War

Described Focus of Protest in Kabul Dependent on News Outlet

Khaama Press photo of Sunday's protest in Kabul.

Khaama Press photo of Sunday’s protest in Kabul.

A protest variously described as featuring “over a hundred”, “hundreds” or “over 500″ protesters took place in Kabul on Sunday. The object of the protest, however, was very dependent on whose report (or even whose headline) on the protest is being read.

The Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Islamic State’s Siege of Kobani, Syria Sparks Protest in Kabul, Afghanistan” while Iran’s PressTV went with “Afghan protesters blast US-led forces, BSA”. Remarkably, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press did not see it necessary to spin the focus of the protest in a particular direction, using the headline “Afghans protest against Islamic State, US and NATO forces in Kabul”.

The Khaama Press article quickly sums up the protest:

Over 500 people participated in a demonstration against the Islamic State and presence of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The protesters were shouting slogans against the presence of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and in support of the Kurdish people who are fighting the Islamic State militants.

Protesters were also carrying signs purporting crimes committed by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and resistance of the female Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State.

The US and NATO were also accused by protester for supporting the extremist groups in Afghanistan and Kobane.

We learn in the article that the protest was organized by the Solidarity party of Afghanistan, which Khaama described as “a small and left wing political party in the country”. Presumably, since they were allowed to stage the protest, the ban on the party issued in 2012 must have been lifted.

One has to read the Wall Street Journal article very carefully to find any evidence of the US criticism that was in the protest. The article opens:

Residents of Kabul have a war on their own doorstep: The provinces around the Afghan capital have seen an upsurge in violence this year.

But the conflict in Syria was on the minds of demonstrators who marched Sunday in solidarity with the town of Kobani, Syria, currently under siege by Islamic State militants.

Over a hundred Afghans—most of them women—held placards supporting Kurdish fighters defending the city.

Near the end, the article mentions, but dismisses as “conspiracy theory”, the accusations of US involvement in the creation of ISIS:

Conspiracy theories often thrive in Afghanistan, and at Sunday’s protest, many demonstrators expressed the belief that Islamic State was a U.S. creation. Some held placards saying, “Yankee Go Home.”

The article then mentions the BSA without stating that it was also a target of the protest other than citing the “Yankee Go Home” sign.

PressTV, on the other hand, focused exclusively on the anti-US aspects of the protest. In fact, the video accompanying their story does not match the photo that is used in the video frame while the video isn’t playing. The photo, which is full-frame, shows protesters somewhere burning an American flag, but the video itself-which appears to match the same event in the Khaama Press photo-only partially fills the frame and does not show any flag-burning. PressTV opens:

Afghan protesters have staged a rally in the streets of the nation’s capital, Kabul, to reiterate their opposition to the continued presence of US-led troops in the war-ravaged country.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the capital on Sunday to also express their outrage against the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) signed by the newly-inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

The protesters were reportedly carrying banners pointing to alleged crimes committed by US and NATO forces across Afghanistan

Remarkably, even though Iran is staunchly opposed to ISIS, the PressTV story makes no mention of the protest also being aimed against ISIS, or even of the accusations of a US role in the creation of ISIS.

Congratulations to Khaama Press for choosing to not spin a story that major outlets in the US and Iran used as propaganda pieces.

Parchin Blast Site Far From Disputed Chamber

Yesterday, I described what was known at the time about a mysterious blast near the Parchin military site in Iran. I postulated that satellite imagery would soon be available to help sort out the mystery of what took place. A tweet this afternoon from @dravazed alerted me to this article at the Times of Israel, which, in turn, linked to this story posted at israeldefense.com.

Satellite imagery described as from Sunday night’s blast at the Israel Defense site shows several buildings destroyed. The article claims that the blast looks like an attack on a bunker:

Satellite images obtained by Israel Defense and analyzed by specialist Ronen Solomon clearly show damage consistent with an attack against bunkers in a central locality within the military research complex at the Parchin military compound.

