, and well beyond, Taliban-controlled areas has in recent years proven a dismal subject even though the Americans haven’t left. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), for instance, 87% of women are subject to domestic abuse. A 2009 report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that rape “is an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country” and called it a “human rights problem of profound proportions.” That report continued:

“Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes and in their communities, in detention facilities and as a result of traditional harmful practices to resolve feuds within the family or community… In the northern region for example, 39 percent of the cases analyzed by UNAMA Human Rights, found that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.”

Afghan women are reportedly turning to suicide as their only solution.

A June report by Sudabah Afzali of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting noted that, according to officials in Herat Province, “cases of suicide amongst women… have increased by 50 per cent over the last year.” Sayed Naim Alemi, the director of the regional hospital in Herat, noted that 85 cases of attempted suicide recorded in the previous six months had involved women setting themselves on fire or ingesting poison. In 57 of the cases, the women had died.

A study conducted by former Afghan Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar and released in August gave a sense of the breadth of the problem. Using Afghan Health Ministry records and hospital reports, Kakar found that an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide each year. Domestic violence, bitter hardships, and mental illness were the leading factors in their decisions. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar. In addition, he found that about 1.8 million Afghan women and girls between the ages of 15 and 40 are suffering from “severe depression.”

Drug Use

Rampant depression, among both men and women, has led to self-medication. While opium-poppy cultivation on an almost unimaginable scale in the planet’s leading narco-state has garnered headlines since 2001, little attention has been paid to drug use by ordinary Afghans, even though it has been on a steep upward trajectory.

In 2003, according to Afghanistan’s Public Health Minister Amin Fatimie, there were approximately 7,000 heroin addicts in the capital city, Kabul. In 2007, that number was estimated to have doubled. By 2009, UNAMA and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) estimated that the city was home to up to 20,000 heroin users and another 20,000 to 25,000 opium users.

Unfortunately, Kabul has no monopoly on the problem. “Three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan,” says Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNDOC. Since 2005, the number of Afghan opium users nationwide has jumped by 53%, while heroin users have skyrocketed by 140%. According to UNODC’s survey, Drug Use in Afghanistan, approximately one million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to drugs. That adds up to about 8% of the population and twice the global average.

AIDs and Sex Work

Since the U.S. occupation began, AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the disease, have reportedly also been on the rise. In 2002, only eight people tested positive for HIV. In 2007, Public Health Minister Fatimie reported 61 confirmed cases of AIDS and 2,000 more suspected cases.

Fatamie blamed intravenous drug use for half the cases and the NGO Médecins du Monde, which works with intravenous drug users in Kabul, found that HIV prevalence among such users in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar had risen from 3% to 7% between 2006 and 2009. A 2010 report by the Public Health Ministry revealed that knowledge about HIV among intravenous drug users was astonishingly low, that few had ever been tested for the virus, and that of those who admitted to purchasing sex within the previous six months, most confessed to not having used a condom.

This last fact is hardly surprising, given the findings from a recent study by Catherine Todd and colleagues of 520 female sex workers, almost all mothers, in the Afghan cities of Jalalabad, Kabul, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Only about 30% of the women surveyed reported clients had ever used a condom with them and about 50% had received treatment for a sexually transmitted infection in the three months prior to being interviewed.

The same study also sheds light on the intersection between high-risk behaviors, socio-economic conditions, and the freedom and opportunities promised to Afghan women by Presidents Bush and Obama. The most common reasons Afghan women engaged in sex work, Todd and colleagues found, were the need to support themselves (50%) or their families (32.4%). Almost 9% reported being forced into sex work by their families. Just over 5% turned to prostitution after being widowed, and 1.5% were forced into the profession after they were sexually assaulted and, consequently, found themselves unable to marry.

A Decade of Progress?

In the near-decade since Kabul fell in November 2001, a sizeable majority of Afghans have continued to live in poverty and privation. Measuring such misery may be impossible, but the United Nations has tried to find a comprehensive way to do so nonetheless. Using a Human Poverty Index which “focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold[s] in regard to a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living,” the U.N. found that, comparatively speaking, it doesn’t get worse than life in Afghanistan. The nation ranks dead last in its listing, number 135 out of 135 countries. This is what “success” means today in Afghanistan.

The United Nations also ranks countries via a Human Development Index which includes such indicators of wellbeing as life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. In 2004, the U.N. and the Afghan government issued the first National Human Development Report. In its foreword, the publication cautioned:

“As was expected, the report has painted a gloomy picture of the status of human development in the country after two decades of war and destruction. The Human Development Index (HDI) value calculated nationally puts Afghanistan at the dismal ranking of 173 out of 178 countries worldwide. Yet the HDI also presents us with a benchmark against which progress can be measured in the future.“

The only place to go, it seemed, was up. And yet, in 2009, when the U.N. issued a new Human Development Report, Afghanistan was in even worse shape, ranking number 181 of 182 nations, higher only than Niger.

Almost 10 years of U.S. and allied occupation, development, mentoring, reconstruction aid, and assistance has taken the country from unbearably dismal to something markedly poorer. And yet even worse is still possible for the long-suffering men, women, and children of Afghanistan. As the U.S. war and occupation drags on without serious debate about withdrawal on the Washington agenda, questions need to be asked about the fate of Afghan civilians. Chief among them: How many more years of “progress” can they endure, and if the U.S. stays, how much more “success” can they stand?

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just been published. He discusses why withdrawal from Afghanistan hasn’t been on the American agenda in Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview, which can be accessed by clicking here or downloaded to your iPod here. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. His website is NickTurse.com.

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse 

 

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