Even while Barack Obama and John Kerry are busily lobbying for a positive vote in Congress for their Not-War in Syria, it appears the Defense Department isn’t waiting for a pesky thing like Congressional approval or even the official start (as opposed to already ongoing but covert) of US actions to begin their usual process of mission creep that is undoubtedly to be followed by cries of “Just six more months and victory will be ours!”. The mission creep on targeting threatens the propaganda push that so far has been centered on selling the action as limited. We have New York Times articles this morning stating that Israel goes along with the idea of limited strikes but definitely doesn’t want to go all the way to regime change where radical Sunni groups might seize power, while at the same time we have the Pentagon claiming they’ve been tasked with expanding the number of targets for the strike. From the latter:
President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action.
Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the “degrade” part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to “deter and degrade” Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Mr. Obama delayed action on Saturday to seek Congressional approval of his plan.
For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.
See? It’s the fault of all those dirty hippies insisting on following an old piece of paper and forcing the President to get a permission slip from Congress before taking action. That delay is why we have to expand the number of targets.
We are left to ponder just how it will be possible to magically target and kill Syrian forces tasked with moving chemical weapons around without actually hitting those weapons–which the forces are in the process of hiding. What could possibly go wrong here?
But I want to focus more fully on this AP article. Marcy had just read it when she sent out this tweet:
Press coverage from the Chuck-Hagel-Says-It’s-Covert training that HAS BEEN GOING ON in Jordan being given real time machine treatment.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) September 6, 2013
That, along with the title: “US officials: US considers training Syria rebels”, suggests that the article is an expansion of the effort I outlined earlier in the week, where Barack Obama is trying to change both the date and the size of the first CIA-trained death squads to enter Syria, most likely because they are somehow tied up either as targets of the chemical weapons attack or as perpetrators of a false flag operation.
Diving into the article, though, we see that this is about adding to the death squad training by expanding into a much larger operation where US troops are directly involved in training a large force (for the Afghanistan analogy, this proposal is to move beyond the CIA training Afghan Local Police–the militias who become death squads–for our military to train the actual Afghan National Army, which is about ten times larger): Continue reading
On Tuesday, I wrote about the disappearances, torture and murder for which the Afghan Local Police are known, comparing them to other death squad programs that the US has backed over the years in various military engagements. Sadly, there is another class of war crimes that US-trained death squads have engaged in. Rape, especially gang rape, also is a key tool employed by these groups in their efforts to intimidate local populations. (For one example, here are details of the brutal rape and murder of a group of US nuns in El Salvador in 1980, carried out by a US-trained death squad.)
Writing in the Daily Beast yesterday, Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau provided excruciating details on two victims of gang rapes carried out by groups in Afghan Local Police uniforms. From one of the accounts:
Seventeen-year-old Chaman Gul suffered a similar fate to that of Monizha. Relatives describe her as being a “healthy and attractive” young woman. In a phone interview with Newsweek/The Daily Beast, she described the ordeal she suffered two months ago in Aqsaee village, Darzab district, in the northern province of Jowzjan. As she, her relatives and other villagers tell it, she was brutally raped by seven men, including the local militia’s powerful commander, Murad Bai. “They broke down the door of our home and did to me, a number of times, horrible things that I can’t tell anyone or put into plain words,” she says from an undisclosed hiding place.
Other relatives and villagers confirm her account. One 60-year-old villager, who does not wish to be named for security reasons, says he watched as Bai and his men broke into Gul’s house. He says they were wearing the khaki-colored uniforms of the ALP. “They came just after noon and collectively raped her,” the villager says. “The village was so frightened no one could raise a voice against the ALP.”
Adds a close relative, who also wishes to remain anonymous: “The girl was raped for hours and was in such a terrible condition that we thought she would die.”
The family of Monizha, the victim of another attack described earlier in the article, chose to move to a refugee camp in Pakistan. In many respects, this is one of the ways that ALP “stabilize” villages in their vaunted Village Stability Operations: they strike so much fear into the local population that they remain silent or even leave the area. But the Gul family reacted differently:
Rather than quietly hiding her suffering, as most victims and their families do, Gul took her case to the district and provincial authorities—but to no avail. “I complained to everyone in the concerned departments, but no one heard my voice,” she says.
