During the whole flap over Seymour Hersh’s reporting questioning the Osama bin Laden raid, I kept pointing to Ron Wyden’s comments to John Brennan about lies he told in March, probably at his Council on Foreign Relations speech.
I guessed that Brennan’s likely lies had to do with whether we partner with anyone who commits atrocities and whether Brennan has worked directly with Iranian Republican Guard leader Qasem Soleimani. And after Hersh’s report that we still have a dark site on Diego Garcia, I added Brennan’s claim we outsource all our interrogation to partners.
Keep those potential lies as you read Moon of Alabama’s guesses about why the Syrians announced this raid before the Americans did.
I will go ahead and say it this time. I told you so. Back in December, the Obama Administration tried its best to create the fiction that the war in Afghanistan was coming to an end. I called bullshit then. Finally, four months later, the New York Times has come to the same realization as well:
Months after President Obama formally declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way under the guise of “training and advising.”
In justifying the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have insisted that the troops’ role is relegated to counterterrorism, defined as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who have assumed the bulk of the fight.
But the US military thinks nothing of gaming the system to bring action where they want it:
Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mostly drone missions — and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.
“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”
And it’s not just field-level commanders making these decisions to circumvent the conditions laid out by the White House for fighting:
Commenting on the continuing military operations against the Taliban, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, vehemently denied accusations that he was putting troops into harm’s way just to enable more airstrikes.
He has insisted that it is within his purview to target Taliban insurgents who pose a threat not just to American or NATO troops but to any Afghan security forces. And his options on the ground were clear, he said in an interview, even if Washington’s public description of them was not.
“Washington is going to have to say what they say politically for many different audiences, and I have no issue with that,” General Campbell said. “I understand my authorities and what I have to do with Afghanistan’s forces and my forces. And if that doesn’t sell good for a media piece then, again, I can’t worry about it.”
Honey badger John Campbell don’t care about selling a media piece when there are brown people to be droned.
But even this expanded role for US troops over what they are supposed to be doing isn’t helping, as our “trained” Afghan troops continue to lose the war. Buried deep in the article is a leak of classified information that Afghan troop losses this year are running 54% higher than last year’s disastrous level of losses. This will not be sustainable for very long at all. It seems likely to me that sometime this summer (or at the very least no later than next summer), the Afghan military will simply melt away in the face of Taliban wins on multiple fronts.
The US has been mired in its failed training of “troops” in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long that analysts have now been watching one of the latest Islamic State videos in awe. It turns out that IS has actually managed to institute a few basic military disciplines into its troops and to capture footage of that expertise in action. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero talked to a number of these analysts and collected their comments. As a long-time critic of US training in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was intrigued by what the analysts would consider “good” training and how that would differ from the farces that have been perpetrated by US trainers. My cynic’s eye immediately went to this paragraph:
In several scenes that were filmed under fire, for example, Islamic State fighters moving into the Baiji refinery complex appeared to be employing textbook infantry tactics. They also were carrying not only sufficient ammunition for a military operation but also backpacks stuffed with additional supplies, including water – a sign that the Islamic State has a well oiled logistical network for supporting front-line fighters.
What a shock! Troops fighting in a desert have the foresight to enter battle with water bottles in their backpacks! Now why didn’t the US think of that in training the Iraqis?
Snark aside, though, one of the main points of the article is that IS has managed to develop a logistics network that puts the Iraqis to shame. It turns out that in Iraq (and Afghanistan, for that matter), the “government” that the US has set up is too corrupt and inept for a supply chain to work properly:
The military experts said the video provided a disconcerting comparison with Iraqi government troops. They noted, for example, that the scenes of packs filled with ammunition and food contrast with constant complaints from Iraqi troops that the government regularly fails to deliver ammunition to combat forces and often leaves them in the field to fend for themselves for food and water, a circumstance that can lead to the looting of civilian homes and shops.
