A week ago today, I pointed out the moral depravity of a situation in which the US never hesitates to find funding to increase air strikes and the flow of weapons into Syria and other fronts in the battle against ISIS while the UN World Food Programme was forced to suspend emergency food aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a funding shortfall. There is a rare bit of good news on that front, as the WFP announced today that the emergency appeal for funds has made up for the shortfall and food aid is restarting. In fact, more than $80 million has been raised, so some funding will carry over into January.
It appears that private donations made up only a small part of this influx of funds:
Among individuals contributing online through wfp.org, the third largest number by nationality were Syrians, after Americans (first) and Canadians (second). The online campaign featured Aloe Blacc’s song “I Need A Dollar” as the soundtrack for the #ADollarALifeline video which launched on social media channels. Almost 14,000 individuals and private sector donors in 158 countries contributed US$1.8 million dollars.
It is indeed heartwarming to see so many individuals step up to do what they can. However, considering how many US amoral contractors are making outrageous amounts of money shipping weapons into the region, I find it repulsive they didn’t make up the funding shortfall entirely on their own. Just their lobbying funds alone could have taken that hit without affecting their other funds. We have not yet gotten the list of countries that stepped up for the bulk of the emergency funds nor how much each gave, but we can only hope that the countries doing the most meddling in the region are also providing the most funding for the residents they have displaced.
Sadly, this stopgap funding is merely the beginning. The New York Times reports this morning that the UN’s budget request for 2015 for all humanitarian assistance will go up 27% over the amount needed in 2014:
The appeal, a barometer of the global impact of wars and disasters, calls for 27 percent more funding in 2015 than the amount requested a year ago for 2014 and is intended to aid more than 57 million people in 22 countries.
The number of people affected by conflict “has reached record levels” for the post-World War II era, Valerie Amos, the United Nations emergency aid chief, told a news conference in Geneva. She said that aid agencies had assessed that 78 million people were in need of assistance, but the appeal targeted only the most vulnerable.
Nearly three-quarters of the funds were designated for just four crises: in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the protracted but little-reported conflict in Sudan. Other priorities included the Central African Republic, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
The number of people displaced by conflict reached the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013 but is still rising “exponentially,” António Guterres, the United Nations refugee chief, told the news conference, climbing to 32,000 a day last year from 14,000 a day in 2011. In 2014, he said, the figure would certainly have increased further.
Given the US role in those countries leading the way in terms of number of refugees, it is fitting that a large portion of the costs of caring for the refugees should fall to us as well. And of course, those first two are problem areas very much because of our meddling. We broke Iraq and have continued to feed its dysfunction ever since. We helped start the unrest in Syria, too. In fact, as the torture report drops today, don’t forget that we relied on Bashar al-Assad as an “ally” for outsourcing of torture early in that program, so getting rid of him is needed to help hide what we did.
However, I still long for the day when the US response to a crisis gets out of the “which group do we fund” approach and instead looks to “how can we help the people” as the approach that will work. As we see from the record numbers of displaced people, our approach now spreads hunger and death. What would happen if instead of sending in weapons, we sent in food, housing construction materials and medical assistance? What if we even actively excluded weapons from these areas?
Remember when Barack Obama used the magic of semantics in 2010 to turn our boots on the ground in Iraq into non-combat soldiers? Those “non-combat” troops remained for another year or so, with the last troops leaving in December of 2011. But now that Obama wants to return to fighting in Iraq, he has been forced to resort to a much larger array of deceptions than simple semantics to get his boots on the ground for the battle against ISIS. [And we have to fight ISIS because our wonderfully "trained" Iraqi security forces dissolved against them].
Among others, one of the voices for “boots on the grounds” is Max Boot:
Lift the prohibition on U.S. “boots on the ground.” President Obama has not allowed U.S. Special Forces and forward air controllers to embed themselves in the Free Syrian Army, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga, or in Sunni tribes when they go into combat as he did with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This lack of eyes on the ground makes it harder to call in air strikes and to improve the combat capacity of U.S. proxies. Experience shows that “combat advisors” fighting alongside indigenous troops are far more effective than trainers confined to large bases.