Because of the unique shape of the large building adjacent to those destroyed by the blast, I was able to find the location of the blast on Google Maps. Also, with the help of this article from 2012 in The Atlantic, I was able to locate both the area inspected by IAEA in 2005 and the site of the disputed blast chamber where it is alleged that research to develop a high explosive fuse for a nuclear weapon has been carried out. None of these three locations, the blast site, the chamber site or the area inspected in 2005, lies within the boundaries marked as Parchin on Google Maps. The blast site looks to be near a populated area of what is marked on Google Maps as Mojtame-e Maskuni-ye Parchin (which appears to translate as Parchin Residential Complex A if I used Google Translate appropriately). In fact, the blast site appears to be just over a mile from an athletic field. On the map below, #1 is the disputed blast chamber location, #2 is the blast site and #3 is the area inspected in 2005. Note that both the blast chamber site and the area inspected in 2005 are more removed from what appear to be the populated areas.

Final

I am far from an image analysis expert, but the blast site looks to me to be more like an industrial site than a cache for storing explosives. If a bunker were indeed located here, that would put the local planning in this area on a par with West, Texas.

It will be very interesting to see how US officials describe the damage and the site where it occurred.

Reuters Reporter Dan Williams Tries to Help Israel Sell Iron Dome, Ignores Problems

In a story published at 7:28 am this morning, Reuters more or less transcribed a sales brochure for Israel trying to get other countries to buy their own versions of the Iron Dome system. I have written on Iron Dome a couple of times, noting that it amounts to a billion dollar boondoggle and that Congress now wants US contractors to get their portion of the take from the huge funds the US is pouring into the program.

A recent summary of how the effectiveness of Iron Dome has been over-hyped can be found here. The New York Times also addressed problems with Iron Dome here.

Remarkably, it seems that Reuters reporter Dan Williams could find none of this information about problems with Iron Dome while he copied from Israel’s sales brochure for Iron Dome:

Normally, an advanced new weapon system with a battle-proven success rate of 90 percent would have global defense procurement agencies on the phone in minutes. But Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor is yet to prove a hit with buyers abroad.

In terms of operational achievement, tested on the Gaza, Lebanese and Egyptian Sinai fronts, Iron Dome is unrivalled in the arms market. However its uniqueness – developed for a particular threat in a particular place – also limits its appeal to countries dealing with more conventional military adversaries.

But the praise for Iron Dome doesn’t stop there. Later in the piece, Williams says:

So far the system – its effectiveness against Palestinian rocket fire demonstrated beyond doubt since 2011 – has been bought by just one foreign country. Its identity is being kept secret by both sides.

So far, at the time of this writing, about two hours after Reuters posted the article, I have had no response from Williams on Twitter to my calling out his uncritical transcription of Iron Dome effectiveness and Reuters has posted no comments on the story even though I submitted a comment about an hour ago.

How Did Mighty American Bombing Not Destroy Terrorist Membership Lists?

Jenan Moussa continues her remarkable string of discoveries of intact artifacts amid the destruction of war. Six weeks after the Benghazi attack, she found a slew of papers (some unsigned) that had survived the fire that killed Chris Stevens. And in the lead-up to the ISIL escalation, she got handed a laptop of dubious provenance which contained evidence ISIL wanted to weaponize bubonic plague.

This time, she went to the “completely destroyed” headquarters of the group dubbed Khorasan by US authorities and found intact documents showing the group was in fact an elite sniper unit of Jabhat al-Nusra called the Wolf Group. Moussa reports 50 fighters (but no civilians) were killed in the strikes. She shows, among other things, an intact list of 14 fighters found at the site.

Now, it is apparently the case that’s who was targeted (or at least, who was reported by Jihadists to have been killed). This post traces their well-publicized history and location. Though as it points out, the Wolf Group does not appear, at least from what is public, to be the western focused group it has been billed as. (h/t TalkLeft, which has been great on Obama’s ISIL escalation)

So was the Wolf Group plotting against Western targets?

The honest answer, of course, is that it is impossible to know that from the open source information we have. What we do know, though, is that:

(a) there is no evidence that the group was called the Khorasan Group;

(b) the group ran a sniper training facility in Aleppo that was highly regarded and trained elite snipers to fight against Syrian government forces, so one would presume that loss of this facility will impact on JAN’s ability to train snipers and thus perhaps confer a benefit on Assad;

(c) it was well-known and not a secret that Abu Yusuf al-Turki was a sniper trainer and that he fought in Afghanistan, and that other members of the training school were veteran jihadis;

(d) there are videos of the training school so its location is not a secret either.

