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UN Finds Cluster Munition Evidence in Libya, PressTV Runs Video of US Cluster Bombs in Afghanistan

B1 bomber dropping cluster bombs. (US Air Force photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the At War blog on the New York Times website, it was reported yesterday that the UN has found additional evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Libya. The munitions found appear to have been used by pro-government forces:

Civilian de-miners working in Libya have found another type of cluster bomb used last year during the war that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to the United Nations and Mines Advisory Group, or MAG, a nongovernment organization helping to clean up areas littered with mines and unexploded ordnance.

/snip/

About 30 of the submunitions were found, some exploded, others not, near the main road about 20 miles from the southern gate of Ajdjabiya, according to Ivica Stilin, MAG’s technical operations manager in Libya.

/snip/

Mr. Stilin said the evidence pointed to the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force’s having dropped the bomblets in March 2011. The discovery also aligned with a photo analysis made at that time by David Cencio, an Italian aviation blogger who closely followed the war. In a post on March 14, 2011, Mr. Cencio noted that a photograph made several days before by Marco Longari of Agence France-Presse-Getty appeared to show a Libyan Su-22 flying at low-elevation carrying RBK-250’s.

Only after the reader scrolls through eight paragraphs and a second photo below the headline photo do we find the notation that the US has not joined in the world ban on cluster munitions:

The use of cluster munitions has been widely banned under international convention, though several nations — including Libya, China, Russia and the United States – have not signed the convention. NATO has publicly said that neither its forces nor any of the foreign military armies that participated with the alliance in the conflict used cluster munitions.

Just one day after that post at the Times website, Iran’s PressTV has put up a new story (warning: the video is set on auto-play) today claiming to have video of US cluster bomb usage in Afghanistan. There is no date on the video and the accompanying story with the video does not explicitly state that the video is recent. Note that the image at the very beginning of the PressTV video, which is also the image shown when the video loads before being played, is the US Air Force photo found on Wikimedia Commons which I included above. Here is a part of the description from the PressTV story:

New footage has emerged showing US-led warplanes dropping cluster bombs in war-torn Afghanistan, Press TVreports.

The US-led forces have used cluster munitions since their invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The bombings have caused huge loss of life and property damage.

Apart from the civilians who fall victim to such bombs during the raids, other people continue to be killed by bomblets that do not detonate upon impact.

/snip/

The US and Israel are the world’s top producers of cluster bombs. Washington and Tel Aviv have refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions which has been in force since 2010.

The Afghanistan situation regarding cluster bombs is quite intriguing. On December 3, 2008, Afghanistan surprisingly defied the lame-duck Bush administration and signed the cluster bomb treaty: Read more

Lt. Col. Daniel Davis’ Truth-Telling Continues: Long Report Published by Rolling Stone

Speaking truth to power is a brave act wherever it is carried out. But when that power is the strongest military force on earth and the one speaking truth is coming from within the ranks of that force to point out blatant lies promulgated at the very top of the organization, then it is indeed a rare form of bravery.

Earlier this week, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis published a short report in the Armed Forces Journal and coupled that with discussions with the New York Times’ Scott Shane for an article hitting on the same subject area. In those reports, we learned that Davis had prepared much longer reports, both a classified one which he shared with several members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a non-classified one which he intended to publish. In the Armed Forces Journal piece, Davis noted that he intended to publish the longer report at his afghanreport.com website, and in an editor’s note, it was pointed out that “At press time, Army public affairs had not yet ruled on whether Davis could post this longer version.” In a very interesting twist, Davis’ long report now has been published, but not at his website. Instead, Michael Hastings, whose The Runaway General article at Rolling Stone eventually resulted in the firing of Stanley McChrystal, has posted Davis’ report (pdf) at the Rolling Stone website, along with a brief introduction from Hastings. There will be a post soon from bmaz addressing Davis’ approach to whistle-blowing and his treatment of classified information.