And Max loves him some Special Forces, as they return on his to-do list for Obama:
Send in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Between 2003 and 2010, JSOC—composed of units such as SEAL Team Six and Delta Force—became skilled at targeting the networks of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Its success was largely due to its ability to gather intelligence by interrogating prisoners and scooping up computers and documents—something that bombing alone cannot accomplish. JSOC squadrons should once again be moved to the region (they could be stationed in Iraq proper, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Turkey, and/or Jordan) to target high-level ISIS organizers.
So Boot pines for the return of Special Forces to Iraq, not just for embedding to target air strikes, but for a full-fledged return to Petraeus’ death squads in Iraq. But stealthy Obama very likely is already there, according to this Marc Ambinder piece back in September. After first stating his distaste for the “boots on the ground” meme, Ambinder tells us that covert operators are almost certainly already there, citing a Daily Beast report by Ford Sypher: Continue reading
On April 23, 1971, John Kerry, speaking as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and famously posed the question “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”. On December 2, 2014, Kerry, in his capacity as US Secretary of State, convened a meeting of Foreign Ministers of countries allied against ISIS. Sadly, the wisdom of 1971 John Kerry was completely lost on 2014 John Kerry, as the meeting in Brussels was aimed entirely at making war on ISIS without regard for the residents of the region who will bear the brunt of the new violence and who have faced severe hardships for years as a result of US meddling in the region. Kerry’s plan shows no regard for the hard evidence that exists showing that the approach being taken by the US has failed many times over since the failure in Vietnam which he so forcefully described.
Kerry’s description of the shortcomings of the approach in Vietnam resonates with the current failed approach by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and beyond:
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese or American.
Kerry pointed out in 1971 that residents of an area under siege by invaders often choose to side with whatever force is there in order to survive. But in 2014, Kerry is pushing the US effort to “vet“, train and equip “moderate” fighters to take on ISIS while the US provides air support. How long will these fighters be on “our” side?
And, of course, a very distorted view of the effort gets presented at home, then as now:
We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search and destroy missions, as well as by Viet Cong terrorism – and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
If we look just at Syria, it is clear that those outside the US see US meddling behind the “uprising” against al-Assad. From a 2012 Christian Science Monitor article:
In an empty coffee house in Antakya, local tradesman Ahmet Sari’s face crumples in anger as he speaks about Syria.
“What’s happening in Syria is all part of America’s great project to reshape the borders of the Middle East. America and its allies don’t care about bringing democracy to the Syrian people. Look at what happened to Iraq!” he fumes. “The imperialist countries are only after oil and mineral resources.”
And many say that all of these problems can be traced back to the US, who they are convinced got involved with, and perhaps even fomented, the Syrian unrest to loosen up regional powers’ grip on oil, enlisting Turkey as a pawn in the process. It had little to do with support for democracy, they believe.
People in Turkey, who already were dealing with the influx of refugees two years ago, clearly saw a very similar situation in Syria as Kerry saw in Vietnam in 1971. And now, the problems in Turkey are much worse, as the needs of refugees have completely overwhelmed the capacity of relief organizations to help.
We know for a fact that funding and arming rebels almost never works, as the CIA found when reviewing its own efforts on that front. Rather than taking that clear piece of information and trying a new approach based on directly helping the people of the region rather than destabilizing it, the US chose instead to grasp at the last straw from the CIA study that said those few times arming rebels works it has been with “direct American support on the ground”. So rather than accept that their approach is a failure, the warmongers in Washington now think that US air support for the anti-ISIS efforts is a bare minimum and that “boots on the ground” will be needed for a “win”.
And when it comes to “training”, of course the US has failed miserably on that front every time it has tried. But we will just keep on doing it, because that’s all Washington can come up with.
And even if we should “win”, holding onto ground gained is impossible, as Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis has so devastatingly noted in his piercing of the myth of US superiority in its counterinsurgency program.