Moussa’s story completely tracks with what we know about the guy who was reported by jihadists to have been killed in the attack, Abu Yousef al-Turki, though there’s not yet evidence that means Khorasan is the Wolf Group — only that the strike that killed some members of the Wolf Group have been dubbed Khorasan Group.

Which is why — even more than how the list survived — I’m most interested in how Moussa’s report is now being used. Eli Lake uses it to equate threat reporting that everyone knew the President would not find sufficiently threatening to act on in June with his attack now.

The new disclosure that Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) had prepared target packages against al Qaeda’s cell comes as some critics on the left and righthave questioned whether the White House invented the threat from the so-called “Khorasan Group” in order to justify airstrikes that began in September against al Qaeda and ISIS targets in Syria. Skepticism has also mounted because U.S. officials have walked back claims in the last week that the strikes on the Khorasan Group were an attempt to disrupt an imminent threat.

Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan Television this week reported that the Khorasan Groupwas actually an elite unit within al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, which has been focused on its fight inside the country. Other U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the group is composed of senior al Qaeda planners focused on attacking the West.

But much later in his report, he notes that military officials are not yet convinced al-Turki did die.

After last week’s airstrike, Jihadist websites reported that two of the group’s leaders, Muhsin al-Fadhli and Abu Yousef al-Turki, were killed. But thus far the U.S. military and the intelligence community have not been able to confirm this.

One problem for the U.S. intelligence community is that it has no American intelligence officers on the ground in Syria to assess the areas where U.S. missiles hit, according to two intelligence officials. Instead, these officials say, the U.S. must rely on Jordanian assets and Kurdish fighters in Syria for on the ground information.

Some U.S. intelligence officials also suspect deception. “This could be false information from these Jihadist web forums,” a senior U.S. defense official said. “We don’t have people on the ground, so it’s hard to know.”

We are relying on far more than Jordanian assets. And there is a good deal of disinformation, and not just, it appears, from those we’ve labeled as jihadists.

But I’m sure it’ll all work out if we continue bombing blindly.

Jack Goldsmith Declares Victory … for Osama bin Laden

Yesterday, Jack Goldsmith misread a crabby Harold Koh defense of Obama’s ISIL escalation justification as the end to the end to the Forever War.

Harold’s Koh’s grudging defense of the domestic legal basis for President’s Obama’s use of force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is important.  It adds little new to other defenses of the President’s position – a legal position, I have argued in past posts, is politically stupid and constitutionally imprudent but nonetheless legally defensible under Article II and the 2002 AUMF (but not the 2001 AUMF).  Koh’s defense is nonetheless important because it definitively reveals the death of the Obama administration’s ambition to end what Koh has described as “the Forever War.”

As I said, I think this is a misreading of Koh. Koh still clings to the notion that a Congress ducking legislative action for many reasons – almost none of which have to do with electoral pressure in the short term, and many of which have to do with the fact the President has given them the luxury of dodging responsibility for what will almost certainly be an unpopular and probably unsuccessful escalation — will provide the President a more appropriate authorization for his escalation later this year.

Achieving a better outcome is not politically impossible. Representative Adam Schiff’s proposed AUMF, for example, would accomplish in one bill three of the four steps described above. It would (1) authorize “all necessary and appropriate force against ISIL” for eighteen months, limited geographically to Iraq and Syria and operationally to no US ground forces; (2) repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF now and (3) repeal the 2001 al-Qaeda AUMF in eighteen months. If the President openly backed such legislation, it would place his war with ISIL on a much firmer legal ground, while advancing his longer-term objective—announced in 2013 at the National Defense University —of taking us off a permanent war footing.

This President came to office to end war. But he just declared a new one, sparing Congress of its constitutional responsibility to back him. Instead of breaking the vicious cycle, and asking Congress to live up to its constitutional duties to confront the Islamic State, the President prolonged a dysfunctional historical pattern that is inconsistent with the design of our National Security Constitution. As the conflict with ISIL stretches on, pressure will build to send advisers and other boots on the ground to further the goal of destroying ISIL. Americans and the world will grow weary and forget the exigencies that led this President to take this course.

There is still time to avoid this vicious cycle. When Congress returns, some will be lame ducks, and for all, the next election will be at least two years off. If members of Congress seriously care about their prerogatives, they will have no excuse for again ducking their constitutional responsibility. And this President will have those same years to consider what his constitutional legacy will be. History will treat this President far better if he leaves office not just having fought the Islamic State, but having lived up to his promise to put us on the path toward ending the Forever War.