The ANSO figure on which Davis based his final point. Link to original ANSO (pdf) report: http://www.ngosafety.org/store/files/ANSO%20Q1%202011.pdf

The Lies

Davis’ thesis in the longer report remains unchanged from the original. He maintains that despite persistent claims by top military brass that progress is being made in Afghanistan, there is in fact no progress. Violence continues on a steady increase and Afghan forces are nowhere near a point where they can maintain security in the absence of ISAF forces. On the final page, he has this to say about his “final take-away” from the report. He prepared a graphic based on the one reproduced above:

If there were only one thing I could ask you to take away from this rather lengthy brief, it would be this one page. Below you see charted over time, the rising violence from the end of 2005 through the first quarter 2011 (chart source: ANSO, 2011). All spin aside, you see regardless of who was in command, what strategy they used, or what claims they made, nothing impacted the rising arc of violence from 2005 through today. The one thing, however, that has never changed: the upward arc of violence, which continues its rise and is expected to continue at least through this summer. Read more

Not So Great Expectations: Paying the Price of Hubris in Iraq, Afghanistan

Developments over the past few days on several different fronts are coming together in a way that outlines just how arrogantly the US conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the consequences of that hubris are now diminishing the previously dominant role for the US in the region going into the future. At the same time, these developments drive home the message of the terrible waste of lives and money the war efforts have been.

In today’s New York Times, we learn that the staff at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad is about to be cut in half. It appears that one of the driving forces behind these cuts is that the Iraqis are not making it easy for embassy personnel to move freely into and out of the country:

At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.

Perhaps Mr. al-Maliki should study the activities of the US Customs Service if he really wants to learn how to make it even clearer to selected foreigners that he doesn’t want them in his country.

But al-Maliki is not the only elected Iraqi official who sees an opportunity to repay the US for the hubris it has shown the region, as the Times quoted Nahida al-Dayni, whom they described as “a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament” with regard to the embassy compound:

The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.

That US actions in the Middle East would have prompted such an attitude among local officials should have been foreseen, but the Times article informs us that the State Department seems to have been hit by a bit of shock and awe: Read more

Col. Davis Goes to Washington: A One-Man Battle for Truth-Telling About Afghanistan

When separate classified reports casting doubt on the military’s claims of progress in the Afghanistan war were discussed in the New York Times on January 20 and then by BBC (and Times of London) on February 1, my response to both incidents was to blame upper-level military figures for releasing the damaging information in order to reach the higher goal (for them) of maintaining the war effort in Afghanistan beyond the planned hand-off to Afghan forces. The timing seemed to fit well with a hope on their part that Republican presidential candidates would grab onto a campaign promise not to end the US war effort. However, after the second leak, I did receive one third- or fourth-hand report suggesting that it had been leaked by senior military officer upset by the lack of progress in Afghanistan who most definitely did not aim to prolong the war effort there.

With the publication of a story about him in today’s New York Times and publication yesterday of his own statement in the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis becomes the first mid-level officer willing to speak out about the lack of progress in Afghanistan and the military’s insistence on painting a false picture of success. [It should be noted up front that it seems quite unlikely Davis is behind either of the earlier leaks, as evidenced by the steps he has taken to separate public from classified information in the actions he has taken.] The Times article, titled “In Afghan War, Officer Becomes a Whistle-Blower”, describes the actions Davis has taken:

Since enlisting in the Army in 1985, he said, he had repeatedly seen top commanders falsely dress up a dismal situation. But this time, he would not let it rest. So he consulted with his pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he sings in the choir. He watched his favorite movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” one more time, drawing inspiration from Jimmy Stewart’s role as the extraordinary ordinary man who takes on a corrupt establishment.

And then, late last month, Colonel Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one unclassified and the other classified, summarizing his observations on the candor gap with respect to Afghanistan. He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general — and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so.

The statement in the Armed Forces Journal opens in this way:

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Read more

Newest Leaked NATO Report Aimed at Preventing Afghanistan Withdrawal?

