Barack Obama faces a huge amount of pressure during the current meltdown of Iraq because he withdrew all US military forces from the country. As I have pointed out in countless posts, the single controlling factor for that withdrawal was that Iraq refused to provide criminal immunity to US troops who remained in Iraq past December 31, 2011.
A very similar scenario is playing out now in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that will provide criminal immunity to US troops remaining beyond the end of this year. Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have stated that they will sign the BSA immediately upon taking office, but the recount of their runoff election remains mired in dysfunction over how to eliminate fraudulent votes. John Kerry has visited twice to get the candidates to cease sparring, but dysfunction has quickly ensued after both visits. Meanwhile, the clock ticks ever closer to expiration of the current agreement providing immunity.
All along, the US framing for insisting on criminal immunity for troops is based on avoiding the chaos of soldiers facing false charges that might be brought through a court system that lacks the safeguards of the US court system or even the US military courts. But a report (pdf) released Friday by Amnesty International provides solid evidence that the US has failed, on multiple verified occasions, to take any action to pursue those responsible for clear war crimes in Afghanistan. That stands out to me as the real reason the US insists on criminal immunity.
Amnesty sums up their findings in the press release accompanying the report:
Focusing primarily on air strikes and night raids carried out by US forces, including Special Operations Forces, Left in the Dark finds that even apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.
“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
“None of the cases that we looked into – involving more than 140 civilian deaths – were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”
The description continues:
Two of the case studies — involving a Special Operations Forces raid on a house in Paktia province in 2010, and enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts, Wardak province, in November 2012 to February 2013 — involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes. No one has been criminally prosecuted for either of the incidents.
Qandi Agha, a former detainee held by US Special Forces in Nerkh in late 2012, spoke of the daily torture sessions he endured. “Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick. They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor.” He also said he was dunked in a barrel of water and given electrical shocks.
Agha said that both US and Afghan forces participated in the torture sessions. He also said that four of the eight prisoners held with him were killed while he was in US custody, including one person, Sayed Muhammed, whose killing he witnessed.
Of course, the US claims that while it wants troops immune from prosecution in Afghanistan under trumped up charges, crimes will be investigated by US authorities. The Amnesty report puts that lie to rest. Again, from the press release:
Of the scores of witnesses, victims and family members Amnesty International spoke to when researching this report, only two people said that they had been interviewed by US military investigators. In many of the cases covered in the report, US military or NATO spokespeople would announce that an investigation was being carried out, but would not release any further information about the progress of the investigation or its findings – leaving victims and family members in the dark.
“We urge the US military to immediately investigate all the cases documented in our report, and all other cases where civilians have been killed. The victims and their family members deserve justice,” said Richard Bennett.
Yeah, I’m sure the military will get right on that. Sometime in the next century or two.
The report provides three recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:
Create a credible, independent mechanism to monitor, investigate and report publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by the ANSF, and to ensure timely and effective remedies. This mechanism should include detailed procedures for recording casualties, receiving claims, conducting investigations, carrying out disciplinary measures including prosecutions where warranted, and ensuring reparation, including restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.
Ensure that accountability for civilian casualties is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States, including by requiring that international forces provide a regular accounting of any incidents of civilian casualties, the results of investigations into such incidents, and the progress of any related prosecutions. Such agreements should exclude any provision that might infringe upon Afghanistan’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Continue to press the US and NATO authorities to take meaningful steps to enhance civilian protection, investigate reports of civilian casualties, and prosecute violations of international humanitarian law that result in civilian casualties.
Those recommendations are terrific, but they are completely meaningless when applied to what is really happening in Afghanistan. None of the good things in that list have any chance of even making it into the language of the already negotiated BSA, and even if they did, no enforcement of it would ever be allowed. After all, the US is the country that even has passed a law allowing use of military force to “rescue” any citizen facing charges in the ICC. It doesn’t matter whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief, the US military will go wherever it wants, kill whoever it wants, and allow the vast majority of its crimes to go without consequence.
