The US military’s addiction to war in Afghanistan is now in its fourteenth year. Such a long addiction can’t just be ended in a weekend of going cold turkey. Much of the effort to end the war has been cosmetic and semantic. Although troop levels are now down dramatically from the peak of Obama’s surge, Obama’s tactic at the end of 2014 was to declare the war “over” while at the same time signing a secret order allowing for expanded activities by those troops remaining in the country.
The military has joined in Obama’s gamesmanship, taking as much of the war effort behind curtains of secrecy as it possibly can. In October, it suddenly classified information on Afghan troop capabilities and then in January it tried to expand that classification to nearly all information coming out of the war. While the military seems to have relented on at least some of that move, I haven’t yet seen SIGAR report on the information grudgingly given up after the classification was strongly criticized in Washington.
Two reports in the current news cycle highlight the military’s desperation in hanging onto as much combat activity in Afghanistan as it can. Yesterday, John Campbell, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current schedule for drawdown of troops from Afghanistan must be slowed:
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.
Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.
It is hard to see this move as anything but an attempt to delay the inevitable total collapse of Afghan forces, just as Iraqi forces collapsed without US support. Consider how Campbell framed his testimony:
“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.
Just like a junkie needing that next fix, Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly:
A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.
This desperate plea for a slower US troop withdrawal and more time for training Afghan forces puts a much colder light on the sudden classification of Afghan troop capability. Even John McCain realizes that we are headed down the same path in Afghanistan as we saw in Iraq (but of course he used that make a dig at Obama while overlooking his own cheerleading of the ongoing clusterfuck):
“We are worried about it being done ‘just as we’ve done in Iraq,’” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mocking a statement by President Barack Obama last year that touted the proposed Afghanistan drawdown.
But the classification of Afghan troop capability is not the only front on which actions in Afghanistan have gone secret. We learn today from the New York Times (h/t The Biased Reporter) that the US is relying on new authority for night raids as part of its counterterror activities authorized under the Bilateral Security Agreement put into place once Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency. Unlike the days of the Karzai presidency, the John Kerry-invented National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah not only doesn’t protest US night raids, it actively works with the US to hide all news of them:
The spike in raids is at odds with policy declarations in Washington, where the Obama administration has deemed the American role in the war essentially over. But the increase reflects the reality in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in the past year killed record numbers of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.
American and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing operations that are largely classified, said that American forces were playing direct combat roles in many of the raids and were not simply going along as advisers.
“We’ve been clear that counterterrorism operations remain a part of our mission in Afghanistan,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday. “We’ve also been clear that we will conduct these operations in partnership with the Afghans to eliminate threats to our forces, our partners and our interests.”
The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.
The gist of the Times article is that this uptick in raids is driven mostly by intelligence contained on a laptop magically captured by Afghan forces, but it is clear that US forces would have used any excuse they could find to justify this increase in death squad activity now that the Afghan government allows their return.
Postscript: Somehow, even though the laptop is supposed to have been from an al Qaeda operative, it is even claimed to have had information that helped target drones to kill Abdul Rauf Khadim. I’m pretty sure that by now getting his al Qaeda space checked off, Rauf has completed his terror bingo card showing sides on which he has played, even if posthumously.
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
Saturday night, the New York Times published a blockbuster article by James Risen and Matt Apuzzo that was then carried on the front page of Sunday’s print edition. The article described the jaw-dropping revelation that somehow, a lowly Port Authority detective wound up as the primary contact for Jundallah, a Sunni extremist group on the Iran-Pakistan border that attacks Iran (and sometimes Pakistan) with an aim to unify the region that is home to the Baloch people. Further, it appears that through Thomas McHale’s contacts (and McHale’s membership in a Joint Terrorism Task Force), information on Jundallah attacks filtered into the CIA and FBI prior to their being carried out in Iran.
Iran has long accused the US and Israel of having associations with Jundallah, even going so far as to state that the CIA and/or Mossad equip them and help them to plan their attacks. With negotiations between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran now in the home stretch toward a November 24 deadline, Saturday’s disclosure could hardly have come at a worse time. In fact, John Kerry was in Oman, meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Catherine Ashton from the EU over the weekend. Despite this disclosure coming out, Sunday’s negotiating session turned into two sessions and a further session was even added on Monday. Upbeat news is still flowing from that meeting, so on first blush the disclosure Saturday didn’t completely disrupt the talks.