It seems pretty clear that Prothero feels that the inability to deliver supplies is at least partly due to corruption. From his Twitter feed last night:
on a personal note: brave Iraqis save my life repeatedly. it’s the venal, cowardly and corrupt system I’m required to criticize for them.
— Mitchell Prothero (@mitchprothero) April 21, 2015
As for where those supplies for IS come from, I’ve seen at least one report of IS stealing and redistributing supplies from relief agencies. It seems logical that if they are doing this, those supplies would also find their way to IS fighters as well as civilians.
Prothero also notes that IS has learned to cover their heavy artillery so that it is harder to see from the air:
The video also revealed that the Islamic State appears to have adapted to American airstrikes. Most of the images of artillery, rocket launchers and even heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on the beds of trucks include a level of camouflage designed to mask the weapons’ positions’ from the air.
Given the constant barrage of US bombs, it’s not too surprising that IS would figure out that they should hide their weapons from jets and drones. Although I’m hardly a weapons expert, one thing that stood out to me about these heavy weapons, though, was the failure to brace against recoil. It seems impossible that IS would have had any kind of accuracy in targeting with the degree of recoil seen in these weapons as shells were fired.
In the end, though, one thing stands out. This propaganda video, for all its purported slick production values and military expertise on display, covers a military operation that eventually failed in the face of those unrelenting US bombs.
Last Thursday, LAT had an article voicing the concerns of national security types who think our support for the Saudi assault on Yemen is ill-considered. In part that’s because the Saudi assault is helping AQAP.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, widely regarded as the terrorist network’s most lethal franchise, has capitalized on the chaos by sharply expanding its reach. Fighters loyal to the group claimed control Thursday of a military base and other key facilities near Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port in southern Yemen.
In part, that’s because the Saudis — as has been true for years — aren’t very good at avoiding civilian casualties.
Pentagon officials, who pride themselves on the care they take to avoid civilian casualties, have watched with growing alarm as Saudi airstrikes have hit what the U.N. this week called “dozens of public buildings,” including hospitals, schools, residential areas and mosques. The U.N. said at least 364 civilians have been killed in the campaign.
The U.S. role was quietly stepped up last week after the civilian death toll rose sharply. The number of U.S. personnel was increased from 12 to 20 in the operations center to help vet targets and to perform more precise calculations of bomb blast areas to help avoid civilian casualties.
The obvious problems with the assault led one anonymous source to label it a disaster, and another source to explain we’re helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen to placate them about the Iran deal.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing briefings on the air war, called it a “disaster,” saying the Saudis don’t have a “realistic endgame” for the bombing.
“We’re doing this not because we think it would be good for Yemen policy; we’re doing it because we think it’s good for U.S.-Saudi relations,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official who is now with the Center for a New American Security.
Amid this growing concern about the Saudi clusterfuck of their own back yard, Obama chatted with King Salman last Friday.
Today, the President spoke with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to discuss recent developments in Yemen. The President reaffirmed the strong friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and underscored our commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security. The President and King Salman discussed the recent adoption of a resolution on Yemen in the United Nations Security Council and next steps in the effort to resume the political transition in Yemen, including talks facilitated by the United Nations. The President and King Salman agreed that our collective goal is to achieve lasting stability in Yemen through a negotiated political solution facilitated by the United Nations and involving all parties as envisioned in the GCC Initiative. The President and King Salman also discussed the importance of responding to the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people.
In short, that concern reflected in the LAT piece seemed to translate into an increased effort to get the Saudis to stop bombing so wildly.
Then the Saudis bombed an Oxfam warehouse.
Oxfam has vehemently condemned yesterday’s Coalition airstrike on one of its storage facilities in Saada Governorate in northern Yemen.
Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen said: “This is an absolute outrage particularly when one considers that we have shared detailed information with the Coalition on the locations of our offices and storage facilities. The contents of the warehouse had no military value. It only contained humanitarian supplies associated with our previous work in Saada, bringing clean water to thousands of households. Thankfully, no one was killed in this particular airstrike although conservative estimates put the death toll in the country as a whole, since the conflict began, at around 760 – the majority of which are civilians.”