That is the particular freedom they hate us for.
Back in January of last year, the sudden return to Pakistan of cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who had been in a form of exile in Canada, threatened to derail the elections that took place two months later. There were accusations at the time that he was working on behalf of the military. Qadri did not take part in the elections (and is being called out for that now), but he started agitating again last month, with his large demonstrations leading to the arrest of large numbers of his followers and a number of deaths in clashes between his followers and police.
Yesterday, it was announced that Qadri will lead a “revolution march” that begins on August 14 and is intended to turn into a siege of Islamabad. From Geo News:
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief, Dr. Tahirul Qadri Sunday said the ‘revolution march’ will begin on August 14.
“No one will return till the government is toppled and the system changed,” Dr. Qadri told his workers and asked them to take a pledge by raising their hands.
But it will not be just Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party marching in Islamabad on the 14th. The article continues:
Addressing the PAT workers who had gathered here to observe the party’s Yaum-e-Shuhda, the PAT chief said both ‘Azadi March’ of Imran Khan and ‘revolution march’ of his party will be staged on the same day of August 14.
Dawn is now counting down the days to the march (and somehow they borrow from the NCAA basketball tournament to call this march madness), and frame the major questions the demonstrations pose:
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Azadi March and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s ‘Revolution March’ will now storm the capital together, further intensifying the stand-off with the government.
Many questions remain unanswered at this stage. Will Imran’s ‘peaceful’ rally be hijacked by Qadri’s more volatile protesters? Whose demands is the combined march really about — Qadri’s, or Imran’s?
Will speculations of a military intervention push the situation beyond the point of no return for Nawaz and co.?
Pakistan’s government continues to negotiate with the groups and refuses to release the 1500 Qadri supporters who have been jailed. Significantly, the government also has called an additional 3000 federal troops to Islamabad to shore up preparations already undertaken by the military:
Pakistan Army’s 111 Brigade, Rangers, elite force and intelligence agencies personnel have already been assigned security duties in Islamabad as PTI and PAT gears up for a march towards the capital to oust the government on August 14.
The federal government called in military to Islamabad, from August 1 by invoking Article 245, for assisting the civil authorities in maintaining law and order situation of Islamabad for three months.
Ironically, despite his government calling in the military to deal with the chaos surrounding the march, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is accusing former military dictator Pervez Musharraf (and by extension, Pakistan’s military) of being behind the movement:
In a speech that addressed the ongoing political crisis in the currently, the prime minister on Monday asked who is behind the calls for revolutions and marches in the country.
“I can’t help but laugh at the agendas of these long marches,” Nawaz Sharif said, indirectly referring to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
“It hurts and confuses me – who has given them these agendas?”
The government has accused “Musharraf’s friends” of being behind the political chaos in the country, with PTI and PAT leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri calling for the prime minister to step down with a march on August 14.
In a veiled reference to former military ruler General (retired) Musharraf, he asked why those who invited the war on terror in Pakistan are not held accountable.
“Have we not learned lessons from what this country has suffered? The constitution has been uprooted, rule of law has been flouted…we suffered billion of dollars in losses [as a result of Pakistan’s involvement]. Who sowed the seeds of terrorism?” he asked.
“Who is going to hold them accountable?”
This week promises to be very revealing about the future of Pakistan’s politics. And shouldn’t someone be raising those same questions from Sharif here in the US? Have we not learned lessons from what we have suffered, as our constitution also was uprooted and rule of law flouted? Shouldn’t we hold someone accountable here?