My first thought on seeing the article was that it fit perfectly with the previous front page effort by the Times at disrupting the talks. David Sanger “mistakenly” claimed that a new wrinkle in the negotiations would allow Russia to take over enrichment for Iran. This would almost certainly give hardliners the room they need to kill the deal, since maintaining enrichment capacity is a redline issue for Iran.
The reality is that what is under discussion is that Iran would continue its enrichment activities, but ship low enriched uranium to Russia where it would be converted into fuel rods. Evidence that this pathway is making progress can be seen in this morning’s announcement that Iran and Russia have signed an agreement for Russia to build two more nuclear power plants in Iran. It seems that a new wrinkle on the arrangement might allow Russia to prepare the fuel rods inside Iran:
Russia, which is involved in those talks, will also cooperate with Teheran on developing more nuclear power units in Iran, and consider producing nuclear fuel components there, according to a memorandum signed by the heads of the state atomic bodies, Sergey Kirienko of Russia’s Rosatom and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).
Just as hinting falsely that Iran was negotiating away its enrichment technology was a move by the Times that could have disastrous effects on the ongoing negotiations, I felt that providing this strange story on McHale would give ammunition to those in Iran who see the CIA behind Jundallah. However,there is another possibility. In a Twitter discussion with Arif Rafiq on the disclosure, Rafiq suggested that “the US is coming clean about something that has concerned Iranians for years. Could be a plus”. He later allowed that hardliners could see it as a smoking gun. A further interesting speculation from Laura Rozen on Twitter suggested that perhaps the US played both sides of Jundallah:
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) November 9, 2014
So let’s consider these nicer possibilities for a moment. Maybe we did give Rigi to the Iranians. Maybe we are admitting Jundallah contacts now as a way of making sure it ends. But if that is the case, Risen and Apuzzo are a very strange source for how this news came out. An admission of this sort is what I would expect to be routed through David Ignatius, Eli Lake or Josh Rogin. Risen would be especially difficult to see as cooperating with specific timing on a disclosure. Recall that the Times spiked his disclosure of Bush’s illegal wiretaps until after the 2004 elections and then only published when the book was about to drop. To believe that Risen is now somehow cooperating with the government is a huge stretch, but he does still appear to be at risk of being subpoenaed in the ongoing DOJ actions in response to the wiretapping disclosure.
Many issues surrounding US support for Jundallah (and MEK) are still quite unresolved in my view. Recall that we had the whole “false flag” controversy back in January of 2012, where it was “disclosed” that Mossad ran Jundallah while posing as CIA. Not too long after that, Sy Hersh disclosed that the US has trained operatives for the MEK (no mention of Jundallah at all in the article) for covert actions against Iran. What particularly raised my hackles in that report was that the training was held at the same site in Nevada where I suspect that the materials used in the 2001 anthrax attacks was produced.
Over at Moon of Alabama, b seems to feel that the US was indeed behind the running of Jundallah. For that to be the case, we are pretty much forced to believe that Risen and Apuzzo have been either duped or coerced. I find so much of what has come out to be conflicting that I doubt we’ll ever completely sort this out. I have no doubts that JSOC and CIA stand ready to see Iran’s enemies prosper, especially as we saw in the MEK training in Nevada. When it comes to involvement in actual operations, I just don’t know. But the possibility that we helped at some times and then handed over Rigi possibly to make up for it sounds so like what our rudderless intelligence services would do that I’m leaning that direction.
Somehow I had missed Kimberly Dozier’s recent move from AP to The Daily Beast. In an article that she published last night, it appears that she is trying to move in on Eli Lake’s territory there as chief CIA mouthpiece. From the breathless opening, it appears that we are to wring our hands over the CIA being forced to dismantle key forces in its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan:
The CIA is dismantling its frontline Afghan counterterrorist forces in south and east Afghanistan leaving a security vacuum that U.S. commanders fear the Taliban and al-Qaeda will fill—and leaving the Pakistan border open to a possible deluge of fighters and weapons.
“The CIA has started to end the contracts of some of those militias who were working for them,” said Aimal Faizi, spokesman for outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a longtime critic of the CIA’s Afghan operatives. “Some of them were in very important locations, so we deployed our troops there.”