To be sure, the Saudis have bombed plenty of civilian targets (including milk factories!) as have the Houthis. But coming as it did in the wake of this escalation of US concerns about civilians, it struck me as particularly telling.
Yet, in spite of what appears to be out complete inability to rein in the Saudis, we’re still deploying more ships to the region, on top of what we’ve already got in place, on the premise of stopping Iranian arms trafficking (which Josh Earnest said last week we have no evidence of, and where do we get off complaining about arms trafficking?!?!).
And all those ships are doing nothing to ameliorate the growing humanitarian disaster.
Why are we doing this?
Update: Forgot to link this AJAM piece reporting concern on the part of the Generals about this.
And a number of CENTCOM and SOCOM officers believe the Saudis are in over their heads in trying to reverse Houthi gains in Yemen through military intervention.
“We had a great opportunity to engage with the Houthis on this, but we gave in to the Saudis,” Horton said, “and frankly, they cannot begin to manage this. They have all the toys but few people who know how to effectively use them. Their NCO and officer corps are largely untested, and their enlisted men are drawn from the lowest rungs of Saudi society. If they get bogged down in Yemen, I wonder about the loyalty of many of the soldiers and NCOs. The Egyptians will not fare much better.”
Update: See also Paul Pillar.
The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.
Yes, indeed. We already know that all of the previous rounds of training Iraqi troops failed miserably. That indisputable fact allows Nordland to pose the question of whether this new round of training could be expected to somehow be successful after all those failures. Since the article offers no description of any changes in strategy or methods in this new round of training, it’s hard to see how the answer is anything other than a strong probability that this round of training also will fail.
The catastrophic demise of Iraq’s forces is staggering with the numbers Nordland presents. At its peak, the Iraqi military numbered 280,000. And yet once ISIS advanced, the melting away of multiple whole divisions of troops whittled Iraq down to a force that perhaps was as low as only 50,000. This current training effort, being carried out by 3000 US forces, is expected to add, at best, 30,000 Iraqi troops. Nordland admits, however, that the number is likely to be “far fewer”. Despite this depressing math, Nordland doesn’t get around to pointing out just how little impact such a small increase in Iraqi forces is likely to have even if their training somehow turned out to be successful.
But don’t despair. Our intrepid Speaker of the House is on duty to make sure that we continue repeating our training failures:
Boehner blamed “artificial constraints” on the 4,500 American trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army, suggesting that a slight increase in U.S. troops could occur if the Pentagon’s commanders suggested they were needed to help direct fighting against Islamic State forces. “They’re only there to train and advise the Iraqi army, and the fact is it’s just that – training and advising,” he said, dismissing fears that his proposal would lead to tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops locked in another bloody ground war.
“There’s more that we can do, with limited risk, and it wouldn’t require that many more people,” the speaker said.
“Please,” Boehner seems to be saying, “Let’s get back to a full war in Iraq, but without calling it war.” Presumably because the last one worked out so well.
Postscript: Marcy has been the one tracking maneuvers around the issue of an AUMF (even as recently as yesterday), but the Boehner quote above comes from a larger article about a possible new Iraq AUMF. Boehner is fighting Obama’s proposed AUMF. But he’s fighting it because he doesn’t want Obama to give back some of the unlimited war powers of the Executive:
“Until the president gets serious about fighting the fight, until he has a strategy that makes sense, there’s no reason for us to give him less authority than what he has today, which is what he’s asking for,” Boehner told a group of reporters Tuesday, following his trip with lawmakers to several Middle East hot spots during the congressional recess.
Take that, Mr. President. We won’t give you authority for this war until you ask for even more unfettered power than we already grant you!
Back when President Obama introduced his version of the AUMF (which didn’t sunset the 2001 AUMF and didn’t include meaningful limits on the ISIL war), I suggested he was leveraging the competing interests of Congress to retain maximal Executive powers.