As events unfolded rapidly yesterday afternoon into the evening, we had several different stories about what took place in Iraq in response to President Obama authorizing air strikes against Islamic State, or IS. Air drops of humanitarian aid are undisputed. These were for a group of Iraqi civilians who became stranded after fleeing IS, fearing execution because they belonged to various non-Muslim religions. That air strikes took place during the night Thursday night in northern Iraq also is not disputed, but we had multiple reports on who was responsible. The New York Times initially said the strikes were carried out by US aircraft, but eventually relented and the current version of their story (with caveats to be seen below) quotes the Pentagon as saying the strikes were carried out by Iraq. At the height of the confusion, there was even a trial balloon floated that perhaps the strikes were carried out by Turkey, but that story didn’t appear to catch on anywhere else.
The Pentagon’s claim that strikes were carried out by Iraq seemed to me to be very unlikely to stand up, even at the height of the confusion last night, prompting me to tweet:
One torture video destroyed became 92. Authorization for targeted airstrikes will become we bombed on Aug 7 (US time). Camel nose——>Tent
— Jim White (@JimWhiteGNV) August 8, 2014
I found Robert Caruso’s description of options for support in Iraq to be especially interesting, especially this bit that he put forward just before we heard about the strikes:
Clandestine action will be key to success. Aircraft carriers decide what is on their deck and what is not. If you decide to covertly support Kurdish forces, naval aircraft can complete the circuit and return to deck. No landing in Turkey or Jordan in plain view of anyone with eyesight. No cell phone pictures from the flightline, which is exactly how the RQ-170 Sentinel was exposed. Whatever you say was in Iraq’s airspace was there, and whatever you deny was in their airspace wasn’t there because you decide what was there.
That seemed to ring especially true to me. After all, the “official” line from the Pentagon in the version of the New York Times story I am working from now says that Iraq carried out the strikes, but there seems to be little support for that story. Here is the Times parroting the Pentagon:
The official said the cooperation had included airstrikes by Iraqi forces against militant targets in the north.
The Times paid slight homage to their earlier report that the strike was carried out by the US:
Kurdish and Iraqi officials said that airstrikes were carried out Thursday night on two towns in northern Iraq seized by ISIS — Gwer and Mahmour, near Erbil. Earlier on Thursday, The New York Times quoted Kurdish and Iraqi officials as saying that the strikes were carried out by American planes.
The problem for the way the Times has the report this morning is that Iraq’s air force is nearly non-existent. This report is only one month old (the slightly garbled text is in the original):
Iraq’s air force has been very slow in getting to its feet. A handful of Seeker light observation aircraft with their distinctive bubble-shaped fronts, a few Comp Air light propeller aircraft, a couple of old, refurbished C-130E transports, and a slowly growing fleet of helicopters. A few Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s have been orderedfor transport and surveillance duties, and an RFP for armed counterinsurgency aircraft has only given Iraq a set ofunarmed T-6B trainers. Even subsequent ordersfor F-16C/D fighters and L-159 advanced trainer and attack jets leave the Iraqi air force a long way from being able to secure Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. While it continues to grow<, the IqAF’s primary duties remain troop/medical transport, light supply duties, and surveillance of roads and infrastructure.
Ah, but the centerpiece? To deliver Hellfire missiles, Iraq relies on…..Cessnas: Continue reading
Major General Harold J. Greene’s death Tuesday in Afghanistan is noted in the press primarily for him being the highest ranking officer killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. It has been pointed out in a few stories that Greene was deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the primary group responsible for training of Afghan security forces. What I haven’t seen anywhere yet is that it appears Greene only held this role a very short time, as his assignment to CSTC-A was announced on January 8 of this year. Greene was an engineer and held a doctorate in materials science. At the time that he was appointed to CSTC-A, Army Times says that he was “deputy for acquisition and systems management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Washington, D.C”.
One would presume, then, that Greene was sent to Afghanistan to help train Afghans to improve their notoriously bad system of supplying its troops who are being handed increased responsibilities as US troops draw down. Sadly, though, Greene became a victim of a problem in another part of Afghan forces training that reached its peak in 2012: the killing of US personnel by Afghan security forces, or Green on Blue killings. Although initial reports put the attack as having taken place at the British facility for training Afghan officers, the attack actually took place inside the same complex at Afghanistan’s National Defense University.
