On June 1 (apologies for the delay, but as most of you know, our site was hacked and has migrated to a new host) Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland, who heads the US effort in Afghanistan, took part in a press conference in which he was patched into Washington via a video link from Kabul. At the end of the transcript, we have a very telling exchange:
Q: General, Lucas Tomlinson, from Fox News. Just a quick follow-up to Louis’ question. Were you or General Nicholson concerned that Mullah Mansur was in Iran? And are you concerned about Iran sheltering Taliban officials? Thank you.
BRIG. GEN. CLEVELAND: Yes, Lucas. Thank you very much.
You know, our — our real focus on it, again, continue to be Afghanistan and I know it sounds like I’m dodging your question and I don’t mean to, but again, you know, the location of Mullah Mansur and where he was either before or during the strike, et cetera, are really questions that probably the team back in Washington, D.C., has got a better answer for you.
Our real role, again, as I think you’re well aware — Mullah Mansur was a threat to U.S. forces, he was an obstacle to peace. An opportunity presented, the president made a decision and he was targeted and he was killed. And so really, the rest of the aspect of that really is better to answer — better answered back in Washington, D.C.
Q: And lastly, was the taxi cab driver — was he part of the Taliban, too? Did he — did he have that same threat to U.S. forces?
BRIG. GEN. CLEVELAND: So bottom line is we are confident, Lucas, in our targeting and we are confident that he was a lawful combatant.
General Cleveland’s response to Tomlinson here would have us think that Mohammad Azam, the taxi driver who was killed along with Mansour, was a member of the Taliban who posed a direct threat to the US. That would seem to make him an appropriate target for killing.
It seems that a suitable reference on which to rely for DoD’s thinking on combatants is to go back to William Haynes’ memo dated December 12, 2002 and titled “Lawful Combatants”. This memo comes from Haynes as General Counsel to DoD and is addressed to a Roundtable assembled by the Council on Foreign Relations. It appears that this exercise was geared toward providing legal cover for the Bush Administration’s “new” reading of international law and especially its attempts to shield prisoners from the Geneva Conventions.
In the memo, Haynes says this with regard to combatants:
An “enemy combatant” is an individual who, under the laws and customs of war, may be detained for the duration of an armed conflict. In the current conflict with al Qaida and the Taliban, the term includes a member, agent, or associate of al Qaida or the Taliban. In applying this definition, the United States government has acted consistently with the observation of the Supreme Court of the United States in Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 37-38 (1942): “Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts are enemy belligerents within the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war.”
“Enemy combatant” is a general category that subsumes two sub-categories: lawful and unlawful combatants. See Quirin, 317 U.S. at 37-38. Lawful combatants receive prisoner of war (POW) status and the protections of the Third Geneva Convention. Unlawful combatants do not receive POW status and do not receive the full protections of the Third Geneva Convention. (The treatment accorded to unlawful combatants is discussed below).
The President has determined that al Qaida members are unlawful combatants because (among other reasons) they are members of a non-state actor terrorist group that does not receive the protections of the Third Geneva Convention. He additionally determined that the Taliban detainees are unlawful combatants because they do not satisfy the criteria for POW status set out in Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention. Although the President’s determination on this issue is final, courts have concurred with his determination.
So according to the 2002 DoD interpretation of a “determination” by President George W. Bush, members of the Taliban are enemy combatants. But they also are unlawful combatants instead of lawful combatants, so that is one bit of misleading information from Cleveland.
A much bigger problem, though, is that from all appearances, Mohammad Azam was not a driver affiliated with the Taliban and certainly not Mansour’s personal driver. The Guardian looked carefully into the circumstances of how Azam came to be driving Mansour and it appears that Azam was randomly assigned to drive Mansour:
It was a series of chance occurrences that led to Azam finding one of the US’s most wanted men sitting in his white Toyota Corolla.
Azam got much of his work though a small local transport company owned by Habib Saoli, which has its office near the exit of the Iranian-Pakistani border facility that straddles the border.
Mansoor emerged from that building shortly after 9am on 21 May, returning to Pakistan after a long visit to Iran which, it has been reported, was for both medical attention and to visit members of his family.
He immediately began looking for a ride for the 600km journey to the city of Quetta.
Said Ahmed Jan, an employee of a bus company, was trying to fill up the final seats of his Quetta-bound minibus but Mansoor wasn’t interested.