The contrast of 2014 John Kerry with 1971 John Kerry is brought into clear view with this part of Kerry’s opening statement to his war council yesterday: Continue reading
There is no way that the United States and its allies can say that they didn’t see this coming. They had a very clearly stated warning in September. Nevertheless, while the US continues throwing virtually unlimited funds at training “moderate” fighters for Syria and even contemplating a modified “no-fly zone” that is virtually certain to lead to deeper direct US involvement in the fighting, the United Nations’ World Food Programme was forced to announce yesterday that financial assistance to feed 1.7 million Syrian refugees is being suspended immediately because the international community has provided insufficient funding for the program. The funding gap could not have come at a worse time for the refugees:
Under this programme, poor Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have used vouchers to buy food in local shops. Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.
“A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighbouring host countries,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in an appeal to donors. “The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families.
Syrian refugees in camps and informal settlements throughout the region are ill prepared for yet another harsh winter, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, where many children are bare foot and without proper clothing. Many tents are drenched in mud and hygiene conditions are growing extremely precarious.
Cousin said that WFP’s Syria emergency operations are now in critical need of funding. Many donor commitments remain unfulfilled. WFP requires a total of US$64 million immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries during the month of December.
The funding gap for WFP was over $350 million in the September announcement. That figure was for funding through the end of the year, putting the monthly cost at just over $115 million. The gap for December still stands at $64 million, meaning that the WFP has gotten less than half the funds that it sought in September.
Recall that back in late September, the announcement of the three month need came on the same day the Senate approved $500 million for training “moderate” rebels to send into Syria. Once again, just as word of the cutoff has come out, the US is openly discussing committing more funds to escalating the Syrian civil war:
The Obama administration is weighing the opening of a new front in the air war against the Islamic State in Syria, part of an offensive to push back militants along the western part of Syria’s border with Turkey and create a relatively safe zone for U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces to move in.
Under the plan, U.S. aircraft flying from Turkey’s Incirlik air base would target positions the militants currently hold along the border north of Aleppo, eastward toward the besieged town of Kobane. Turkish special forces would move into the area to assist the targeting and help Syrian opposition fighters consolidate their hold on the territory.
Of course, this will require lots more money and is likely to drag us much deeper into the conflict:
If implemented, the plan would require significantly more U.S. resources than are now devoted to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, including more planes and more money. Congress is debating both the funding and the new authorization for operations in Syria and Iraq that have already been approved by the president.
Although officials said the proposal is not intended to establish a traditional no-fly zone, requiring constant patrols against other aircraft entering the area — potentially up to 100 miles long and 20 miles deep inside Syria — its proponents recognize the potential for a “slippery slope” into a far more major operation.
Once more, the US cares only about putting more arms and more bombs into the conflict while families starve and go without adequate shelter or cold weather clothing. The Washington Post talked to one family that will be hit hard by the end of the voucher program:
For Syrians such as Mouhanad Mouree, there was shock that he, his wife and their six children may no longer receive their World Food Program vouchers. They fled their home town of Homs seven months ago for Tripoli, a city in northern Lebanon, where they live in a garage for $200 a month. Mouree is especially concerned about his 2-year-old son.
“I can hardly afford diapers and milk for my youngest son, and we freeze in the cold weather because we cannot afford heating with electricity,” he said by telephone. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”
In a war that has cost over 200,000 lives, the US still chooses to put its resources into escalation of the war while ignoring the needs of those who will die of exposure and neglect.
But they hate us for our freedoms.
There simply is no level of duplicity that Iraqi or Afghan military leaders can engage in that will lead to the US re-examining the failed assumption that “training” armed forces in those countries will stabilize them. Between the two efforts, the US has now wasted over $80 billion and more than a decade of time just on training and equipping, and yet neither force can withstand even a fraction of the forces they now face.
The latest revelations of just how failed the training effort has been are stunning, and yet we can rest assured that they will be completely disregarded as decision-makers in Washington continue to pour even more money into a cause that has long ago been proven hopeless.