Significantly, the Afghan soldier who shot Greene had been a member of the military for three years. More details of the attack come from the Washington Post:
The fatal attack on Tuesday was an acute embarrassment to the Afghan military leadership, because it occurred inside the Afghan equivalent of the U.S. military academy at West Point, and was aimed at a Western VIP delegation that had come to assess the army’s progress in being able to defend the nation as Western forces prepare to leave.
Afghan officials said the shooter, who used the single name Rafiqullah, had just returned from a patrol around midday and was still carrying his weapon when he concealed himself in a bathroom within close range of the delegation, then opened fire. His weapon, described as either an assault rifle or a machine gun, would have been issued by NATO. More than a dozen people were wounded, including eight Americans, a German general and a top Afghan commander of the training facility.
Interestingly, the Post goes to lengths to say the Taliban wasn’t involved in Greene’s attack:
Officials said there was no indication that he was part of a conspiracy or had Taliban sympathies.
While that may be the case, it appears that Greene’s death sparked new activities by Taliban sympathizers within other Afghan security force units yesterday. From the New York Times:
Two attacks by Afghan police officers who were collaborating with the Taliban claimed the lives of 11 police officers in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, officials reported. News of the so-called insider attacks came as the authorities were still grappling with the assassination one day earlier of an American general by an Afghan soldier.
In one attack, a police officer secretly working for the Taliban poisoned five colleagues at a compound in southern Afghanistan, then invited insurgents inside to shoot the stricken officers to death and steal their weapons, the officials said.
Gulab Khan, the provincial head of criminal investigations, said the other assault targeted a national police checkpoint on the outskirts of Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan Province, where Taliban fighters killed the guard on duty, then executed five others as they slept. One officer, believed to be in league with the insurgents, escaped with the militant fighters, according to Doost Mohammad Nayab, the spokesman for the provincial governor.
It’s very difficult to see how things could be much worse for US efforts in Afghanistan. The election, which was to have produced a winner who would quickly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement granting criminal immunity for US troops to stay beyond the end of this year, is still mired in endless squabbling over the recount and shows no prospect for a rapid resolution. Taliban attacks are coming with higher frequency and now insider attacks appear to be restarting.
It looks increasingly unlikely to me that a route to a signed BSA will emerge with sufficient time to keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year. If that turns out to be the case, Greene’s death may well become the event historians hold up as the symbolic end of the US training effort in Afghanistan.
After there had been a lull in Green on Blue attacks in Afghanistan, I noted in describing an attack late last month that an extra layer of security has been added at training facilities for Afghan National Security Forces, so that foreign security personnel act as a buffer between Western and Afghan forces. Reports are just now beginning to filter in on a new Green on Blue attack today at a facility near Kabul. The facility, Camp Qargha, is a training facility for officers in the ANSF and is run by the British. It is often referred to as “Sandhurst in the Sand”: a training facility for Afghan officers modeled after the British officer training school.
Although it is very early in the reporting on this incident (so all of this is subject to change as more is learned) there are at least two reports that suggest a US two-star general has been killed. This German article, using Google translate, tells us:
After the death of the two-star general of the U.S. Army was in NATO of a “black day” the speech Headquarters in Brussels. The ISAF announced that the incident was being investigated.
Further, Michael Yon has tweeted:
American 2 star general reported killed in Afghanistan. German general in bad condition. I asked HQ for more. Nothing yet.
— Michael Yon (@Michael_Yon) August 5, 2014
From the New York Times, we learn that those dead (reports vary from one to four, depending on the source) and wounded all appear to be high ranking officers:
An attacker in an Afghan army uniform killed at least three service members from the NATO-led coalition and wounded a senior Afghan commander on Tuesday in a shooting at a military training academy on the outskirts of Kabul, an Afghan official said.