Fresh on the heels of the “leak” to the New York Times two weeks ago of an already public report on Afghan troops killing US troops, another NATO report casting a bad light on the current war effort in Afghanistan has been leaked. This time the report was made available to the British press, with BBC and the Times of London (behind a paywall and therefore not getting a link) being shown copies of the report. Interestingly, most news stories on the leaked report concentrate on the report’s claim that Pakistan, and especially Pakistan’s ISI, is helping the Taliban in Afghanistan, a fact which is already known and which was dismissed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Khar as “old wine in an even older bottle.”  Reuters hits on another, likely more important aspect of the report, however, even including it as their headline: “Taliban ‘poised to retake Afghanistan’ after NATO pullout“.

The information contained in this new leak gives further support for my thinking on the reasoning behind the information fed to the New York Times for their January 20 article, when I said “The story appears to me to be presented from the angle of military higher-ups who don’t want to withdraw from Afghanistan and point to the failed training of Afghan forces to support their argument that we must stay there.” In much the same way, this report, which points out that the Taliban will retake Afghanistan shortly after we leave, supports the conclusion that we must stay there to “win” what President Obama has called our “war of necessity“.

For a President who has put so much effort into punishing those who leak sensitive information (well, at least whistleblowers who leak), Obama now appears to me to be faced with a military that is engaged in the selective release of information that is designed to make it impossible for him to continue his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Will there be any punishment for these two recent leaks, or are they some “multidimensional chess” setting the stage for Obama to throw up his hands and declare that we can’t leave after all?

As for the meat of the leaked report, BBC has posted selected excerpts. This excerpt, for example, is along the lines of most press reports: Read more

“More Respected Around the World”? Really?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwPEHeRa39k[/youtube]

Political speeches, by nature, push the limits of truth. Because of that, the process of sorting out truths from lies in political speeches has become something of a cottage industry. The bald-faced lie lie that Obama told in only his third sentence of last night’s State of the Union speech, however, doesn’t need a dedicated fact-checking organization to see the dishonesty. As Marcy has already pointed out, Obama framed his speech entirely around chest-thumping over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But let’s look only at that third sentence:

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.

I won’t even go into the issue of whether the US is now safer due to the military misadventures started by the Bush-Cheney administration and continued enthusiastically by Obama. But the claim that the US is more respected around the world because of “this generation of heroes” displays the very militaristic arrogance that is the chief reason Americans are attacked. Because the bulk of these military activities take place in the Arab world, that seems the most appropriate place to look for evidence of Obama’s claimed “respect”. On July 13, 2011, the Arab American Institute Foundation released the results of a Zogby poll (pdf) conducted on their behalf. From the executive summary:

With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous “Cairo speech,” ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards. The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with U.S policies.

In five out of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “U.S. interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.

But Obama’s tone deafness in using the bin Laden killing as evidence for US respect is especially galling, since we have this:

The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the U.S.

In touting how the US is “more respected”, Obama is relying on the most prominent recent event that has caused a worsening of opinion of the US in the Arab world. It is behavior like this that has put the US now at an approval level in the Arab world that is ” lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran’s favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia)”.

Of course it’s not just the killing of bin Laden or Obama’s chest-thumping that have angered the Arab world. Just in the last few days, there are numerous examples of US behavior that can only result in resentment in the Arab world.

On Monday, we heard from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Read more

In Rush to Transcribe Military’s Concern on Why We Can’t Leave Afghanistan, Did NY Times Fact-check “Classified” Report?

The "UNCLASSIFIED" stamp not found by New York Times fact-checkers. This stamp appears at the top and bottom of each of the 70 pages of the report that the Times said was classified.

Today’s New York Times carries a long article under the headline “Afghanistan’s Soldiers Step Up Killings of Allied Forces“. The story appears to me to be presented from the angle of military higher-ups who don’t want to withdraw from Afghanistan and point to the failed training of Afghan forces to support their argument that we must stay there:

The violence, and the failure by coalition commanders to address it, casts a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of American efforts to build a functional Afghan Army, a pillar of the Obama administration’s strategy for extricating the United States from the war in Afghanistan, said the officers and experts who helped shape the strategy.