U.S. and Afghan military commanders tell The Daily Beast that Afghan forces are stretched too thin to replace many of those departing CIA paramilitaries. Thousands more CIA-trained operatives are about to get the boot ahead of what already promises to be a bloody summer fighting season. That could mean spectacular attacks against U.S. and Afghan targets just as the White House is weighing its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. And it could give the now-small al-Qaeda movement inside the country more freedom to grow and eventually hatch new plots more than a decade after the invasion meant to wipe out the perpetrators of the Sept. 11th attacks.
Note this very interesting Twitter conversation between Arif Rafiq and Blake Hounshell regarding the purpose of this article as most likely the CIA leaking the information in order to get some of the changes reversed. But there is another aspect to this story that needs to be considered. As we get further into the story, we get details on the numbers involved:
The forces now facing the chopping block are 750 members of the Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams in the Kunar region — home to the elusive Afghan al-Qaeda leader Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari — and the entire 3,500-strong Khost Protection Force.
Completely missing from the article is any mention of another network of small militias that also operate within Afghanistan with CIA and/or JSOC handlers “advising” them: the Afghan Local Police. I had already noted over a year ago that with the impending pullout of US troops, control of these death squads would transition exclusively to the CIA (note Dozier’s statement that the CIA is not affected by the Bilateral Security Agreement–meaning that they have no intention of leaving even if the military is forced into the “zero option”), even as they are forced to withdraw to fewer bases.
If we look at the latest quarterly report (pdf) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, we see that the ALP now sits at a force size of 26,647 with all but a little fewer than 900 of them fully trained. That is still a very formidable number of operatives for the CIA to control, and as seen in this post from about a year ago, they have good distribution across the country. These are ruthless forces that are not well-regarded by local residents, as we see in SIGAR’s report: Continue reading
By now, you undoubtedly have heard about Matthieu Aikins’ blockbuster story published yesterday by Rolling Stone, in which he provides a full description of war crimes carried out by Special Operations forces in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardan province, Afghanistan. [If not, go read it in full, now!] I began following this story closely back in February when Hamid Karzai demanded the removal of all Special Operations forces from Maidan Wardak because of the crimes committed by this group. As more details of the crimes slowly emerged after that time, it became more and more clear that although several members of the US Special Operations A-Team participated in the crimes, a translator working for them, going by the name of Zakaria Kandahari, was central to the worst of the events. It eventually emerged that Karzai had demanded in January that the US hand Kandahari over for questioning, but the US eventually claimed that Kandahari had escaped. I had viewed that claim with extreme skepticism. Details provided by Aikins at the very end of his article provide justification for that skepticism, as it turns out that while Kandahari was “missing”, he appears to have used Facebook to stay in contact with the Special Operations team of which he had been a part.
Back in May, the New York Times carried an article detailing some of the charges against Kandahari and providing a description of his disappearance. Note especially the military’s multiple claims that they had nothing to do with the disappearance and did not know where he was:
Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.
According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.
The American official said the military was not trying to shield Mr. Kandahari. “The S.F. guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” the official said. “We would have no reason to try to harbor this individual.”
And a spokesman for the American military, David E. Nevers, said General Allen “never had a conversation with General Karimi about this issue.”
That “we lost contact with him” is just one of the many lies put out by the military about this entire series of events. Look at what Aikins uncovered, just by finding Facebook traffic from the A-Team involved (but note that this moves Kandahari’s disappearance back to December from the previous accounts that put it in January): Continue reading
With so much attention focused on Syria, it is important that we don’t lose sight of just how badly the situation in Afghanistan is limping toward a final resolution. There is a report ToloNews website this morning on a memorial service that was held yesterday in Kabul. It’s not clear why the service was held yesterday (the anniversary of the US invasion isn’t until early October), but the service was described as honoring both foreign and Afghan soldiers who have fallen in the war. While the words attributed to Dunford were simple enough in deploring terrorism, the quotes attributed to Afghan figures were appalling in their attempts to use a solemn occasion to shill for what their US military handlers want in the coming months:
Highlighting on the importance of support from the international community post-2014, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) requested the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces by providing equipment and proper training post-2014.