Details of the shooting, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, were sketchy, and the coalition would only confirm that “an incident” had taken place at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. An Afghan defense official said that at least three coalition officers had been killed, and that a number of other foreign and Afghan officers had been wounded. The dead coalition service members were believed to be senior officers, the Afghan official said.
The Der Spiegel article linked above confirms Yon’s report that a German general was shot, describing his injuries as serious but also stating that he was out of danger and is receiving medical treatment.
The Times article goes on:
The Afghan official and a coalition official said that it appeared that the foreign casualties were high-ranking officers who were taking part in a meeting at the academy.
Lt. Gen. Afzal Aman, the director of operations at Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said that the academy’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ghulam Saki, was wounded in the shooting along with two other senior Afghan officers.
The most confusing issue for me at this point is that most accounts of the incident mention an argument between the shooter and other Afghan troops just prior to shots being fired. It seems very strange that both the shooter and the Afghan troops who eventually killed him in response would be armed in a spot so close to so many high ranking officers, which at this point would seem to be at least one general from Germany, the US and Afghanistan, all of whom appeared to have been shot in the disturbance. If shooting happened during a meeting, that seems like a lot of weapons to be present. Since reports are that the incident took place around noon, I am left to wonder if the shooting took place during lunch.
Since Qargha is a facility for training Afghan officers, I wonder if there is less emphasis on the buffer layer of security that we saw in the July Green on Blue event. The underlying assumption is that once an Afghan soldier is approved for training at Qargha, they would have been through more background checking than standard enlisted trainees. That then prompts the question posed by the strange juxtaposition of the headline and opening paragraph in the Khaama Press account of the shooting, as pictured above. Was the shooter an outside terrorist who gained access to the uniform (and presumably, some identification to go along with it) of an officer trainee, or was the shooter an actual ANA officer trainee who took advantage of an opportunity to inflict very high level damage?
I will track the story through the day and add updates as appropriate.
Update: The New York Times article has now been updated to confirm the death of an unnamed US general.
Update 2: The Washington Post has identified the victim as Harold Greene, who was Deputy Commander of CSTC-A. He was deeply involved in the training effort.
With the death toll now over 700 in an Ebola outbreak that has been building since February, Americans are suddenly up in arms about the virus, but only because it was announced yesterday that up to two Americans infected with the virus may be transported to Atlanta for treatment. Yes, the virus is especially deadly, with a death rate of 70-90% of infected patients, but the virus does not spread particularly efficiently and is not airborne. Writing at CNN.com, biologist Laurie Garrett points out a disaster scenario for the virus. Rather than an outbreak in the US, which seems extremely unlikely, Garrett outlines how the virus could spread in the much more densely populated Nigeria rather than the more remote areas of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where it is now concentrated.
Before getting into the details of the current outbreak and its possible spread to Nigeria, a little background on the virus. From the World Health Organization, we have this information on how the virus spreads:
Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.
Of particular relevance to the two patients who may be transported to Atlanta for treatment (they work for Samaritan’s Purse, an aid organization) and the tragic death of Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, the information from WHO continues:
Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.
The fact that these health care givers become infected because standard infection control precautions are not strictly practiced in no way should suggest that they are uninformed or careless. Instead, Garrett points out in her article the stark realities facing health care providers in the three countries where the outbreak rages:
To show how ill-equipped these nations are to battle disease, per capita spending on health care, combining personal and governmental, amounts to only $171 a year in Sierra Leone, $88 a year in Liberia and $67 a year in Guinea, according to the Kaiser Foundation.
For those who want more detail on the virus, this succinct summary of the structure of the Filovirus family of viruses and their mode of operation is very informative.
For the panic-motivated hypochondriacs among us, initial symptoms of this virus mimic the onset of most other viral infections.
The most recent update from WHO on the outbreak can be read here. The update summarizes the assistance that is being provided to the countries where the outbreak is ongoing. Significantly, WHO is not advocating travel restrictions at this time.