That is, Koh still clings to the fantasy that the President will agree to limit his own authority when Congress won’t force him to do so.

Goldsmith, on the other hand, presents Koh’s painful somersaults as endorsement of the notion that Islamic extremism will remain a threat for the foreseeable future, and therefore Congress may finally replace the 2001 AUMF with something that better authorizes Forever War for the long haul.

I always thought the debates about what to do with the 2001 AUMF – repeal it, let the President interpret it flexibly, or replace it with a more rigorous updated authorization – turned on intuitions about the persistence and danger posed by Islamist terrorists.  It is now clear that the Islamist terrorist threat is not dissipating anytime soon.  It is also clear that the President’s interpretation of the 2001 AUMF to fight this threat, whether lawful or not, is certainly a stretch, even on Koh’s account.  It is also pretty clear, finally, that Congress will not easily authorize wars on a threat-by-threat basis.  So perhaps now we can start talking about realistic statutory replacements for the 2001 AUMF.

For Koh, this is a choice between a legally defensible (in the short term) justification, and more legally justifiable way to bring the Forever War to a close. For Goldsmith, however, the choice is between a legally suspect justification for the Forever War, and a more defensible justification for the Forever War.

Forever War or Forever War.

Whichever you choose, the President will retain the authority to override limits on domestic spying (written by … Jack Goldsmith!), to override due process to drone-kill American citizens, to indefinitely detain men who were sold for a bounty, and to train and arm men we’ve given cause to loathe us. From time to time, Congress will be called on to stir itself from suckling, Matrix-like, on its Defense Contractor cash to approve funds and expand immunities. The fight Osama bin Laden started will continue to rot our government and Constitution. “They hate us for our freedoms,” they used to say, and now our experts embrace indefinitely signing away those freedoms in increasing bits, via legally suspect means or legally defensible.

All the while, this Forever War will suck up money that should be spent funding things like education and infrastructure, things that used to sustain America’s vitality. And the constant threat inflation needed to justify this Forever War will distract from far more pressing threats, like climate change and Ebola and reckless banksters.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t worked as OBL wanted is that America’s refusal to deal with climate change will kill devout Muslims in far greater numbers, at first, than it will Americans.

Institutionalizing the Forever War might as well be declaring victory for OBL.

The most telling part of this exchange, though, is how Koh, after having referred to a bunch of fellow law professor critics as “commentators,” then called law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, writing for a publication with greater reach and news credibility than the legal blog Just Security that Koh was writing in, “the blogosphere.” Continue reading

US Air Strikes in Syria Proceeding as Expected: Civilian Deaths Documented, ISIS Recruitment Up

Last week, besides pointing out the obscene fact that the US Senate approved $500 million for the US to get more involved in the Syrian civil war on the same day the UN announced a $352 million funding shortfall for feeding civilian refugees of the war, I predicted that the “training” of Syrian rebels would fail just like training in Iraq and Afghanistan but civilian deaths from the US air strikes and at the hands of the rebels would greatly aid recruiting in extremist groups like ISIS.

It turns out that ISIS recruiting shot up even on Obama’s announcement of the US effort:

At least 162 people joined the radical al Qaeda offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week after Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information on the conflict.

Islamic State has put particular pressure on rival insurgent groups in this part of Aleppo.

An additional 73 men had joined the group on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the start of the strikes, the Observatory said, bringing the total number since Sept. 10 to at least 235.

“This means these people are not scared. Even if there are air strikes, they still join,” said Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Observatory.

And, just as could be expected from the “pinpoint” US air strikes, for which we have virtually no on-site intelligence to guide the strikes (other than reconnaissance flights by drones), we are now getting reports of civilian casualties. From Reuters yesterday:

U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and militants, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Isn’t that nice? Our intelligence-gathering for the air strikes can’t distinguish ISIS bases from silos used to distribute grain to starving civilians. How many new recruits will ISIS get from families whose only food supply was bombed in that strike or whose family members were killed by it?

Of course, the US military refuses to believe any evidence that it could possibly make a mistake. From the same Reuters story:

The U.S. military said on Monday an American air strike overnight targeted Islamic State vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, and added it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

“We are aware of media reports alleging civilian casualties, but have no evidence to corroborate these claims,” said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command. He promised that the military would look into the report further, saying it took such matters seriously.