“He said, ‘I want to go in a car’, so I called Habib and asked him to provide a car,” said Jan. “Habib took a little commission and gave the job to Azam.”
It’s very hard to see how a taxi driver randomly assigned to transport a legitimate target of the Defense Department suddenly becomes transformed into a lawful combatant himself. Despite Cleveland’s assurance to the contrary, I seriously doubt that DoD considered Azam a lawful combatant at the time they authorized the strike. The most logical assumption is that DoD came to the decision that Azam’s life was acceptable collateral damage for taking out Mansour. Cleveland simply lacked the honesty to deliver that sad truth.
There also may be legal reason for this lie, however, since Azam’s family has started the paperwork within Pakistan to sue the US over his death. It will be interesting to see whether the case proceeds, especially in light of the previous ruling in the Peshawar High Court that US drone strikes in Pakistan are war crimes.
Postscript: I suppose that one might argue that Cleveland was referring to Mansour rather than Azam when he was making his assurance that “he was a lawful combatant”, but then that says Cleveland completely ignored the question about the status of Azam.
How much more ironic could it be? More than 43 years after the last Americans evacuated Vietnam, ending our disastrous occupation there, the dateline reads Hanoi on President Barack Obama’s statement today on the US drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Mansour was the head of Afghanistan’s Taliban but was in Pakistan at the time the US killed him with a drone, striking a similarity to the US “secret” bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war.
From today’s New York Times, we have parts of Obama’s statement:
Calling the death “an important milestone,” President Obama said in a statement, released just as he was meeting with top officials in Vietnam, that the United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”
“Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children,” Mr. Obama continued in the statement. “The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict — joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.”
So Obama is saying that the Taliban should respond to our extrajudicial killing of their leader by reconciling with the Afghan government (chosen in large part by John Kerry) and working toward peace. What are the odds of that happening? Max Abrahms has some very important points to make on that topic:
Dr Max Abrahms, from Northeastern University in Boston, said the US Government does not look carefully enough at the strategic implications of its strikes on extremist leaders.
He said he had done a number of studies on leadership decapitation of a militant group and he had not found a statistically significant reduction in the amount of violence perpetrated by the group after a leader was removed.
“In fact these decapitation strikes can actually be counter-productive, because one of the assumptions of the targeted killing campaigns is that the replacement of the leader that you killed will be more moderate,” Dr Abrahms said.
“And yet I find just the opposite to be true. The replacement is even more extreme.
“So for that reason, in the immediate aftermath of a successful targeted killing, like over this weekend, the group’s violence tends to become even more extreme, in the sense that it’s even more likely to attack civilian targets.”
And so our circle of irony is complete. Obama’s statement on the killing of Mansour, released from Vietnam, shows that US military misadventures still rely on faulty logic when major moves are made. A strike made to make the Taliban more peaceful seems virtually certain to result in more indiscriminate killing of civilians.
Because I know how much Marcy enjoys miraculous “left behind” documents, I couldn’t resist following up on a Twitter reference I saw flit by yesterday about how a passport for Mansour somehow survived the conflagration in the taxi in which Mansour met his death by drone. By following it, though, I found even more deep irony in the drone strike. This article by ToloNews carries a photograph of a pristine-looking passport. Compare that with the photo in the New York Times article linked above with the burned out wreckage of the vehicle Mansour was said to have been in when hit. How could the passport have survived?
But wait, there’s more! ToloNews tells us that the passport has Mansour’s name and carries a valid Iranian visa. Furthermore:
Meanwhile, a number of analysts said the Taliban in recent months tried to extend relationships with Iran and Russia to fight Daesh and that there is a possibility that Mansour traveled to Iran to escape ISI and talk with Iranian officials.
“Iran is afraid of Daesh presence in Afghanistan, because Daesh is an enemy to Iranian clerics; therefore, Iran wants to eliminate Daesh with the help of the Taliban. Previously, Taliban had strong affiliation to Saudi Arabia, but now there is a rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Iran wants to expand its influence on the group [Taliban],” political analyst Shafiq Hamdam said.
So while Mansour and his group have continued to reject peace talks with the Afghan government, at least some observers believe that he was in the process of trying to join the fight against Islamic State. And it may well be that he died because of that effort. Here’s a map of the region, showing that the site of the drone attack, Ahmad Wal, lies about 100 miles away from Quetta (where the Afghan Taliban has long been believed to be headquartered) along the highway that is the most direct route to Iran from Quetta.