The Darzab district police chief even threw her father out of his office. “The district police chief never offered any help or sympathy,” she says. “Another senior policeman told us the commander (Murad Bai) is the darling of the Americans and no one can touch him.”
And that is the key to how these atrocities are carried out. The heads of the militias, whether they are officially within the Afghan Local Police, or supposedly unsanctioned, but wearing ALP uniforms (and I suspect in that case, these groups are more likely to be CIA-affiliated “A-teams” like the one headed by Zakarai Kandahari in my post from Tuesday), are working with the blessings of, and under the protection of, the US. The groups know that they will not be held accountable for anything they do and this unlimited power can lead to the atrocities that we have seen.
The US can not claim ignorance of these types of atrocities. In December of 2011, Human Rights Watch begged the US not to expand the Afghan Local Police program: Continue reading
NATO is claiming that there now is an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai regarding the withdrawal of US Special Operations Forces from Maidan Wardak province in the wake of Karzai’s insistence last month that the troops leave immediately. Despite the presence of an agreement, however, there appear to be many different explanations for just what the agreement means for how long US SOF will be present in the province. Given the history of the US bargaining with Afghanistan in bad faith (see, for example, this post on the Parwan Prison handover and work backwards in time through the links and this post for a description of US reliance on semantics in making these sham agreements), it is not at all surprising to me that these initial reports on the agreement would cite a lack of specificity and that different news organizations would come up with widely differing descriptions of its expected effects.
Reuters puts its doubts about the meaning of the agreement right up front in its report:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if U.S. special forces would leave.
An Afghan defense ministry spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite American force would quit Wardak within a few days, despite earlier U.S. concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said in a statement Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of U.S. special forces.
Note that Reuters knows that ISAF statements must be parsed carefully and they do a good job here of warning us that ISAF did not state outright that US SOF would leave the province.
Writing for AP, Kimberly Dozier provides less analysis of the statements received, and so her report provides conflicting information from ISAF and from an Afghan spokesman. The article opens:
The U.S. military and the Afghan government reached a deal Wednesday on a gradual pullout of American special forces and their Afghan counterparts from a contentious eastern province, officials said.
President Hamid Karzai has blamed the troops for egregious human rights abuses in Wardak province, allegations which U.S. military officials have steadfastly denied.
However, NATO forces said in a statement that commander Gen. Joseph Dunford agreed with Karzai to remove American troops first from Wardak’s Nerkh district and then later from other parts of the province.
But then the information from an Afghan spokesman presented next appears to conflict with the ISAF information:
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi confirmed there has been a deal in a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday.
“The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days,” Azimi said, adding that there are no other U.S. commando units in the rest of the province.
A U.S. military official explained that a small, mostly U.S. army special operations team would withdraw from Nerkh, as would the Afghan local police force that works alongside the Americans.
Azimi states outright that the only US Special Operations Forces in Wardak are in the Nerkh district and that these will be withdrawn. Dozier misses the point that Reuters parsed out, namely, that it appears that ISAF speaks of US forces withdrawing from the province while being silent on whether SOF also would withdraw.
There is a larger problem with Dozier accepting Azimi’s statement at face value, though. In this post, I addressed what is known (unfortunately, September, 2012 is the latest information from this map) about Afghan Local Police presence in Wardak: Continue reading
The Afghan Local Police program was a centerpiece of David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency (COIN) program in Afghanistan when he took over command after Stanley McChyrstal was fired. The program came under extreme scrutiny this week when Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for the expulsion of US Special Operations forces from the province of Maidan Wardak after repeated reports of atrocities carried out by forces claiming to be allied with ALP forces trained by SOF. Today, there is further bad news for the ALP program, as seventeen people have been killed at an ALP post in what appears to be an insider attack. Since the attack occurred early this morning, it should be kept in mind that information is still coming in regarding the details of what took place. Today’s attack was in Ghazni province, which is adjacent to Wardak, as seen in the map here.