You betcha. I’m sure Central Command will get right on that investigation of how it killed silo workers (and see below for the military admitting that it can’t properly evaluate the effects of strikes). Just as soon as they get the next fifty or so new targets for air strikes put on their targeting lists.

Sadly, this strike on the silos is not the only instance of civilian deaths from the US strikes. The Daily Mail has more information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about yesterday’s strike and the overall civilian death toll from all strikes:

Mr Abdulrahman, said today: ‘These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people.’ The airstrikes ‘destroyed the food that was stored there’.

The group says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition airstrikes.

And, of course, the US has not acknowledged any of the previous civilian casualties, either. All they will say is that the evidence is “inconclusive”:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

Gosh, I don’t understand how we can have sufficient analytical ability to select targets but insufficient ability to assess the results of strikes on those targets. Sounds to me like the military is just bombing Syria for shits and giggles.

And to help contractors sell more bombs.

Unrepentant War Criminal Dostum Sworn in as Vice President in Afghanistan

The worlds largest vendors of death and destruction, US defense contractors, must be at their highest state of euphoria ever. Last week, they were able to add Syria to the newly expanded list of fronts on which they are vending weapons for US misadventures (after Iraq had recently been brought back onto the list as well). Today, high fives and the clinking of toasting cocktail glasses must be sounding throughout the beltway as the long-awaited swearing-in of the new Afghan President (Ashraf Ghani) has finally taken place this morning. That means that the biggest and longest-lasting source of their bloodstained wealth, Afghanistan, will continue to pay them handsomely for at least a couple more years, as it is widely expected that the Bilateral Security Agreement will be signed tomorrow, keeping the flow of weapons and destruction wide open.

Nearly lost in all the drama of the prolonged “election” process in Afghanistan is that the first vice presidential candidate on the eventually “winning” ticket headed by Ashraf Ghani was Rashid Dostum. Yes, that Rashid Dostum, as described by McClatchy in 2008:

Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with a human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who’d surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime.

When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum’s headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum’s militiamen had fired into the metal containers.

Dostum’s men hauled the bodies into the nearby desert and buried them in mass graves, according to Afghan human rights officials. By some estimates, 2,000 men were buried there.

Earlier this year, bulldozers returned to the scene, reportedly exhumed the bones of many of the dead men and removed evidence of the atrocity to sites unknown. In the area where the mass graves once were, there now are gaping pits in the sands of the Dasht-e-Leili desert.

Dostum and his followers continue to be thugs, adding to tensions last night that led to speculation that Abdullah Abdullah might boycott today’s inauguration (he eventually did show up):

Another bad sign occurred Sunday morning, when Mr. Abdullah’s representatives and those of Mr. Ghani’s running mate as first vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, got into a scuffle over office space in the Arg, as the presidential palace here is known, a Western diplomat, who spoke to a witness to the episode, said.

Mr. Dostum is a warlord from northern Afghanistan whose heavily armed followers, wearing civilian clothes, have been much in evidence in Kabul lately.

Mr. Abdullah’s team believed it had been assigned those offices in the Arg for the chief executive officer and his staff, and had already moved in furnishings, when Mr. Dostum’s representatives arrived on Sunday.

“Incredibly enough, they came and cleared them out for Dostum,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities involved.

So while Abdullah has been declared to be the chief executive of Ghani’s government, I would expect Dostum and his thugs to move in on more of Abdullah’s territory than just his assigned office space. With billions of US dollars up for grabs over the next two years, I expect Dostum to waste no time in grabbing all he can while laughing at anyone who would dare to say it isn’t his.

Day after Escalating Climate Damaging War, Obama Cites “Beyond Vietnam” on Climate Urgency

In a column at Salon, I compare two executive actions President Obama took this week: escalating the war against ISIL (and expanding it to “the Khorasan group”), and including climate resilience as one consideration in foreign aid projects.

The war escalation makes it quite clear that Obama believes he has expansive Executive Authority. Which makes it all the more pathetic that he’s still piddling around with using that authority to respond to a far more urgent threat, climate change.

Perhaps more appalling, however, is how he rolled these out. The day after escalating a war that will burn vast amounts of fossil fuel at a speech at the UN Climate Summit, Obama invoked Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech to describe the urgency of the problem he is largely ignoring.