Somebody out there knows what this tune means in my household. For our purposes this Monday morning, it’s a reminder to take a look around — all the way around. Something might be gaining on you.
Android users: Be more vigilant about apps from Google Play
Better check your data usage and outbound traffic. Seems +300 “porn clicker” apps worked their way around Google Play’s app checking process. The apps rack up traffic, fraudulently earning advertising income; they persist because of users’ negligence in vetting and monitoring downloaded apps (because Pr0N!) and weakness in Google’s vetting. If this stuff gets on your Android device, what else is on it?
IRS’ data breach bigger than first reported
This may also depend on when first reporting occurred. The number of taxpayers affected is now ~700,000 according to the IRS this past Friday, which is considerably larger than the ~464,000 estimated in January this year. But the number of taxpayers affected has grown steadily since May 15th last year and earlier.
Did we miss the ‘push for exotic new weapons’?
Nope. Those of us paying attention haven’t missed the Defense Department’s long-running efforts developing new tools and weapons based on robotics and artificial intelligence. If anything, folks paying attention notice how little the investment in DARPA has yielded in payoff, noting non-defense development moving faster, further, cheaper — a la SuitX’s $40K exoskeleton, versus decades-plus investment by DARPA in exoskeleton vaporware. But apparently last Tuesday’s op-ed by David Ignatius in WaPo on the development of “new exotic weapons” that may be deployed against China and Russia spawned fresh discussion to draw our attention to this work. THAT is the new development — not the weapons, but the chatter, beginning with the Pentagon and eager beaver reporter-repeaters. This bit here, emphasis mine:
Pentagon officials have started talking openly about using the latest tools of artificial intelligence and machine learning to create robot weapons, “human-machine teams” and enhanced, super-powered soldiers. It may sound like science fiction, but Pentagon officials say they have concluded that such high-tech systems are the best way to combat rapid improvements by the Russian and Chinese militaries.
Breathless, much? Come the feck on. We’ve been waiting decades for these tools and weapons after throwing billions of dollars down this dark rathole called DARPA, and we’ve yet to see anything commercially viable in the way of an exoskeleton in the field. And don’t point to SKYNET and ask us to marvel at machine learning, because the targeting failure rate is so high, it’s proven humans behind it aren’t learning more and faster than the machines are.
Speaking of faster development outside DARPA: Disney deploying anti-drones?
The Star Wars franchise represents huge bank — multiple billions — to its owner Disney. Control of intellectual property during production is paramount, to ensure fan interest remains high until the next film is released. It’s rumored Disney has taken measures to reduce IP poaching by fan drones, possibly including anti-drones managed by a security firm protecting the current production location in Croatia. I give this rumor more weight than the Pentagon’s buzz about exoskeletons on the battlefield.
That’s a wrap — keep your eyes peeled. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Craig Whitlock has a long read in today’s Washington Post, digging into the issue of US drones suffering problems while in flight. These problems often result in the pilots having to steer the drones into remote locations to crash because they are unable to return to base:
A record number of Air Force drones crashed in major accidents last year, documents show, straining the U.S. military’s fleet of robotic aircraft when it is in more demand than ever for counterterrorism missions in an expanding array of war zones.
Driving the increase was a mysterious surge in mishaps involving the Air Force’s newest and most advanced “hunter-killer” drone, the Reaper, which has become the Pentagon’s favored weapon for conducting surveillance and airstrikes against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
The Reaper has been bedeviled by a rash of sudden electrical failures that have caused the 21/2-ton drone to lose power and drop from the sky, according to accident-investigation documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators have traced the problem to a faulty starter-generator, but have been unable to pinpoint why it goes haywire or devise a permanent fix.
Whitlock goes on to tell us that the Air Force alone saw 20 drones either destroyed or suffer major damage in 2015. Later he also tells us that the Army has its own smaller fleet of drones and it has suffered similar drone catastrophes, with four major crashes last year. Remarkably, if we go to the 20 year history of the Predator drone, Whitlock informs us that about half of the 269 Predators the Air Force purchased have crashed or suffered major damage.