Not very thinly veiled, there, is it? It is the “officers and experts who helped shape the strategy” who say that we have “shortcomings” in our “efforts to build a functional Afghan Army”. And since that Afghan Army is “a pillar of the Obama’s administration’s strategy for exticating the United States from the war”, well, we just can’t possibly consider withdrawing yet if we have failed on such a central job, can we?

The Times article is based primarily on a study titled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” and the Times claims the report is classified:

The 70-page classified coalition report, titled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,” goes far beyond anecdotes. It was conducted by a behavioral scientist who surveyed 613 Afghan soldiers and police officers, 215 American soldiers and 30 Afghan interpreters who worked for the Americans.

Hmmm. This Wall Street Journal article from June 17, 2011 references a report with the same title and even has a link purporting to be for the report. That link is now broken and gives a “404 Not Found” response, but searching on the title gives this link, which goes to a 70 page pdf plainly stamped “UNCLASSIFIED” in green at the top and bottom of every page, as seen in the partial screencap above. In addition to not having Truth Vigilantes, it appears that the New York Times has now given up on using fact-checkers, because their claim that the report is classified is in error unless both the classified and unclassified versions of the report just happen to have 70 pages each.

Anyway, if we dive into this report, the executive summary gives us the list of reasons cited by Afghan troops for why they become upset with US troops. Reading this list brings up the question of whether training of US troops is just as much a failure as our training of Afghan troops (quotations here are my transcriptions, the pdf was saved in a form preventing copying): Read more

After Trading Jobs, Petraeus and Panetta Have Traded Sides in Military vs. Intelligence Differences

Mid-trade photo of David Petraeus, left, and Leon Panetta in July, 2011 in Kabul when Petraeus headed ISAF/NATO and Panetta had just taken over as Defense Secretary. (Department of State photo via Flickr)

What a difference a year makes.

Here is the New York Times with some of the fallout from the Afghanistan National Intelligence Estimate prepared in December, 2010, in an article published about a week after the report was supplied to Congress:

American military commanders and senior Pentagon officials have already criticized the reports as out of date and say that the cut-off date for the Afghanistan report, Oct. 1, does not allow it to take into account what the military cites as tactical gains in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces in the south in the six weeks since. Pentagon and military officials also say the reports were written by desk-bound Washington analysts who have spent limited time, if any, in Afghanistan and have no feel for the war.

“They are not on the ground living it day in and day out like our forces are, so they don’t have the proximity and perspective,” said a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified while criticizing the intelligence agencies. The official said that the 30,000 additional troops that Mr. Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 did not all arrive until September, meaning that the intelligence agencies had little time to judge the effects of the escalation. There are now about 100,000 American forces in Afghanistan.

/snip/

The dispute also reflects the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote “can do” optimism.

A new National Intelligence Estimate for Afghanistan has been prepared and the Los Angeles Times yesterday reported on the estimate and its responses, including this:

The findings prompted a sharp response from Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of Western forces in the war, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who filed their objections in a one-page written dissent. The comment was also signed by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Military and Pentagon officials argued that assumptions used by intelligence agencies were flawed.

“It assumes a quicker drawdown of U.S. support to the Afghan government than a lot of people are projecting, ” said one U.S. official familiar with Pentagon thinking, speaking of the assessment.

Military officials also cited what they claim are gaps in the intelligence agencies’ understanding of the Taliban leadership’s thinking, the officials said.

Although the details differ, the response by the military to the intelligence community’s assessment of Afghanistan is the same. In the face of sober doubts about progress from the intelligence community, the military’s “can-do” attitude claims that things are better than presented in the intelligence estimate, especially in the more recent events that weren’t included in the analysis or in anticipated events that the military sees as more positive than the intelligence community does.