Those who seek to limit Executive authority would be nuts to pass such an authorization.
Indeed, there are already signs of dissent from Democrats. “[W]e must [pass an authorization] in a way that avoids repeating the missteps of the past, and that does not result in an open-ended authorization that becomes legal justification for future actions against unknown enemies, in unknown places, at unknown times,” Senator Pat Leahy reacted, recalling how the 2001 AUMF had been used to authorized indefinite detention and drone strikes far from the battlefield.
That may be part of the point. Republicans have already objected to the one biggest limit in the AUMF, its promise not to use “enduring” ground troops, which hardliners think are needed. “If we’re going to authorize use of military force, the president should have all the tools necessary to win the fight that we’re in,” John Boehner told the National Journal and other reporters.
Which may mean such a bill will not pass Congress. Even as Republicans are squealing about what they claim is a presidential power grab on immigration, they appear content with this particular power grab — particularly if the President will bear responsibility for any big reverses in this war.
If this AUMF doesn’t pass, President Obama will continue to rely on fairly audacious claims about other sources of war authorization, all the while claiming Congress is responsible for not authorizing what he’s doing. If this AUMF does pass, President Obama may continue relying on a hodgepodge of AUMFs, thereby claiming fairly unlimited boundaries to his war powers.
Heads or tails, we’re likely to still end up with claims to fairly unlimited Presidential authority to wage war.
We see in this story why Obama was clever to play the AUMF debate the way he did, following the Syria AUMF debacle in 2013. Obama, recall, declared that he didn’t need a new AUMF, waited months to send up a draft, and then sent up a draft that contained authorities duplicative of those he already claimed. This wasn’t principled or good government, in any sense, but the result is that Obama has successfully turned congressional calcification and paralysis to his advantage.
The reason is that because of the way he postured the matter, nothing actually hinges for Obama on congressional passage of a new AUMF; the President, after all, claims the authority to do everything he wants to do against ISIL under current authorities. In fact, as I explained the other day, congressional failure to act arguably constitutes acquiescence to his broad claim of authority under the 2001 AUMF, since few of the members of Congress who are refusing to pass a new authorization are also claiming that the president lacks legal authority to take action. Many Republicans are actually complaining that he is not doing more than he is against ISIL.
Obama, in other words, put himself in a position in which congressional action would strengthen his hands and congressional inaction—always the likeliest outcome these days—would also strengthen his hand, or at least not weaken it.
It was a smart play on the part of White House lawyers.
I’d be hooting “I told you so” if the implications weren’t so dire.
Obama claims these AUMFs authorize not just bombing in Iraq and maybe Syria and who knows why not Libya and while we’re at it everyone’s having fun bombing the shit out of Yemen these days. But they authorize a claim to breathtakingly expansive authority for the President.
Fourteen years later, you might think Congress would start to get jealous of its own authority and begin reclaiming it. And, in fact, Republicans are squawking about limited Executive power grabs elsewhere.
But not on war. Never on war.
Remember when this war began because “They hate us for our freedoms,” which in part included real limits to Executive authority?
As Congress here in the US creeps ever closer to amassing a veto-proof margin for war with Iran by keeping sanctions in place even after a final P5+1 agreement would end them, it comes as especially refreshing that Pakistan’s Parliament has expressed clear sentiment against committing troops to a foreign exercise in folly. Especially remarkable is that this blunt refusal in the face of the Saudi request for Pakistani troops in Yemen comes only 13 months after the Saudis were found to have been the source of a critical $1.5 billion infusion of support when Pakistan’s economy was teetering.
Tim Craig gives us the essentials of Parliament’s move:
Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously Friday to remain neutral in the conflict in Yemen, a major blow to Saudi Arabia as it seeks to build support for its offensive against the surging Houthi rebels there.
The parliament’s decision came after five days of debate in which lawmakers expressed major concern that Pakistan’s 550,000-man army could become entangled in an unwinnable conflict.