As mentioned above, most of these crashes involve the starter-generator failing. The search for an underlying cause for the starter-generator failures has not been successful:
Working with engineers from General Atomics, investigators identified three parts of the starter-generator that were susceptible to breakdowns. But they couldn’t figure out why they were failing.
No pattern was apparent. Older units had failed, but so had brand-new ones. There was no correlation with operating locations or conditions. The Customs and Border Protection investigation blamed an “unknown factor” that was “likely external.
Oh my. What sort of “external” causes might be at work here? Surely it couldn’t be anything like what Iran experienced in its nuclear program, could it? In a remarkable coincidence, David Sanger has an interesting article today, speculating that US sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program may well have played a role in getting Iran to the P5+1 negotiating table. And, of course, no dirty hippies have ever suggested that US drones might be vulnerable to “external” shenanigans.
Meanwhile, the US is busily installing backup starter-generators on Reapers. Whitlock tells us 47 Reapers have gotten the retrofit and that the backup system so far has been credited with 17 “saves” where the backup kicked in to allow a drone to safely return to base when it otherwise would have been ditched.
D-Day for Microsoft’s earlier Internet Explorer versions
In case you didn’t already know this, Microsoft is slowly killing off its Internet Explorer browser brand, beginning with the end of technical support for all but IE 11.
Beginning January 12, 2016, only the most current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical supports and security updates. Internet Explorer 11 is the last version of Internet Explorer, and will continue to receive security updates, compatibility fixes, and technical support on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.
Some organizations are still relying on older IE versions — a dicey proposition if other non-Microsoft browsers aren’t compatible with their systems. Get a move on, people.
OMG! Terrorists may use drones!
Hoocoudanode cheap and readily available drones might be repurposed by terrorists for flying IEDs. The breathlessness. Really. But wait, they can be stopped!
“The best defence against the hostile use of drones is to employ a hierarchy of countermeasures encompassing regulatory countermeasures, passive countermeasures and active countermeasures.”
I don’t know about you, but I picture the sky soon dark with counterterror drones, swarming like the air over a northern Michigan road in mayfly season.
Intel’s Skylake processors run into problems with complex computing, freezing PCs. A BIOS update is being distributed as a fix. But this isn’t the only bug out there. Read this, especially this bit: “…CPUs are now complex enough that they’ve become too complicated to test effectively.”
Hmm. In other words, future shock has moved beyond consumers.
NPR interviewed VW CEO Matthias Mueller
I’m sure Porsche has been wondering what the hell they were thinking, tieing up with Volkswagen. Porsche’s top guy is now tasked with clean up after VW, and he’s struggling. Witness NPR handing Mueller a shovel, and watching as he just keeps digging.
NPR: You said this was a technical problem, but the American people feel this is not a technical problem, this is an ethical problem that’s deep inside the company. How do you change that perception in the U.S.?
Matthias Mueller: Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default, we had a … not the right interpretation of the American law. And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven’t been compatible to the American law. That is the thing. And the other question you mentioned — it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.
NPR: Because Volkswagen, in the U.S., intentionally lied to EPA regulators when they asked them about the problem before it came to light.
Mueller: We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem. And we did it together and it was a default of VW that it needed such a long time.
Somebody needs to explain the Law of Holes to Mueller.
Also worth revisiting the definition of crazy today. Carry on.
The US insists that the deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were a “mistake”. Both the New York Times and Washington Post open their articles about the drone strike that killed them with descriptions couched in the language of error. The Times:
The first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was when officers from the C.I.A. saw that six bodies had been pulled from the rubble instead of four.
And in the Post:
After weeks of aerial surveillance, CIA analysts reached two conclusions about a compound to be targeted in a January drone strike: that it was used by al-Qaeda militants and that, in the moment before it was hit, it had exactly four occupants.
But as six bodies were removed from the rubble, the drone feeds that continued streaming back to CIA headquarters carried with them a new set of troubling questions, including who the two other victims were and how the agency’s pre-strike assessments could have been so flawed.
Consider that for a moment. Despite all the blathering from John Brennan about “near certainty” in his infamous drone rules (whose legal basis the government still steadfastly refuses to release), we are dealing yet again with deaths of innocents from a signature strike. In those strikes, the US kills without knowing precisely who the targets are. Instead, the US claims that the pattern of activities by those targeted match those of terrorists intent on striking out against the US. The more cynical among us note that there is hubbub over this strike merely because the innocents who were killed happen to be white instead of brown. But the outcome is the same: making the decision to kill based on incomplete evidence that doesn’t even include the actual identities of those in the crosshairs is bound to result in the collateral deaths of many who are not enemies of the US.