In his climate speech, the president rather ironically invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam.” In it, the civil rights leader described how we did then what we still do now in the Middle East: “[W]e increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support.” The day after Obama escalated a war on the other side of the world, he cited King’s radically anti-war speech to invoke the urgency of fighting climate change, not terrorism. “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now,” the original speech went. “[T]here is such a thing as being too late,” were the words the president cited.

And yet, having invoked that urgency, the president took executive action that — compared with his executive actions that expanded a war —  was timid and inadequate to the climate threat facing the nation and the globe.

The president clearly believes he has expansive authorities to protect the country. Given that’s the case, why isn’t he heeding Dr. King’s call to meet the urgency of the moment with appropriate action?

Obama is clearly making a choice to use his Executive Authority to respond to less urgent threats.

And all the while he’s invoking the words of King to put a gloss on his own inaction.

Click through for more.

Zbig’s Plotting over Chilean Sea Bass

Earlier this month, President Obama hosted a dinner with past foreign policy luminaries to explain his plan to combat ISIL. He served Chilean sea bass and d’Anjou pear salad as they discussed the future of America’s empire.

Harman described the dinner on Monday as “focused and thoughtful.” Over a dinner of d’anjou pear salad and Chilean sea bass, Obama, Vice President Biden and the outside experts engaged in a deep discussion of the options to combat the Islamic State, those who participated said.

Among the attendees was Zbigniew Brzezinski (see the full list of attendees below), Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor.

I thought it a curious choice, given how much of the Blowback we’re still fighting he birthed. As NSA, after all, Zbig crafted what he thought was a brilliant plan to draw the Soviet Union into a quagmire in Afghanistan. Even after al Qaeda had started attacking the US in Africa, Zbig thought fostering well-trained Islamic terrorists was an acceptable trade-off for having lured the Soviet Union into an embarrassing defeat.

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Zbig doesn’t acknowledge it here, but another reason he thought this was such a great idea is because the Iranian revolution was already in full swing, and he hoped to counter our loss of footprint there with something to keep the Russians busy next door.

In so many ways that decision has led inexorably to where we are, doing the bidding of dangerous Saudi allies who are actually a cause of the extremism we fight, not its solution.

Even before the Chilean sea bass dinner, I’ve been wondering whether the US would double down on its commitment to the Saudis, in spite of the way they’ve fostered this terrorist threat, or whether we’d use the opportunity to cement the deal with Iran, giving us more space from the Saudis.

I’m embarrassed I even wondered. I should have known from heavy-handed intercept of Russian jets and the increasing sanctions on both Russia and Iran that we intended to gain advantage both against ISIS and against those who question our unlimited hegemony.

But this account of how the Saudis came to join in bombing campaigns against Islamic extremists makes it rather clear.

The Americans knew a lot was riding on a Sept. 11 meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia at his summer palace on the Red Sea.

A year earlier, King Abdullah had fumed when President Barack Obama called off strikes against the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. This time, the U.S. needed the king’s commitment to support a different Syrian mission—against the extremist group Islamic State—knowing there was little hope of assembling an Arab front without it.

At the palace, Secretary of State John Kerry requested assistance up to and including air strikes, according to U.S. and Gulf officials. “We will provide any support you need,” the king said.

That moment, more than any other, set in train the U.S. air campaign in Syria against Islamic State, according to U.S. and Gulf officials. Mr. Obama made clear he would only authorize strikes if regional allies agreed to join the effort.

[snip]

The process gave the Saudis leverage to extract a fresh U.S. commitment to beef up training for rebels fighting Mr. Assad, whose demise the Saudis still see as a top priority.

[snip]

After Islamic State made startling gains in Iraq, Saudi officials told Mr. Kerry in June that Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite with close ties to Iran, needed to go, according to U.S officials. Once that happened, Riyadh would step up its role against Islamic State and work to bring other Gulf states onboard. The Obama administration had come to a similar conclusion and started to maneuver Mr. al-Maliki out of office.

[snip]

Two of the F-15 pilots were members of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Khaled bin Salman, son of the crown prince. In the third wave of the initial attack, half of the attack airplanes in the sky were from Arab countries.

There’s far more at the link: the Saudi agreement to host the training (something I’ll return to), Bandar’s presence — and smiles — at the meeting on September 11,  (Though, if I’m not mistaken, the story had more details about the meeting between Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir and Obama when it was first posted last night, including that they used first names.)

