War

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Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons-Related Materials Completed Weeks Ahead of Schedule

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I'll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I’ll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

As militarized local police riot in Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq continues its meltdown and Afghanistan can’t even agree on how to recount votes, the world has been overdue for the tiniest morsel of good news. Good news is what we got yesterday out of the situation regarding the destruction of chemical weapons-related materials from Syria:

The United States said Monday that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.

/snip/

On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provided more details in a press release from their Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü:

The Cape Ray’s consignment included the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal: 581 metric tonnes of DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], a binary precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tonnes of ready-to-use sulfur mustard (HD). They were neutralised with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHS) on the Cape Ray, which reduced their toxicity by 99.9 percent in line with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Furthermore, the operation was successfully completed weeks ahead of the 60-day schedule the U.S. had estimated would be needed, and OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment. The Cape Ray will now transport the effluent from the hydrolysis operations to Finland and Germany, where it will be offloaded for disposal at land-based facilities.

Recall that the initial US response to the chemical weapons attacks of August, 2013 in Syria was supposed to be missile strikes and a ramping up of support for “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. But John Kerry achieved some accidental diplomacy and Assad agreed to hand over his chemical arsenal for destruction. Since then, war hawks have been castigating Obama for the very low level of support for Syrian rebels despite the fact that US air strikes in Iraq are now aimed at destroying major weaponry that the US provided to Iraq’s army before it melted away in the face of opposition.

There now is substantial evidence to support the decision not to provide increased support for the moderates, as many of these moderate groups have now shifted their alliance directly into IS support. This terrific Monkey Cage blog post written by Marc Lynch and hosted at the Washington Post, provides very good background on the shifting alliances among the rebel groups: Continue reading

As Expected, Kerry’s Power Sharing Agreement in Afghanistan Falling Apart

Well, that didn’t take long. On Friday, John Kerry made a second pass at getting Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to make nice. This time he even produced a signed document (probably) to go along with the happy photos. And then yesterday the Washington Post announced that Ghani already is backing down on the whole shared power concept:

Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.

Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival.

On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.

After a false start earlier, the work on developing the real power sharing agreement was slated to start today:

The joint committee assigned by the two presidential candidates and expected to hash out the details of their power-sharing agreement is expected to begin its work on Wednesday, according to representatives of both campaigns.

The joint committee was initially expected to start work last Saturday, a day after the three article declaration about the broad structure of the national unity government was signed by both candidates. However, disagreements over the join committee were said to have stalled the start of negotiations until now.

Abullah Abdullah’s First Vice President, Mohammad Khan, has said on that the committee will have a total of thirty members representing both candidates. According to Fizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team, both teams nominated 15 representatives on Tuesday.

With 15 negotiators on each side, I would expect that the first week or two of the negotiations will resolve such crucial issues as the shape of the table and the length of the breaks between sessions. They might also want to make a “no punching” rule, as there appears to have been another fight today while ballots were being reviewed.  It’s hard to see how Kerry could make a third trip to put the power sharing back on course since the first two have been such spectacular failures.

Combining the poor outlook for a power sharing agreement with the continued disruptions in auditing ballots puts the next “deadline” in a huge amount of doubt:

The NATO coalition will be forced to make a decision on its continued role in Afghanistan without a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in place if the Afghan presidential election does not meet a conclusion soon, NATO Secretary-General Andres Fog Rasmussen warned on Monday.

The senior NATO official indicated continued military support, including a post-withdraw troop presence for training and advising purposes, as well as broader financial aid to Afghanistan, would likely be impossible if the BSA is not signed by a new Afghan president before the NATO summit begins on September 4.

“Soon we will have to take tough decisions, because if there is not a legal basis for our continued presence in Afghanistan, we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year and to do that we will have to start planning … very soon,” Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday.

Obama has a very easy way out here. If there still is no resolution to the election by the time of the NATO summit, he can paint the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan as a NATO decision rather than a US decision. Yes, a number of earlier deadlines in this process have been ignored, but it is very hard to see how NATO would agree to remain in Afghanistan without a BSA signed by a new president. Although the neocons likely would return to Iraq-era “no permission slip needed” rhetoric urging Obama to keep troops there even without any other NATO allies, I don’t seen how he would do that.