Recall that John Brennan made a power grab in the spring of 2012 to take charge of ordering signature strikes when JSOC told the White House that such strikes were not needed in Yemen. And, of course, Brennan immediately started using this tool as a political cudgel as well as the strategic weapon it was believed to represent. But let’s go for a moment to a part of Greg Miller’s Washington Post article linked above:
The deaths of the hostages follow other recent developments that have revealed divisions among the CIA and other agencies over whether to capture or kill a U.S. citizen.
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh was recently arraigned in a U.S. court on federal terrorism charges after he was captured by Pakistan and secretly flown to New York. His arrest raised questions about the frequency with which the U.S. government asserts that capturing terrorism suspects is not feasible. The CIA had been pushing to kill Farekh for more than a year before his arrest, current and former U.S. officials said.
Isn’t that interesting? It appears that Farekh was on CIA’s list of targets it would like to have killed in a targeted strike, with part of the justification for killing him being that it wouldn’t be feasible to capture him. And yet the Pakistanis did capture him. And that development points out an even bigger problem with the decision to hit the compound where Weinstein was killed: that compound is in the southern part of North Waziristan. Recall that Pakistan’s offensive to clear the tribal areas of terrorists began last June. See the map embedded in this post where I discussed the beginning of the offensive. Weinstein and Lo Porto were being held in the Shawal Valley, which is at the very southern end of North Waziristan. Miram Shah and Mir Ali, two of the hottest targets for US drone strikes sit in the central part.
Just a little more patience on the part of Brennan and his signature strike shop might have led to a very different outcome. In November, Pakistan’s military claimed that 90% of North Waziristan had been cleared of terrorists. And in the very same week of the strike that killed the hostages, Pakistan noted that the Shawal area was slated for clearing:
During a journalists briefing here, about the current visit of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to Britain, he said operation Zarb-e-Azb was continuing successfully in North Waziristan and many areas including Mir Ali, Mirshah and Dattakhel were cleared of terrorists, many of whom were killed and arrested and their infrastructure was destroyed.
In these troubled areas, militants had set up infrastructure, training and call centres and they were making phone calls to people in other parts of the country for ransom, he added. Before start of the North Waziristan operation, Pakistan informed Afghanistan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), so that they could take action against terrorists who cross over the border.
Operations were continuing along the border areas with Afghanistan, with whom Pakistan had improved its relations and both countries were sharing intelligence, he added. He said in the next few months the remaining areas including Shawal would be cleared.
Although Pakistan’s military is not particularly noted for protecting citizens during these clearing actions in the tribal areas, it still stands out that Weinstein and Lo Porto were killed in Shawal on January 15 and Pakistan announced on the 18th that Shawal was next up for clearing. Would Pakistani forces have rescued the hostages? We will never know.
Even worse, Brennan was supposed to have stopped signature strikes in Pakistan. Returning to the Times article:
The strike was conducted despite Mr. Obama’s indication in a speech in 2013 that the C.I.A. would no longer conduct such signature strikes after 2014, when American “combat operations” in Afghanistan were scheduled to end. Several American officials said Thursday that the deadline had not been enforced.
Brennan will never give up his prized signature strikes. Greg Miller does note, though, that this strike was one of the last ones for “Roger”, who headed the counterterrorism center and was Brennan’s right hand man for signature strikes. But I’m pretty sure that we can count on Brennan to get Roger’s replacement up to speed on his prized tool very quickly.
You can bet that the “he was just a disturbed person who snapped, don’t look at it as a trend” pieces to start flowing any minute, but how can we see the brutal, senseless murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha as anything other than the natural consequence of over 13 years of the US targeting Muslims around the world? Just this week, despite his own role in the carnage of brown people, when Barack Obama tried to dial things back a bit by noting that violence has been perpetrated in the name of Christianity, we had shocking defenders of the Crusades rush into the debate.