What is remarkable about these two responses from the military (and the two analyses from the intelligence community) is that the two most visible heads of these communities have traded places between the two reports being issued. Read more

While NY Times Agitates for Resumption of Drone Strikes, Peace Talks Set to Add Afghanistan, Haqqani Network

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a piece whose headline seemed to cry out that drone strikes in Pakistan need to resume: “Lull in Strikes by U.S. Drones Aids Militants in Pakistan”. In reading the article, it is difficult to find strong evidence for the claim that the lull in strikes has helped militant groups. While the article does note a slight uptick in some forms of violence, there have been no major attacks on US forces in Afghanistan as one would expect if the insurgent groups truly had gained significant additional strength and operational capability. An alternative reading of the lull in strikes, however, is that it has provided an important opening for negotiations aimed at ending hostilities in Afghanistan. Two very important developments on that front are now in place, as Afghanistan is sending a delegation to Qatar to visit the newly established Taliban office there and the Express Tribune reports that the US is ready for the Haqqani network to take part in the peace negotiations. In the meantime, the Express Tribune also reports that negotiations between Pakistan and the US have nearly reached the point that drone strikes will resume. If the strikes resume, will progress in the peace talks be slowed or halted?

The poor footing on which the Times bases its claim that insurgents have been aided by the suspension of drone attacks is given away in the opening sentence of the article:

A nearly two-month lull in American drone strikes in Pakistan has helped embolden Al Qaeda and several Pakistani militant factions to regroup, increase attacks against Pakistani security forces and threaten intensified strikes against allied forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials say.

Attacks on the US have not increased, we only have American and Pakistani officials saying that “intensified” strikes on NATO forces are possible or threatened. As for the increase in attacks on Pakistani security forces, we have this:

Other militant groups continue attacking Pakistani forces. Just last week, Taliban insurgents killed 15 security soldiers who had been kidnapped in retaliation for the death of a militant commander.

The spike in violence in the tribal areas — up nearly 10 percent in 2011 from the previous year, according to a new independent report — comes amid reports of negotiations between Pakistan’s government and some local Taliban factions, although the military denies that such talks are taking place.

So that’s it when it comes to documentation of the strengthening of militant groups: a 10% increase for the year in violence in tribal areas, when the drone “pause” has only been for the last two months or so, with earlier shorter pauses over the Raymond Davis incident and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The article also notes that the drones have not stopped flying, it’s just that they are not launching missiles. Perhaps US intelligence personnel will take this opportunity to improve the quality of their intelligence so that fewer innocent civilians will be at risk when missile strikes resume.

Meanwhile, we learn that the newly established office for the Taliban in Qatar is about to be visited by a delegation from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council: Read more

With US Attention on Memogate Fallout and Taliban, Khan’s Tsunami Gathers Strength

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iidC31wuEpE[/youtube]

As reported late yesterday by the New York Times, the US is finally acknowledging that it faces a diminished role in Pakistan. However, restoring even a diminished level of relations with Pakistan after the November 26 airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani troops is complicated by the fact that “civilian and military leaders are clashing over purported coup plots”. At the same time, the US continues its efforts at negotiating with the Taliban on a peace agreement for Afghanistan once the US leaves, and has even arranged for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar. These diplomatic moves are all focused on the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, but standing between now and then are the scheduled Pakistan elections in 2013.  Former cricket star Imran Khan appears to be gaining a huge political following and so it seems likely that whether it is the long-rumored military coup or an electoral loss, the Zardari government appears to have lame duck status while participating in these critical discussions.

The Times describes the reduced US role with Pakistan:

With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

The United States will be forced to restrict drone strikes, limit the number of its spies and soldiers on the ground and spend more to transport supplies through Pakistan to allied troops in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said. United States aid to Pakistan will also be reduced sharply, they said.

It appears that the reduced number of “spies and soldiers” is down to about 100 from a high of 400. It is also very interesting to note that there have been no drone strikes in Pakistan since November 16, a full ten days before the November 26 border post attack. Today marks the one month mark for the blocking of supply lines through Pakistan in response to the border post attack.

While trying to sort out whether the Zardari government is stable enough to negotiate with over US involvement, the US is continuing its frequently ill-fated attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.   Read more