The battle of Afghanistan against terrorism has seen some big sacrifices in terms of military and civilian casualties. Over the past 12 years, since the beginning of the Afghan war, over 3,000 foreign soldiers and over 10,000 Afghan soldiers have lost their lives.
The foreign forces’ combat mission is scheduled to end in the next few months, but a greater question looms large with regard to how effective has the fight against terrorism been over the past 12 years?
In light of this, Bismillah Mohammadi, the Minister of Defence expressed concerns over the training and equipping of the Afghan Security Forces post-2014. Mr. Mohammadi urged the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
“We urge the international community to equip and train the Afghan Security Forces post- 2014,” said Mr. Mohammadi.
And how well is all that “training” going? Pretty much as we saw before. Despite massive efforts by the US to re-screen Afghan personnel in the military and to decrease the number of interaction points between Afghan recruits and their trainers, there was another green on blue killing on Saturday. From ToloNews:
“Three International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service members died when an individual wearing an Afghan National Security Forces uniform shot them in eastern Afghanistan today,” a statement from the coalition said.
A US defence official confirmed to AFP that the three victims were from the United States.
An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the attack happened during a training session in the insurgency-hit province of Paktia.
The Afghan soldier opened fire on US soldiers, killing two on the spot, he said. A third later died of his wounds.
The attacker was killed when Americans and Afghan soldiers returned fire.
The article, which originally comes from AFP, lists the various programs the US has put into place in response to green on blue killings. By listing these programs in such proximity, we can see how they are self-contradictory:
There have been seven “insider attacks” this year against coalition forces, compared with 48 in 2012. ISAF officials say the decline has been due to better vetting, counter-intelligence and cultural awareness.
Foreign soldiers working with Afghan forces are regularly watched over by so-called “guardian angel” troops to provide protection from their supposed allies.
The military really wants us to believe that they have finally learned cultural awareness and that they have put into place appropriate screening and counterintelligence processes that will eliminate threats. And those programs are working so well that the military now assigns soldiers to act as armed guards during training sessions.
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Lethal aid. Nonlethal aid. Moderate groups. Radical Islamist groups. Light weapons. Anti-aircraft weapons. We have been barraged with a dizzying array of descriptions of what is going on in Syria and to what extent the US is helping which groups.
I have been harping recently on the issue of why the Obama administration is going to great lengths to change the date and time of entry for the first CIA-trained and armed death squads the US sent into Syria. Despite public evidence the first group entered as at least 300 militants on August 17, both Barack Obama and the CIA have “leaked” that the first group of 50 entered or was armed in the last week of August or the first week of September, after the disputed chemical weapons attack on August 21. But keep in mind that these groups are the small death squads built on the US model of the CIA and JSOC troops “training” already organized militia groups that often are organized around ethnic or religious issues. These groups were at the heart of Petraeus’ vaunted COIN strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. In those countries, they were brutal groups that were known for night raids and the ruthless killing, torture and disappearing of innocent civilians. It’s hard to imagine that the CIA and JSOC have changed their “winning” syllabus for this training, so look for more of these types of atrocities.
Those small death squads being trained by the CIA and JSOC are separate from the larger Free Syrian Army headed by General Salim Idris, who was a General in Assad’s military until his defection in the summer of 2012. A big deal has been made about the fact that the US has not been providing direct lethal aid to the FSA. In fact, back on March 1, Idris took to the pages of Foreign Policy to make his plea for lethal aid directly:
The United States has repeatedly expressed its reluctance to provide Syria’s armed opposition with weapons, due to the fear that they will fall into the hands of extremists groups. At this week’s meeting in Rome, the U.S. government promised only to provide non-lethal support. It’s time for Washington and the international community to reconsider, because the only way to prevent the rise of warlords and extremist groups is to support the organized Syrian opposition in professionalizing the armed revolution.
But look, Idris promised us that his team has things under control and nothing could go wrong with us giving him lethal aid:
In fact, the Syrian Coalition, an internationally recognized umbrella group of opposition parties, has made great strides to account for all advanced weaponry under the rebels’ control. It now registers and traces all such arms to ensure that only trained officers under the command ever receive and use them.