As I noted back in December, the evidence is strong that a military approach to terrorism is almost always doomed to failure. And yet, the US just cannot let go of this military-industrial-antiterror complex. It leads to exceptionally deluded thinking. Obama was claiming as recently as September that Yemen was an example of “success” in the approach to terror. We knew even then that the claim was bullshit. The US got played as a dupe early there when Saleh dialed up a drone hit on a rival. There was ample evidence that the drone strikes were a boon to AQAP recruitment. The US even stooped so low as to kill a teenaged US citizen in a drone strike there.
That shining beacon of antiterror success in Yemen is folding now just as surely as our failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond. France and the UK are joining the US in closing embassies as Yemen crumbles further.
The war on Muslims has created a United States that is polarized to the point of taking up arms against innocent victims. It has created factions that defend atrocities both in the past and in current events. We reward Hollywood with near-record profits for a movie in which the we vicariously shoot Muslim evil-doers from a sniper’s perch.
How different would the world be today if the US had chosen to respond to 9/11 as a police matter rather than a military mission?
On January 30, I noted how the varied history of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim had seen him on many different sides of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His history depends on whoever is describing it, but it is clear he spent time at Guantanamo, where leaked documents said that he was “substantially exploited“. He was released from Guantanamo and held for at least some time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Many reports put him serving on the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban at a later point and getting quite close to Mullah Omar. Most recently, he was said to be an active recruiter for the Islamic State and perhaps even serving as the IS governor of the region.
Multiple reports today state that Rauf has been killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan. From the Reuters report:
A missile-firing drone killed six people in Afghanistan on Monday including a veteran militant believed to have defected to Islamic State (IS) from the Taliban, Afghan officials said.
The senior militant, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in the violence-plagued southern province of Helmand, officials there said.
Police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said Rauf was travelling in a car when the drone attacked. The other casualties included his brother-in-law and four Pakistanis, Mullahkhel said.
More details from the area:
Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Rauf was in charge of IS in southwestern Afghanistan and he was killed just after mid-day in “a successful military operation”.
Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Rauf’s membership of IS could not be confirmed but his associates were dressed in black outfits often worn by IS members.
“It is too early to confirm that he was Daish but his people were wearing the same clothes and mask,” Rasulyar said, referring to IS.
It is hardly surprising that the CNN account of his death would open with the recidivist angle:
He was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan.
He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN.
And, as with seemingly all stories of this type at the early stages, the possibility that Rauf escaped has been presented. Khaama Press relays the same reports of Rauf’s death, but adds this to their story:
However, Pacha Gul Bakhtyar, Security Officer of Helmand Province had told Khaama Press earlier in the afternoon that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim sustained serious injuries while four of his fighters were killed in the attack.
He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim was traveling along with a group of his people in a Saracha vehicle when their vehicle was targeted, leaving Khadim seriously wounded and four of his people killed.
He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf has escaped in wounded conditions.
So, while Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security states outright that Rauf was in charge of IS recruiting for the region, the Ministry of the Interior was insisting as recently as Sunday that the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan was nothing more than a publicity stunt:
Rejecting the infiltration of the Islamic State (IS) fighters to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has said the rumors about the sightings of theses fighters were nothing more than publicity.
MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul said that the security agencies were aware of the movements of all enemies of the country.
He warned the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would suppress all rebel groups whether they were operating under the name of IS or other brands.
As a final note, the case of Rauf and his constantly changing sides should be seen as the rule for areas where the US military has engaged in its misadventures rather than an exeception. Other stories in today’s news note disputes over Afghan police with ties to the Taliban and Iraqi militias operated by a member of Parliament attacking Iraqi citizens at the same time they pursue ISIS.
So, of course, the US should promptly arm troops in Ukraine, as well, so that we can have another region where US arms raise the stakes the rapid changing of sides in a conflict.
Hell froze over yesterday:
The United States military is investigating reports of civilian casualties that may have occurred as part of the American-led fight against the Sunni militancy known as the Islamic State, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters during a news conference that investigators with the United States Central Command had begun looking into whether coalition airstrikes, which have targeted Islamic State fighters, equipment and oil depots, may have inadvertently hit civilians. Admiral Kirby said he had no additional information. It was the first time that the Pentagon had acknowledged that the air campaign against the Islamic State may have caused civilian deaths.
Recall that US air strikes began in early August. In late September I looked into some of the reports of civilian casualties, and it was not difficult at all to find credible reports. Later on the same day of that post, Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had exempted ISIS air strikes in Iraq and Syria from the new standards of preventing civilian deaths in drone strikes that Obama had announced in 2013.