On Monday, Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said Saudi Arabia had requested that Pakistan send troops, warships and fighter jets to help it battle the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. But several Pakistani political leaders were strongly opposed to the request, saying the crisis in Yemen didn’t pose an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia.
The next paragraphs provide sharp contrast between the US Congress and Pakistan’s Parliament:
Instead, the resolution approved by Pakistan’s parliament warned that the Yemen crisis “could plunge the region into turmoil” if a negotiated peace and settlement was not reached soon.
“This bombing needs to be stopped because, as long as this is happening, the peace process can’t be launched,” Mohsin Khan Leghari, a Pakistani senator, said on the floor of parliament Friday.
A unanimous resolution against involvement in a foreign conflict that points out that Pakistan’s involvement “could plunge the region into turmoil”. Just wow. The US has sown turmoil on so many fronts throughout the Muslim world recently and yet Congress not only doesn’t see their own role in that turmoil but instead are doing their best to overcome the one opportunity we have there of establishing a peace process. I can’t think of a more damning indictment of Congress now than to put this move by Pakistan’s Parliament alongside Congress’ attempt to derail the Iran nuclear agreement. Given a call for war, Pakistan’s Parliament chose peace. Given a call for peace, the US Congress may still choose war.
For more details on the various forces at play in Yemen, this piece by Sophia Dingli at Juan Cole’s blog lays things out clearly.
The full text of the resolution can be found here.
As Jason Leopold reports, the government recently released a newly declassified version of the 2002 NIE that justified the war with Iraq to Black Vault’s John Greenwald. Leopold has a useful overview of what the report includes. But I’m most appalled by this.
The NIE also restores another previously unknown piece of “intelligence”: a suggestion that Iraq was possibly behind the letters laced with anthrax sent to news organizations and senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a week after the 9/11 attacks. The attacks killed five people and sickened 17 others.
“We have no intelligence information linking Iraq to the fall 2001 attacks in the United States, but Iraq has the capability to produce spores of Bacillus anthracis — the causative agent of anthrax — similar to the dry spores used in the letters,” the NIE said. “The spores found in the Daschle and Leahy letters are highly purified, probably requiring a high level of skill and expertise in working with bacterial spores. Iraqi scientists could have such expertise,” although samples of a biological agent Iraq was known to have used as an anthrax simulant “were not as pure as the anthrax spores in the letters.”
Perhaps the inset discussing the US-developed anthrax used to attack two Senators and members of the media purports to respond to questions raised by anonymous sources leaking the previous year. But it basically does nothing but suggest the possibility Iraq might have launched the attack, even while providing one after another piece of evidence showing why that was all but impossible.
Moreover, by the time this NIE was completed in October 2002, that deliberate leak had been silent for a almost a year.
That the rumor appeared again, secretly, in the Iraq NIE really ought to raise questions about a whole slew of unanswered questions about the anthrax attack: about why Judy Miller got fake anthrax, about why the FBI scoped its investigation to find only lone wolves and therefore not to find any conspirators (and still almost certainly hasn’t found the culprit), about why the first person framed for the attack also happened to be someone who knew of efforts to reverse engineer Iraq’s purported bioweapon labs.
No. No, Iraq wasn’t linked to the anthrax letters in fall 2001. It’s a simple answer. But nevertheless, the question got treated as a serious possibility when Bush Administration was trying to drum up war against Iraq.
From the very beginning, when George W. Bush and his co-defendants wanted to invade Iraq over the 9/11 attacks, the US war in Iraq has been promoted, waged and defended with a complete lack of self-awareness of the illegal nature of the war and the devastation that can be laid directly at the feet of the US. Today we have a new chapter in that stunning absence of conscience, as the US engages in hand-wringing over the discovery of Iranian missiles in Iraq:
Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.
United States intelligence agencies detected the deployments in the past few weeks as Iraq was marshaling a force of 30,000 troops — two-thirds of them Shiite militias largely trained and equipped by Iran, according to three American officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence reports on Iran.