Returning to Garrett’s article, she points out the factors that would lead to chaos should Ebola spread in Nigeria:
Were Ebola to take hold in that country [Nigeria], spreading from person-to-person in a densely populated, chaotic city such as Lagos, the worldwide response would swiftly spin into uncharted political and global health territory.
Consider the following: Nigerian physicians are on strike nationwide; hundreds of girls have been kidnapped from their schools and villages over the past six months by Boko Haram Islamist militants — and none has been successfully freed from their captors by the Abuja government.
Nigeria is in the midst of national election campaigning. President Goodluck Jonathan’s government is, at best, weak. The nation is torn apart by religious tension, pitting the Muslim north against the Christian south. Islamists in the north have long distrusted Western medicine. They have opposed polio vaccination and have kidnapped and assaulted central government health providers.
Garrett’s plea is for an already-planned African summit on Monday to be used to develop a coordinated plan for dealing with the virus:
One way or another, Obama must take advantage of Monday’s Africa summit to press the case for calm and appropriate responses. These would include specific post-Ebola financial commitments to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The possibility that the epidemic might take hold in Nigeria must be confronted, and plans of action must be considered. The world cannot afford to make decisions in the heat of panic about such things as international airport closures, withdrawal of foreign oil workers, negotiations for outbreak responses with northern imams, hospital and clinic infection control training across thousands of Nigerian health facilities, deployment of international assistance teams for rapid diagnostics and lab assistance and countless other contingencies.
Sadly, Garrett points out important information on the damage that has already been done in this outbreak:
When this Ebola epidemic eventually ends, the health budgets of these nations [Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea] will have been bankrupted, and many of their most skilled and courageous physicians, nurses, Red Cross volunteers and hospital workers will have perished.
Let’s hope that Monday sees the beginning of stronger coordination to put more resources where they are needed to halt the spread of this ongoing disaster.
In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.
Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:
An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.
It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:
The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.’”
Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300″ Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.
Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.
Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:
a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.
The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.
Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:
Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:
The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.
It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988
Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.
Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.
Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):
Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.
We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.
The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection; the last being at ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.
The cousin of the Afghan President, Hashmat Karzai was a colorful character. He kept a pet lion at his home. NDTV tells us that the photo of him and the lion at left was posted by him on Facebook. The Washington Post gives us more of his background:
For years, he ran Asia Security Group, a security company supplying logistics and protection for convoys of U.S. and other foreign troops. After his father was murdered in the early 1980s by a relative, Hashmat Karzai’s family moved to the United States, and he became a U.S. citizen and worked at a Toyota dealership in Virginia, the New York Times reported.
Regarding Asia Security Group and private security contractors in Afghanistan, recall that back in 2010, Hamid Karzai tried to expel US private security contractors so that companies (specifically including Asia Security Group) controlled by Ahmed Wali Karzai (and Hashmat, although I don’t see him mentioned in that post) could take over the business.
So Hashmat went from hiding out in the US after his father was killed to running a large security contracting company in Afghanistan, presumably raking in huge profits from the US war in Afghanistan. That history, along with his being a cousin of the president, would of course make him a logical target for any number of reasons. But Hashmat’s recent activities suggest another strong possibility for why he was killed. From The Guardian:
Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter dispute over fraud that threatens to pitch the country into worsening instability.
The Post story adds that the bomber was only 16:
The bomber, a 16-year-old boy, detonated explosives hidden in his turban while embracing Hashmat Karzai as part of special greetings for the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday at Karzai’s home in Karz district of Kandahar, they said.
The bomber also was well dressed, according to Reuters:
A spokesman for the provincial governor said the bomber had been well dressed.
“His style was very modern, everything was new, and when he came to talk with Hashmat Khalil and wish him a happy Eid, he blew himself up,” the spokesman said.
Reuters adds that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. There were no other fatalities in the explosion.
The Post brings us Ghani’s response posted on Twitter:
Ghani, a candidate to succeed President Karzai, condemned the assassination on his Twitter account.