Back in September, training of ALP was the first program suspended due to insider attacks. The (delayed by the elections from October) December 2012 “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” (pdf) informed us that the re-screening of ALP was already moving quickly by then:
To mitigate the risk of insider threats, SOJTF-A has taken active measures to re-validate all 16,474 ALP personnel. This revalidation process is currently 52 percent complete, with less than one percent removed due to nefarious activities or counter-intelligence concerns. This process, which is currently ongoing, is very similar in design to our initial screening/validation methodology. It begins at the local level by conducting shuras and intimately involving local elders, who must vouch for each ALP member, ensuring he remains in good standing. Each member’s application paperwork is re-reviewed by various personnel from the Coalition, MoI, NDS, and the DCOPs. If any ALP member “flags” as suspicious, additional counter-intelligence (both Afghan and Coalition) measures are taken. If it is determined that an ALP member is unfit, he is removed from the program. These processes are non-negotiable. In addition, NDS plans to embed three agents per 100 ALP to identify possible infiltration by the enemy. The prevention/elimination of Insider Threats will remain COMISAF’s top force protection priorities.
So Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan claimed in December that they had already revalidated just over half the ALP force and that less than one percent of the force had been removed due to potential nefarious connections. And yet, almost two months later, we now have a major attack on ALP that has the hallmarks of an insider attack. From the New York Times:
A group of 17 Afghan policemen were drugged by their comrades while on duty and then shot to death in their sleep in what appears to be the single worst incident in a string of similar attacks, according to Afghan officials.
The attack took place at a remote Afghan Local Police post in Ghazni Province, south of the capital, early Wednesday morning, according to General Zrawar Zahid, the Ghazni police chief.
Other Afghan officials said authorities had already arrested two policemen who they said were Taliban infiltrators who had carried out the attack.
The AP report carried by the Washington Post suggests that not all the dead were ALP:
The dead included 10 members of the government-backed Afghan local police, and seven of their civilian friends, said Provincial Gov. Musa Khan Akbarzada. He says there was a conspiracy of some sort but declined to confirm if poison was involved.
The previously mentioned December report from DoD has a remarkable level of detail on the status of the ALP, with a snapshot as of September 26, 2012: Continue reading
Today’s story in the Washington Post covering Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decree expelling US Special Operations forces from a province just outside Kabul illustrates how completely the upper levels of the US military have been ignoring reality in Afghanistan. The Post reported that the “announcement appeared to come as a surprise to American military officials”. For those who have been paying attention, it has been clear that Afghanistan has been upset for years over a program tied to US Special Operations forces that develops what amounts to private militias which are sometimes under the Afghan Local Police name and sometimes not. These groups are particularly lawless and have been reported to participate in revenge killings, disappearances and torture (which are also the specialties of JSOC). And this program was at the heart of David Petraeus’ operations when he took over in Afghanistan:
Jack Keane, a former Army general and a mentor to David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan when the program began, said that “the brilliance of the program is also the vulnerability” because recruits are selected by elders, not by Americans. Although there has always been some form of NATO vetting, “we’re totally dependent on their judgment as to who they’ve selected.”
And some groups continue to warn of the dangers of reintroducing militia-like forces to a country long bedeviled by warlords. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported instances of killing, rape, theft and other abuses among the local police that raised “serious concerns about the A.L.P. vetting, recruitment and oversight.” The group added: “Creation of the A.L.P. is a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability.” (At the time, NATO said that some aspects of the report were dated or incorrect.)
Although a short pause in Special Operations forces training of Afghan Local Police took place back in September when the article quoted above came out, it is clear now that the “re-screening” of ALP personnel was a sham and that the abuses under this program continue. Here is Khaama Press describing Karzai’s decision:
After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.”
“The Ministry of Defense was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks,” the statement said adding that “All the Afghan national security forces are duty bound to protect the life and property of people in Maidan Wardak province by effectively stopping and bringing to justice any groups that enter peoples’ homes in the name of special force and who engage in annoying, harassing and murdering innocent people.”
This comes as US special forces and their interpreters were accused of misbehavior and humiliation of innocent local residents in Nekh district of Maidan Wardak province earlier in January.
Most of the news reports covering this move by Karzai do note that Special Operations forces are expected to play a key role after the “withdrawal” of coalition forces planned for the end of 2014. As noted in the Guardian: Continue reading
In the most significant move yet that suggests the NATO plan for Afghan security forces to take over as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 has failed, the US has halted most joint activities between US and Afghan forces below the battalion level. Any joint action at the lower force level will require approval from a General before it is permitted. Because the bulk of the training and joint patrol work of US and Afghan forces occurs at these lower force size levels, this order effectively brings training to a close until the order is reversed.
Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News first reported this development last night:
Most joint U.S.-Afghan military operations have been suspended following what authorities believe was an insider attack Sunday that left four American soldiers dead, officials told NBC News.
“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said. So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks. Sunday’s attack came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman, Reuters reported.
“It’s had a major impact on our ability to conduct combat operations with them, and we’re going to have to back off to a certain degree,” the official said.
The suspensions of the joint operations are indefinite – according to one official, they “could last three days or three months.”
ISAF took issue with some of the early reporting and issued this “clarification” this morning:
Recent media coverage regarding a change in ISAF’s model of Security Force Assistance (SFA) to the Afghan National Security Forces is not accurate. ISAF remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF counterparts. The ISAF SFA model is focused at the battalion level and above, with exceptions approved by senior commanders. Partnering occurs at all levels, from Platoon to Corps. This has not changed.
In response to elevated threat levels resulting from the “Innocence of Muslims” video, ISAF has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks. This means that in some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign.
We’ve done this before in other high tension periods, and it has worked well. Under this guidance, and as conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection. The SFA model is integral to the success of the ANSF, and ISAF will return to normal operations as soon as conditions warrant.
It seems to me that just as the “Innocence of the Muslims” video and its associated protests was used as cover for the sophisticated attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, ISAF now is using the film and protests as cover for suspending training even though this suspension was a development that was easily predicted when Special Forces halted training of the Afghan Local Police on September 2. As I said at the time: Continue reading
It has been a horrific weekend for NATO forces in Afganistan. Friday, insurgents infiltrated the air base where Britain’s Prince Harry is stationed and destroyed a large number of aircraft and facilities. The infiltration was aided by the attackers wearing US uniforms. Saturday, two British troops were killed by a member of the Afghan Local Police and today four US soldiers were killed by a group of Afghan National Police. The six green on blue deaths bring the total for this year to 51.
Here is the latest information from ISAF on Friday’s attack:
Following the 14 September attack at Camp Bastion, in which two Coalition service members were killed when insurgents attacked the base’s airfield, the International Security Assistance Force provides the following additional details. Because it is still early in the investigation of this attack, this information is subject to change as new details become available:
The attack commenced just after 10 p.m. when approximately 15 insurgents executed a well-coordinated attack against the airfield on Camp Bastion. The insurgents, organized into three teams, penetrated at one point of the perimeter fence.
The insurgents appeared to be well equipped, trained and rehearsed.
Dressed in U.S. Army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, the insurgents attacked Coalition fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings.
Six Coalition AV-8B Harrier jets were destroyed and two were significantly damaged. Three Coalition refueling stations were also destroyed. Six soft-skin aircraft hangars were damaged to some degree.
Coalition forces engaged the insurgents, killing 14 and wounding one who was taken into custody. In addition to the two Coalition service members that were killed, nine Coalition personnel – eight military and one civilian contractor – were wounded in the attack. None of their injuries are considered life-threatening.
Danger Room provides some perspective on the issue of insurgents having access to US uniforms:
Nor is Friday’s attack the first perpetrated by insurgents disguised as U.S. troops. In 2010, following a spate of such attacks, the Pentagon ordered the Army to begin treating stocks of uniforms as “sensitive”and remove them from “pilferable” ground resupply convoys moving through Pakistan. “There is evidence that the enemy is using pilfered out-garment uniform items to gain a tactical advantage,” the Pentagon warned.
The unanswered question from Friday’s attack is did the insurgents hang on to uniforms obtained in 2010 or were the steps taken to secure the supply of uniforms breached recently? How many more uniforms do the insurgents have?
Danger Room also points out there there is a high-profile target at Camp Bastion and that there have been other recent attacks aimed at high-profile NATO targets: Continue reading
On Saturday, I noted that the move by US Special Operations forces to halt training of Afghan Local Police and Afghan special forces while those entire forces were re-screened for security threats meant that there would need to be an equivalent action taken on the larger effort to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police while they are re-screened:
So, while only Special Operations forces have suspended training for now, it is hard to see how this will not extend to all training of Afghan security forces soon, because the lapses in screening of recruits applies equally to the much larger ANA and ANP forces (approximately 350,000 for those two forces combined, compared to various estimates in the 20,000 range for the ALP and Afghan special forces when combined).