The Pentagon provided the flimsiest of excuses for having no evidence of civilian deaths at that time:
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.
So the Pentagon claims that they have sufficient intelligence resources to choose targets for attacks, but those same resources magically become incapable of determining the outcome of those attacks.
It’s not like the Pentagon would have to work hard to find credible reports of civilian deaths in their air strikes. Reuters reported back in October that in Syria alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had documented 32 civilian deaths from US air strikes in a one month period.
The numbers are much worse when we move to Iraq. CNN cited Iraq Body Count data for 2014:
But according to Iraq Body Count’s analysis, 1,748 civilians were reported killed by Iraqi military airstrikes, while 4,325 were killed by ISIS. There were also 118 civilians reported killed by U.S. coalition airstrikes last year.
So while Iraqi air strikes dwarfed US strikes in terms of civilian deaths, it still is remarkable that the Pentagon is finding it so hard to find incidents to investigate when there are over a hundred known dead from our strikes in Iraq in the last year.
Despite those staggering numbers, here is all Central Command could come up with in followup to Kirby’s statement at the top:
Sgt. First Class Sheryl Lawry, a spokeswoman for Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said in an email that Centcom was investigating two instances, one in Iraq and one in Syria, that may have resulted in civilian casualties. The investigations are a result of Centcom’s internal review process. Another three reports of civilian casualties are pending an internal assessment before determining whether they need to be investigated, she said.
The military has examined the credibility of 18 allegations that coalition airstrikes led to civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria from Aug. 8 to Dec. 30 last year, Sgt. Lawry said. Of those, 13 have been determined not to be credible.
Imagine that. Of the the 13 investigations completed, all 13 have cleared the US of killing civilians. There are two that are credible enough that they are still under investigation. Presumably, it is taking some time to manufacture a basis for claiming the reports are not credible. And who knows what those three events still under “assessment” means; we can only guess that they are more recent events and the Pentagon is merely determining how large the whitewash brush needs to be.
General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army staff today visited Afghanistan and held separate meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and General John F Campbell, ISAF commander. Matters related to security situation along Pak-Afghan border region came under discussion. Vital elements of intelligence were shared with concerned authorities, with regard to Peshawar incident. Afghan President assured General Raheel Sharif that Afghan soil will not be allowed for terrorists activities against Pakistan and any signature found in this regard will be immediately eliminated.
COAS also assured Afghan President full support to the Unity government in all spheres including joint efforts against terrorists.
ISAF commander also assured of its complete support in eliminating terrorist in his area of responsibility.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been at odds about Taliban factions within each country using it as a haven from which to attack the other. ToloNews reports on the potential for the Peshawar attack to change this relationship:
Following his visit, General Sharif said that the Afghan president and ISAF commander assured him that the Taliban would not be allowed to use Afghan soil as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistan, exposing the simmering distrust that remains between the sides after 13 years of war. The general’s comments come after Afghan and NATO coalition leaders have for years pleaded with the Pakistani government to do more to keep the Taliban from using the tribal belt as a safe haven for recruiting fighters and launching attacks into Afghanistan.
But after the Tuesday’s deadly attack by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on a military-run school in Peshawar, it is possible the Pakistani armed forces and civilian government in Islamabad are more inclined to crack down on terrorism and seek help in doing so than ever before. A number of security analysts have encouraged that view, arguing that Afghanistan and Pakistan should come together and establish a joint counter-terrorism task force.
Other steps that Pakistan has taken have been swift. Military courts for trial of terrorism suspects are being established and Pakistan’s moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism offenses has been lifted. Six executions are expected within the next 24 hours. In choosing to move forward with military courts, I guess Pakistan is overlooking the horrible track record in the US for military commissions at Guantanamo when compared to trying terror suspects in criminal court.
Pakistan’s military action against terrorists launched in June, Zarb-e-Azb, is being expanded, with attacks now taking place outside the tribal areas. But it is not just Pakistan’s military that is expanding its activity outside the tribal area. A drone strike today took place right on the Afghan border with Pakistan, just outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. US drone strikes in Pakistan have been almost exclusively in the tribal region, so an attack right on the border of another province is rare. Dawn reports that the attack targeted those believed to be responsible for the Peshawar attack: Continue reading