“We will not succumb to cowardly acts of the enemies of Afghanistan,” he wrote. “Every loss of Afghans reminds us that we must stay united to overcome the challenges.”
It will be very interesting to see if more information comes to light on the motives of the suicide bomber and whether Ghani’s followers take it upon themselves to seek revenge in any way. Many have predicted that the Abdullah-Ghani disputed recount could spark a civil war along ethnic lines. Should that come to pass, the killing of Hashmat Karzai may stand out as the first casualty of that war.
I have been harping lately on the US approach to international crises being to first ask “Which group should we arm?” and how this strategy has come back countless times to bite us in the ass, as seen most spectacularly in Osama bin Laden. Further, in Afghanistan, the dual problems of failed training and insider attacks have demonstrated that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ineffective and now even require a separate layer of security between them and US forces.
Back when there was a stronger push for the US to arm and train “moderates” in Syria, I noted the poor record-keeping that was being put into place, where we were being assured by those doing the training that they were getting handwritten receipts for the weapons they were handing out. Who could have known that in our much larger program of handing out weapons, in Afghanistan, that records were not much better? The 2010 NDAA required that DOD establish a program for accounting for weapons handed out in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report today (pdf) on how that accounting has gone. And the answer is not pretty:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required that DOD establish a program for registering and monitoring the use of weapons transferred to the ANSF. However, controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the ANSF are insufficient both before and after the weapons are transferred. Accountability over these weapons within DOD prior to their transfer to Afghan ownership is affected by incompatible inventory systems that have missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records, that may result in missing weapons prior to transfer to the ANSF. However, the problems are far more severe after the weapons are transferred to the ANSF. ANSF record-keeping and inventory processes are poor and, in many cases, we were unable to conduct even basic inventory testing at the ANSF facilities we visited. Although CSTC-A has established end use monitoring procedures, the lack of adherence to these procedures, along with the lack of reliable weapons inventories, limits monitoring of weapons under Afghan control and reduces the ability to identify missing and unaccounted for weapons that could be used by insurgents to harm U.S., coalition, and ANSF personnel.
This graphic from the report shows the insanity of how three completely independent and incompatible databases are used to track the weapons:
Seriously, who comes up with these acronyms? The database used by the military in shipping the weapons out is the Security Cooperation Information Portal, or SCIP. This name seems designed to let us know up front that these weapons are skipping town and there is no prospect for tracking them. And to make sure they can’t be tracked, once they arrive in Afghanistan, the weapons are logged in, but they go into a completely different database incompatible with SCIP. In Afghanistan they use the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, or OVERLORD. SIGAR tells us “SCIP is used by DOD personnel to track the shipment of weapons from the United States, while OVERLORD is used for tracking the receipt of weapons in Afghanistan. Errors and discrepancies often occur because these two systems are not linked to each other and require manual data entry.”
Perhaps if we were dealing with the relatively smaller number of weapons for an operation like our death squad training in Syria, manual entry into a database might make sense. But here is a photo from SIGAR of one of the weapons caches that they attempted to audit in Afghanistan:
But perhaps even worse is that SIGAR has found Afghan forces already have far more light weapons than they need. From the databases they determined that there are 112,909 weapons in excess of stated needs for the Afghans (and 83,184 of them are AK-47′s that many Afghans learn to handle practically from birth) already in country.
As if that is not enough, more weapons will keep flowing even though ANSF force size is projected to shrink:
The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of ANSF personnel proceed. According to our analysis, the ANSF already has over 112,000 weapons that exceed its current requirements. The scheduled reduction in ANSF personnel to 228,500 by 2017 is likely to result in an even greater number of excess weapons. Yet, DOD continues to provide ANSF with weapons based on the ANSF force strength of 352,000 and has no plans to stop providing weapons to the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians.
What could possibly go wrong?
I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel. Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass. The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.
The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.
It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.
Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.