We are less than a month away from what almost certainly will be a decision to withdraw fully from a war that has been one of the most badly managed efforts in our country’s history. We have squandered about a trillion dollars, killed untold numbers of civilians, lost far too many troops and will leave a country that is wracked by devastation and a huge increase in corruption. Obama will be blamed for losing Afghanistan just as surely as he is now being blamed for losing Iraq, but in both cases, the entire country should share the blame for empowering amoral leaders who know only death, destruction and corruption.

Why US Wants BSA With Criminal Immunity: Amnesty Reports US War Crimes in Afghanistan Not Prosecuted

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.

Obama Pitches His Iraq Intervention with “Suck on This” Friedman

Steve Coll has a depressing article describing why Obama — after having ignored red lines in the past — drew one in Erbil.

Erbil’s rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with Baghdad’s Shiite politicians—as each year passed, the Kurds got richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse that trend.

And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.

Obama’s defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal—as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example—are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company, as Al Swearengen would well understand. Life, Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of “one vile task after another.” So is American policy in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Obama has inexplicably decided to go pitch his intervention in an exclusive with the man Atrios dubbed the Wanker of the Decade — not for inventing the Friedman Unit — but for his honesty that the first time we went, it was to say “Suck On This” in spectacular fashion.

In it, Obama as much as admits he fucked up Libya and had no business pretending there were secular Syrians to arm. But (as Coll notes in his piece) Obama pretends the Kurds aren’t angling for maximum advantage here, just as all other players are.

“When you have a unique circumstance in which genocide is threatened, and a country is willing to have us in there, you have a strong international consensus that these people need to be protected and we have a capacity to do so, then we have an obligation to do so,” said the president. But given the island of decency the Kurds have built, we also have to ask, he added, not just “how do we push back on ISIL, but also how do we preserve the space for the best impulses inside of Iraq, that very much is on my mind, that has been on my mind throughout.

Obama’s lesson here is that you can’t strive for maximalist advantage. But then to sell Iraq War 3.0, he obfuscates about doing just that, with the man who justified Iraq War 2.0 by saying “Suck On This.”

US Finally Admits Air Strikes in Iraq

It turns out that the mighty Cessna can indeed fire Hellfire missiles!

It turns out that the mighty Cessna can indeed fire Hellfire missiles!

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:

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

Will Greene’s Death Become Symbolic Image for End of US Training Effort in Afghanistan?

Greene

Greene

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.

Breaking: Green on Blue Attack at Afghan Officer Training School, High Ranking Casualties

The Khaama Press account of the shooting cites a terrorist as responsible in the headline, but then says it was an ANA soldier in the opening paragraph.

The Khaama Press account of the shooting cites a terrorist as responsible in the headline, but then says it was an ANA soldier in the opening paragraph.

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:

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.

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

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.

Suicide Bomb Kills Karzai’s Cousin: First Victim of Abdullah-Ghani Battle?

Hashmat chilling with his lion.

Hashmat chilling with his lion.

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.

SIGAR Finds That ANSF Weapons SCIP Away from OVERLORD

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:

procurement

 

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:

14580114417_19ff8f8230_z

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?

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @mattapuzzo: DOJ considering whether to open broader civil rights investigation into Ferguson PD. No decision made, but DOJ's has been a…
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bmaz RT @tonymess: We already know more in the past hour about a city of St. Louis police shooting than we do about one in #Ferguson 10 days ago.
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bmaz This (and I know a couple of you at @Twitter are following)----> RT @erinscafe Twitter please stop fucking w/Twitter. http://t.co/JysxchES7x
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bmaz @LegallyErin But, if when you then get transcript (which you do here) if proffered material would have changed vot you have Motion to Remand
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bmaz @LegallyErin We have no absolute right here; but you can notice a request to either testify or have a proffer submitted. Usually they say no
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bmaz @AllThingsHLS Sage reasoning. Truly. I've made a GJ demand to testify?submitted proffer a handful of times over many years. rarely good idea
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bmaz @AlexLittleTN See why I now hate Federal court??
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bmaz @LegallyErin This says yes too http://t.co/Gfu9Rb0q8v but I don't find it in MO law (via lame ass Google search)
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bmaz @gnarlytrombone If they then do not, then you have an argument that the presentation was unfair and subject to potential remand.
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bmaz @gnarlytrombone Here there is no absolute right, but you can request and demand to either appear or they enter your written proffer.
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bmaz @AllThingsHLS See? This shit is easy!
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