Consider the latest revelations.
We learned yesterday that a cursory investigation in Iraq has already revealed at least 50,000 “ghost soldiers”:
The Iraqi army has been paying salaries to at least 50,000 soldiers who don’t exist, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday, an indication of the level of corruption that permeates an institution that the United States has spent billions equipping and arming.
A preliminary investigation into “ghost soldiers” — whose salaries are being drawn but who are not in military service — revealed the tens of thousands of false names on Defense Ministry rolls, Abadi told parliament Sunday. Follow-up investigations are expected to uncover “more and more,” he added.
We can only imagine how much larger the total will become should Iraq actually follow through with a more thorough investigation, but already one Iraqi official quoted in the article hinted the monetary loss could be at least three times what is now known. But that isn’t even the worst condemnation of US practices in this report. Consider this quote that the Post seems to consider a throw-away since it is buried deep within the article:
“The problems are wide, and it’s an extremely difficult task which is going to involve some strong will,” said Iraqi security analyst Saeed al-Jayashi. “Training is weak and unprofessional.”
So the glorious training program in Iraq, which was proudly under the leadership of ass-kissing little chickenshit David Petraeus when it was being heralded, is now finally exposed as “weak and unprofessional”. And the US will do exactly diddly squat about these revelations. Recall that last week we learned that the Defense Department does not consider reducing corruption to be part of their role as advisors in Iraq. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that when confirmation hearings are held for a new Secretary of Defense, there won’t be a single question aimed at asking how our current training program will be improved to avoid the failures that have been so clearly demonstrated in the previous attempts.
The situation in Afghanistan, although it is receiving less attention, is no better. Reuters reported yesterday on how poorly equipped Afghan forces are for dealing with the Taliban, despite over $60 billion that the US has spent to train and equip those forces:
Afghan district police chief Ahmadullah Anwari only has enough grenades to hand out three to each checkpoint in an area of Helmand province swarming with Taliban insurgents who launch almost daily attacks on security forces.
“Sometimes up to 200 Taliban attack our checkpoints and if there are no army reinforcements, we lose the fight,” said Anwari, in charge of one of Afghanistan’s most volatile districts, Sangin.
“It shames me to say that we don’t have enough weapons and equipment. But this is a bitter reality.”
The article goes on to utterly destroy the ridiculous statements from Joseph Anderson, commander of ISAF Joint Command, back on November 5. Despite Anderson claiming that Afghan forces “are winning”, Reuters points out that claims that the ANSF remains in control of most of the country are grossly overstated:
And while the coalition says Afghan forces control most of the country, the reality on the ground can be very different.
Graeme Smith, senior Kabul analyst for the International Crisis Group, says that in many remote districts, the government controls a few administrative buildings “but the influence of Afghan forces may not extend far beyond that point”.
And yet, despite this clear history of failed efforts to train and equip forces, the US now plans to spend more than another $5 billion fighting ISIS. If it weren’t for the carbon dioxide that would be released, it would probably be better for all of us if that money were simply incinerated.
The Obama Administration continues to hold onto the fantasy that training and equipping a group of “moderate” rebels in Syria will allow threading the gap between the Bashar al-Assad regime that continues to relentlessly attack its own citizens and the ISIS fighters who behead many of the folks in their path. After all, Obama and his minions seem to want us to to think, the “moderates” only occasionally eat a victim’s heart or behead people after posing for photos with John McCain.
The press in Turkey is reporting that Obama’s centerpiece of the “moderate” rebel movement, the Free Syrian Army, has fled the strategic city of Aleppo where battles have taken place since early in the Syrian civil war. The reports say that within the past two weeks, the new leader of the FSA, Jamal Marouf (previous FSA leader Salem Idris was among those in the famous photo with McCain) fled to Turkey where he is being protected. Iranian news is repeating these reports, with stories in both Fars News and PressTV. Both Iranian stories cite this report from Turkey:
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the recognized armed opposition group against the Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has ceased its resistance in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, withdrawing its 14,000 militia from the city, a ranking Turkish security source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17.