So, why is the US so concerned about this development? Read on:
Iran has not yet launched any of the weapons, but American officials fear the rockets and missiles could further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties because they are not precision guided.
That is just effing unbelievable. Iranian missiles might “further inflame sectarian tensions and cause civilian casualties”? Really?
How about those sectarian tensions that are already in Iraq? Where did they get their biggest push? Recall that when we invaded, Saddam ruled through the Baath Party. The Baath Party was secular. The very first act (pdf) by the US military after overthrowing Saddam’s government was to disband the Baath Party. With its one secular ruling political party disbanded at the point of a gun, Iraq turned to organizing around the sectarian faiths that encompassed both mosques and militias. Much of the remaining time the US military spent on active combat duty in Iraq involved pitting Shias against Sunnis while paying lip-service to the need for “reconciliation”.
And then there are the civilian casualties. Although Iraq Body Count puts the number at a more conservative 100,000 or so, a more encompassing study documents that half a million civilians have died in Iraq as a direct result of the US invasion. And don’t get me started on the effects of the depleted uranium used in Fallujah.
The hubris involved in the US suggesting that Iran’s missiles could inflame sectarianism or cause civilian casualties is nothing short of staggering. But none of the idiots engaging in this hand-wringing will ever be forced to account for the real source of sectarian tensions and civilian casualties in Iraq.
Washington has tried its very best to sweep the war in Afghanistan under the rug. Most of the press dutifully went along with the fiction of declaring the war to have ended in December. The military joined in, trying to classify virtually all information coming out of Afghanistan. That classification move has been backtracked somewhat, but we still haven’t seen a revised quarterly report from SIGAR with the newly released data.
For those who care about the truth of what is really taking place in Afghanistan as a result of the misguided US action, it is a good thing that Washington cannot stifle information flowing out of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. UNAMA has been tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009, and their latest report was released today (press release is here and full report in pdf form is here). The news is not good at all. Deaths jumped by 25% from 2013, going from 2969 to 3699. Injuries also showed a sharp increase, from 5668 to 6849. These numbers simply do not comport with the rosy statements coming out of the Pentagon on what our troops in Afghanistan “accomplished”, how the Taliban are being defeated and how the ANSF are now “hugely capable”. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have shown a relentless rise since the UN started collecting data:
It is harder to find data for the years leading up to 2009, but here is one report (pdf) in tabular form from Costs of War:
The figures from this report include only a subset of the types of death tracked by UN, accounting for the slight discrepancy in the years of overlapping data.
US military operations and continued presence in Afghanistan has been a disaster for civilians there. The insurgency which has arisen in response to the US presence is responsible for most of the casualties, but it is hard to see how these numbers would be as high if the US had simply left after deposing the Taliban in the first few weeks of the operation.
In addition to tracking casualties, the UN collects information on war crimes. Units of the Afghan Local Police are notorious in this regard (ALP most often are comprised of private militias that have been given a brief bit of training by US death squad trainers from JSOC and/or CIA). From the report:
For example, on 11 July, an ALP member shot and killed a local shopkeeper after an argument over ice. On 7 July, an ALP commander and four of his men assaulted (and injured) four civilians in Jorum district, Badakhshan province, during a wedding party. The reason for the beating was reportedly that the family had failed to provide food to the ALP as demanded.
UNAMA documented multiple examples of ALP intimidating and ordering the displacement of families from their communities. For example, on 12 October, ALP forcibly displaced 150-200 families from Khak-e-Safed district, Farah province. The ALP had warned the local population not to allow the Taliban to launch attacks from the village. The Taliban had also threatened the local population not to cooperate with the ALP. After Taliban fighters established positions in the area, the ALP ordered the 150-200 families to leave the area, resulting in displacement of an entire village, mainly to Farah city.
I would imagine that someone in Washington is busy today trying to find a way to prevent UNAMA from releasing its next report.