Whether the US means to faithfully execute their half of the bargain or not, and whether the Saudis are dealing with us in good faith, remains a very good question.

But if they really intend to help the Saudis and Qataris take out Assad (not because he’s a brutal dictator, of course, but because he’s not their brutal dictator), certain things must come with that: a means to undercut the momentum our fight against ISIL will necessarily give Iran and Russia. Otherwise, no amount of training of “moderate” rebels will make a difference — or keep the Saudis happy.

Maybe that’s not what we intend. Maybe we’ve still got a plan in place to ditch the Saudis. But if not, expect some kind of Zbig plan that will likely backfire worse than his earlier one. Continue reading

Graft-Sharing Agreement Signed, Ghani Awarded Afghan Presidency

On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani was declared the new President of Afghanistan. Despite months of “auditing” the votes cast in the runoff, we have not yet had an announcement of actual vote totals. That is because Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round of voting by over a million votes still disputed that he could have then lost by over a million votes in the runoff. Abdullah had refused to play along with the plan to announce vote totals at the same time as awarding the presidency to Ghani. Ghani will be sworn into office on Monday.

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael Gordon transcribes the State Department’s elation over the planned signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement shortly after Ghani is sworn in:

A new security agreement authorizing the presence of American forces in Afghanistan after 2014 will be signed just days after the nation’s new president is inaugurated on Monday, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

Both Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, indicated during their election campaign that they supported the security agreement. And both men recommitted themselves to the agreement in recent weeks as they worked out the terms of a power-sharing arrangement, American officials said.

“We expect that it will be fully signed in a matter of days after the new administration starts,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under the agency’s rules for briefing reporters. “No one has talked about reopening the issues.”

Though widely anticipated, the signing of the agreement is an important step that would provide a legal basis for American forces to advise Afghan forces after 2014.

Abdullah is reported as “optimistic” about the new national unity government and is saying all the right things about Afghanistan appearing to have avoided a violent resolution of the election conflict.

As a full-time skeptic, though, I can’t help wondering if at least a part of the prolonged process of negotiating the national unity government was just haggling over how much cash will be in Abdullah’s monthly bag from the CIA. After all, Karzai’s take is known to have been at least tens of millions of dollars.

Details of the “power-sharing” agreement are beginning to come out:

Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the president-elect of Afghanistan and the chief executive officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have shared the key government institutions almost on equal basis among themselves.

According to documents obtained by 8am newspaper, the ministry of interior and finance has been taken by Dr. Ashraf Ghani while the ministry of defense and foreign affairs have been taken by Dr. Abdullah.

Other key ministries and government institutions have also been equally shared among the two teams, according to the documents.

So although Ghani is to be President, it is very significant that Abdullah will have control of the defense ministry. Returning to my link above about the bags o’ cash that Karzai got, those payments are mere pocket change compared to the real cash that Afghan officials are able to siphon out of the firehose of US cash flowing into the country. As noted there, in 2011 the US committed around $11 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund alone and in that same year, SIGAR quoted the Congressional Research Service finding that around $4.5 billion in cash left the country through the Kabul airport.

Not quite as much cash will be there for the taking in 2015 and beyond, but by being in charge of the defense ministry, Abdullah would appear to be first in line for siphoning off parts of the $4.1 billion in funds from the US and one billion Euros from the EU plan for ANSF support next year.

By controlling the ministry of finance, Ghani also will have access to vast sums that can be siphoned off, so their graft-sharing appears on the surface to be fairly equitable. Also, one would presume that the interior department will be in line for bribes relating to Afghanistan’s reputed vast mineral wealth.

It appears that both Ghani and Abdullah are very well cared-for in their carefully negotiated graft-sharing agreement.

Postscript: There is one more aspect of Gordon’s transcription this morning that can’t be left unchallenged:

The signing of the agreement would not end the debate over the continuing American role in Afghanistan. Given the escalation of violence that followed the withdrawal of the last American forces from Iraq in 2011, some critics, including former ranking officials in the Obama administration, have urged the White House to adopt a more flexible approach toward removing troops from Afghanistan.

As I pointed out in this post, a full 18 months passed between the withdrawal of the last US troop from Iraq and the surge in violence there. Those 18 months are now being purged from the collective memory of the hive mind of the DC village.

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