“Its leader Jamal Marouf has fled to Turkey,” confirmed the source, who asked not to be named. “He is currently being hosted and protected by the Turkish state.”
The source did not give an exact date of the escape but said it was within the last two weeks, that is, the first half of November. The source declined to give Marouf’s whereabouts in Turkey.
Wow, so not only did the leader apparently leave, but 14,000 fighters abandoned Aleppo, too? That’s huge. The only Western news story I see so far on this is an AFP story carried by Yahoo News in the UK. The story opens by describing how desperate the refugee problem will be in Turkey if Aleppo has indeed fallen:
Turkey fears another two to three million Syrian refugees could cross its borders if the region of Syria’s second city of Aleppo is overrun either by Islamist extremists or regime forces, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.
Turkey is already hosting at least 1.5 million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict and has repeatedly warned that its capacities are being strained by the numbers.
It takes another sixteen paragraphs or so before getting to the news about Marouf:
Meanwhile the Turkish online newspaper Radikal reported that the chief of the moderate anti-Assad group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Jamal Maarouf, had fled to Turkey two weeks ago.
There was no confirmation of the report and no further details were immediately available.
But never fear! The article gives us this rosy news as a conclusion:
Media reports said at the weekend that Turkey and the United States have agreed a plan under which some 2,000 FSA fighters would be trained on Turkish soil.
Let’s see, 14,000 troops fled, and now we’re going to train a whopping 2000 to take their place.
Political and military leaders in the US are hopelessly addicted to the idea of training an Iraqi military. Never mind that it fails every time a “new” initiative on training is introduced. As soon as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, the only idea that Washington can put forward is train more Iraqi security forces. As soon as genius Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military and banned Saddam’s Baath party, training a new force became central to US activities in Iraq even though Bremer’s move had made it impossible.
David Petraeus, the ass-kissing little chickenshit himself, first led the training effort and was given several Mulligans. He burst on the political scene in 2004, penning an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he spouted fictitious numbers on accomplishments in training and perhaps helped Bush to re-election. He then was hailed again by the press as the perfect leader to train Iraqi forces in 2007, with no discussion of what happened to all those forces he “trained” earlier. And now that Iraqi forces fled their posts in droves ahead of ISIS, the only solution our fearless leaders can imagine is for us to once again train Iraqi forces.
Not only are we getting another fix for our training junkies, but Chuck Hagel is accelerating the effort:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday the Pentagon will accelerate its mission to train Iraqi forces to combat Islamic State militants, using troops already in Iraq to start the effort while funding is sought for a broader initiative.
The quest for more funding had been announced earlier by Obama:
Hagel’s announcement follows President Barack Obama’s Nov. 7 decision to roughly double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, adding 1,500 military personnel to establish sites to train nine Iraqi brigades and set up two more centers to advise military commands.
Obama also sought $5.6 billion in funding from Congress for the initiative, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces. Officials initially said the funding would have to be approved by Congress before the new effort could begin.
Translating from military-speak, nine brigades in US forces means between 27,000 and 45,000 troops. So Obama wants $1.6 billion to train a few more tens of thousands of Iraqi troops. We have already spent many more billions to train several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi security forces. Several times. Why on earth would anyone think it will go any better this time?
Of course, one bit of information feeding the desire for the junkies is that Iran now openly admits that they have advisors in Iraq helping the military:
A senior Iraqi official lauded Iran’s assistance to Iraq in fighting terrorist groups, including the ISIL, and said the Iranian military advisors played an important role in freeing Jarf Asakhr in the Musayyib district in the North of Babylon province.
“The Iranian advisors were present in the battle ground during the Jarf Asakhr operations and provided excellent counselling to the fighters of popular front,” Governor-General of Karbala province Aqil al-Tarihi told FNA on Sunday.
Stressing that the cleanup and liberation operations in Jarf Asakhr were all carried out by the Iraqi forces, he said, “Iran helped the success of the operations with its useful consultations.”