The problem, though, is that Idris’ claim in March that the US wasn’t helping his group with lethal aid was bullshit. As CTuttle reminded us in a comment in my post yesterday, the New York Times discussed how the CIA has been “assisting” the flow of lethal aid to the FSA and other groups for over a year. The Times article was published a little over three weeks after Idris’ plea, but documents CIA involvement in weapons shipments for a long time before that point: Continue reading
There is a very interesting point thrown in as a small tidbit in Monday’s New York Times story on Barack Obama securing the support of John McCain for a military strike on Syria:
Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.
Taken at face value, this version of the story would have us believe that the first group of 50 trained by the CIA was presumably still in the process of “sneaking” into Syria on Monday. But the timeline of US training for these fighters is much more complex than that. Some foul-mouthed blogger noted back in May that this training program had already been underway for some time and the LA Times caught up with her in June, disclosing that the program began at least as far back as November 2012 on US bases in Jordan and Turkey.
The LA Times article details that the training is carried out by both special operations troops and CIA personnel. That would put this program squarely within the US tradition of training and releasing death squads that seem to be as adept at killing innocent civilians as they are at killing military targets. We have seen details of their operation in Iraq and Afghanistan under David Petraeus’ vaunted COIN program. There is no information in the LA Times article regarding the death squads entering Syria at that time. Reading between the lines of the article suggests that the squads were in a holding pattern at that point, awaiting better weapons from the US.
In direct contradiction to Obama’s Monday statement to McCain and Graham on the timing of the entry of the first US-trained death squads into Syria, we have this report from the Jerusalem Post that quotes a story first reported in Le Figaro:
The first group of 300 handpicked Free Syrian Army soldiers crossed the border on August 17 into the Deraa region, and a second group was deployed on August 19, the paper reported.
The paper quoted a researcher at the French Institute for Strategic Analysis as saying the trained rebels group was passing through Ghouta, on their way to Damascus.
Okay, now this gets interesting. Obama claimed only the first group of 50 were entering, while Le Figaro claimed there were two groups, with the first one being 300 and the second one not specified by size. Further, note the dates and location: they entered on August 17 and 19 and they passed through Ghouta. The large number of deaths from a suspected chemical warfare agent occurred on August 21 in Ghouta. In fact, the second paragraph of the Jerusalem Post article notes:
Le Figaro reported that this is the reason behind the Assad regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Wednesday morning, as UN inspectors were allowed into the country to investigate allegations of WMD use.
Were these first groups of CIA-trained death squad members the target of the attack? Or could it be even worse than that? Vladimir Putin had some very interesting things to say in a wide-ranging interview today, but this bit stands out in relation to the death squad story:
“If it is determined that these rebels used weapons of mass destruction, what will the United States do with the rebels?” Mr. Putin asked. “What will the sponsors of the rebels do? Stop the supply of arms? Will they start fighting against the rebels?”
Whether they were the targets of an attack by Assad’s forces or whether they were the agents carrying out a false flag attack, US-trained death squads could well be at the center of the disputed use of chemical weapons. That would seem to be both a strong incentive and a huge tell for Obama to change both the date and the size of the entry of the first of these agents trained by the US. After all, even while reporting Obama’s leak to McCain and Graham on Monday, the New York Times noted that the training program is covert.
Except that it’s not just the US training them. Going back to the Jerusalem Post article:
The rebels were trained for several months in a training camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border by CIA operatives, as well as Jordanian and Israeli commandos, the paper said.
Oh my. That’s quite the international faculty for this training program. What new wonders await us as more graduates of the program pour into Syria?
NBC published a fascinating article yesterday that provided new and interesting details on the events surrounding the escalation of drone strikes in Yemen that took place in response to the “intercepted conference call” that wasn’t a conference call. Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito and Jim Miklaszewski report on the personnel and policy changes that were taking place in the Obama administration as these events unfolded and how these changes had led to a decrease in drone strikes:
Obama announced that he had chosen Lisa Monaco to replace Brennan as his top counterterror official on January 25, and she officially assumed the role of Homeland Security Advisor on March 8. The U.S. launched four strikes on Yemen between January 19 and January 23, just before Obama’s announcement about Monaco, but didn’t launch another until April 17.
“With Brennan going over to CIA and Monaco replacing him, it took time,” said a senior counterterrorism official. “This was a while coming. JSOC (the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command) was pushing for more strikes and more operations but the White House slowed everything down.”