Even though it was a holiday weekend, it is remarkable that Pentagon Spokesman George Little was taken so off-guard in this line of questioning that Marcy pointed me to in Tuesday’s transcript:
Barbara, do you have a question?
Q: Thanks, two questions. On green-on-blue or insider attacks, what I didn’t hear you mention was that — what ISAF tells us is essentially all 350,000 Afghan security forces either have gone or are going through the process of being re-screened. And that comes from ISAF. So what would you — what does — what do you say to the families who have lost loved ones or their colleagues in the military after so many incidents this year alone? Who’s accountable for it taking so long for the U.S. military, for the coalition to realize they had to re-screen? Because for months, we were told isolated incidents, and apparently not.
MR. LITTLE: Well, let me put this in some perspective here, Barbara. It’s not that we have come only recently to this issue. We’ve taken it seriously for some time. In March of this year, six months ago, the — ISAF issued a tactical directive — and let me just list all that that tactical directive contained. It made it the adoption of specific and tailored force protection measures. Personnel and increased risks from insider attack were required to undertake specific close quarter combat and active shooter training. All commands are required to conduct refresher training, particularly for mentors and others who routinely work side-by-side with Afghans.
The directive required additional in-theater cultural awareness training. The directive also asked that coalition force units create safe zones inside ANSF compounds where they can defend themselves if necessary. And more recently, there’s been a great deal of focus by General Allen and his team on the importance of Guardian Angels, small unit leadership, and counterintelligence matters that will help identify potential attackers early on.
Q: But why did it take — and I have a follow-up to this, please — why did it take so long for the military in the department to come to the conclusion that 350,000 troops had to be re-screened? Why did (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Three hundred and fifty thousand troops? Continue reading
On Saturday, we learned that US Special Operations forces have suspended training of Afghan Local Police while a re-screening of the backgrounds of those already in the force is carried out. I noted then that only Reuters dared to connect the ALP program to David Petraeus, who put it in place, presumably because the news on the program was not good. Yesterday, the New York Times also linked Petraeus to the program, and, remarkably, this came only one day after running an article exposing further problems with the ALP program.
Sunday’s article on problems with the Afghan Local Police program informs us that a number of atrocities have been linked to groups some claim have been enabled by the ALP program:
It was the second time in a month that one of the controversial militia groups, known as arbakai, had carried out reprisal killings of people believed to be Taliban sympathizers.
In both cases, residents complained that the groups received support and protection from American Special Operations forces, which the United States military has denied. The Special Operations units train arbakai militiamen only when they are enrolled in official programs for recruits of the Afghan Local Police, American officials insist.
Although the term “reprisal killing” has a specific definition in International Humanitarian Law (see this comment by joanneleon), the article linked by the Times when they used the term discusses what looks like a case of revenge killing fueled by ethnic hatred:
At least nine Afghans and perhaps many more were forced out of their homes in rural Afghanistan and executed in what Afghan officials called an act of revenge by one ethnic group against another, underscoring the long shadow cast by the country’s ethnic hatreds.
So, while at least some of the atrocities attributed to the ALP may be due to ethnic tensions, what seems clear is that in many cases these groups claim a relationship to US Special Operations forces that the US sometimes disputes. From this same early August article:
Two Afghan officials, including a member of Parliament, asserted that the man who is accused of leading the executions has had a relationship with American Special Operations forces — an assertion that an American spokesman denied. The other Afghan official, the provincial police chief, said the authorities in the area had tried to have the man arrested on past accusations of killing civilians, but that “foreigners” provided refuge for him.
The spokesman for the Special Operations Command, Lt. Col. Todd Harrell, said there were no Special Operations forces in the area and emphasized that it remained unclear if those who were killed were civilians or Taliban.
That is a very interesting dual-level denial by Harrell. First, he denies a link to the leader of the group carrying out the executions, but, just in case that claim later becomes non-operational, he throws in the suggestion that those killed may have been Taliban, presumably making the fact that they were executed okay.
The article goes on to state that perhaps some ALP units have direct links to Special Operations forces rather than operating under Afghan control. Complicating matters further, it appears that although the ALP program got a large push under Petraeus’ command, the practice of buying off militia groups has been going on from the beginning of our presence in Afghanistan and may go beyond Special Operations: Continue reading