Late September, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Gholam Ali Rashid announced that Iran’s military advisors were present in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine to provide those nations with necessary military recommendations.
Besides bragging about their advisors in Iraq, Iran is having a lot of fun trolling the US on its misadventures in Iraq. We know, of course, that ISIS has come into possession of large amounts of US-provided weaponry as Iraqi bases have been seized and that there have been reports of US airdrops of supplies and weapons missing their targets. Iran provided this hot take on those developments today:
Iraqi intelligence sources disclosed that US military planes have been supplying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Takfiri terrorists with weapons and foodstuff under the guise of air raids on militants’ positions.
The Iraqi forces have found out that the US aircraft usually airdrop arms and food cargoes for ISIL militants who collect them on the ground, Asia news agency quoted Iraqi army’s intelligence officers as saying.
“The Iraqi intelligence sources reiterated that the US military planes have airdropped several aid cargoes for ISIL terrorists to help them resist the siege laid by the Iraqi army, security and popular forces,” added the report.
On Saturday, Iraqi security sources disclosed that the ISIL terrorist group is using the state-of-the-art weapons which are only manufactured by the US and each of their bullets are worth thousands of dollars.
“What is important is that the US sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL,” an Iraqi security source told FNA.
The source noted that the most important advantage of the US-made weapons used by the ISIL is that “these bullets pierce armored vehicles and kill the people inside the vehicle”.
He said each of such bullets is worth $2,000, and added, “These weapons have killed many Iraqi military and volunteer forces so far.”
Well, gosh. If ISIS has all those sophisticated weapons we originally gave to Iraq, the only answer is to send more of those sophisticated weapons to Iraq and train more Iraqi troops. Who will once again abandon their posts, leaving the weapons for the next opponent to seize…
Jeff Stein has a fascinating read over at Newsweek. From the url, I’m guessing that Stein titled his piece “Moderate Rebels Please Raise Your Hands”, but his editors eventually went with “Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine“. As Stein notes in his opening, the impossibility of finding “moderate” rebels in Syria who are willing to take up arms against the regime of Bashar al-Assad but who won’t eventually get into committing atrocities or push a radical Islamist view has led to much derision of the US plan. Stein notes efforts by Andy Borowitz and Jon Stewart in that arena, although I have played along too (here and here).
But Stein actually took the time to talk to people who have been involved in the effort. What he found is not encouraging at all:
Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.
Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.
“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”
There is, of course, a huge problem with this approach:
A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.
“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.
“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”
But it is even worse. Consider this bit about the details of how the “trace” is carried out:
American embassies around the world are open to just about anybody who wants to sign up for the FSA. “They fill out a form. You get their four-part name, their date of birth, and then their tribe and where they’re from and all that,” the former operative explained. “Their work history, if there is any. Then you take that and run your traces through all your databases—your HUMINT and SIGINT [agency acronyms for information from human spies and National Security Agency intercepts, called signals intelligence]. And then you take certain aspects of that information, and you sanitize it, and you send it by cable to your station in whatever country, and you ask for their traces on this individual, to see if anything comes up.
“The problem with that process,” the former operative continued, “is when you have a person sitting at a computer who doesn’t know how to standardize Arabic names.… They may translate it correctly, but the person typing it in may or may not know how to look for it with all the name variances that might already be in the system.”
That one is just jaw-dropping. I have a hot tip for those folks tasked with tracing. A super-secret piece of software known as Google seems perfectly able to handle searches of names of groups or people. Whenever I Google new names, I often get back hits on variant transliterations without having to feed them into the search separately.
At any rate, though, when I first saw this article flit by last night, I jokingly suggested on Twitter that the CIA needs the Hogwarts sorting hat:
One important point that the CIA is missing, though, is that it seems to me that anyone who is stepping forward to want weapons and other support for the Syrian war has already self-selected to a large extent. And they are much more likely to be Slytherin than Gryffindor.
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.
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.