Those three strikes in mid-April were followed by another lull in strikes until mid-May, when there were two strikes just before Obama’s drone policy speech:
In tandem with the drone speech, the President issued new internal guidance to officials that tightened controls on what targets could be hit and who could make the decision to launch a drone.
What followed, sources said, was more frustration from Defense Department officials, and a third, seven-week-long interruption in drone strikes that led to a backlog of identified militant targets in Yemen.
But the “targeting” done by JSOC in Yemen isn’t of the same quality as the information prepared for targeting by the CIA for strikes in Pakistan, according to the NBC report:
In May, around the time of Obama’s speech, senior military officials prepared “targeting packages” for Monaco, with a roster of suspected militants in Yemen that they wanted to eliminate. The “targeting packages” contain background information on the identified targets. The CIA’s packages for Pakistan are often very detailed, while the Defense Department’s research on Yemeni targets was sometimes less detailed.
In fact, the JSOC apparently even admitted that some of these recent targeting packages pertained to lower level targets, but in an apparent use of pre-cogs, they claimed these were going to be important al Qaeda figures in the future and the administration had to deal with the question of “pain now, or pain later” in their recommendation to take out these lower level operatives.
Keep in mind that these meetings to discuss drone targets, also know as “Terror Tuesday” meetings, are populated by high level security personnel from many agencies. Both JSOC, as the target developer for drone strikes in Yemen, and NSA, as the purveyor of information gleaned from surveillance, would of course be present.
As @pmcall noted to me on Twitter, the “intercept” then magically appeared and opened the floodgates for strikes:
@JimWhiteGNV Let’s see military frustrated no drone strikes approved & all of a sudden a magic message intercepted. Full speed ahead again
— pmcall (@pmcall) August 16, 2013
Here’s how the NBC article described that: Continue reading
Amid the escalating tensions, sources also told BBC Newsnight that the US was preparing special operations forces for possible strike operations against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Although the US has previously sent special forces to train counter-terrorist units, there are now suggestions that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may be preparing units for strike operations, the sources said.
This information prompted me to remember that I had noticed someone mention that yesterday’s evacuation of personnel from Yemen was described as having employed an Air Force C-17. The C-17 is a highly versatile aircraft and can be rapidly reconfigured between transporting passengers and heavy equipment:
The design of the cargo compartment allows the C-17 to carry a wide range of vehicles, palleted cargo, paratroops, air-drop loads and aeromedical evacuees.
The cargo compartment has a sufficiently large cross-section to transport large wheeled and tracked vehicles, tanks, helicopters (such as the AH-64 Apache), artillery and weapons such as the Patriot missile system. Three Bradley armoured vehicles comprise one deployment load on the C-17. The US Army M1A1 main battle tank can be carried with other vehicles.
The maximum payload is 170,900lb (77,519kg) with 18 pallet positions, including four on the ramp. Airdrop capabilities include: a single load of up to 60,000lb (27,216kg), sequential loads of up to 110,000lb (49,895kg), Container Delivery System (CDS) airdrop up to 40 containers, 2,350lb (1,066kg) each, up to 102 paratroops.
Here is how the use of a C-17 in the evacuation was described:
Almost 100 U.S. government personnel were evacuated from Yemen at dawn Tuesday as the State Department urged all Americans in the country to leave “immediately” because of an “extremely high” threat of a terrorist attack — even as a U.S. drone attack killed four suspected terrorists.
U.S. officials said the “non-emergency evacuation” of “just under a hundred” personnel was carried out by an US Air Force C-17 which took off from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, bound for Ramstein air base in Germany. Some essential embassy staff stayed behind.
And so that story would have us believe that as the C-17 left Sana’a for Ramstein, the inside looked somewhat like the photo above, but with the embassy personnel in civilian clothing instead of uniforms. But I wonder what the inside of the C-17 looked like as it landed in Sana’a. Something like this, maybe, with a number of Special Forces soldiers? (Not that tank would be the heavy equipment of choice, but you get the idea.)
Note also that the NBC story states the evacuation flight left at dawn. That means the C-17 would have arrived and possibly been unloaded under cover of darkness. Also note that Foust’s first assumption was that the usual course of action would have been for the US to utilize a commercial charter for the evacuation. Use of the C-17 instead of a commercial charter opens up more possibilities on what the US may have been up to with these flights.