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When Abu-Ghraib is on the other foot

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I wonder how much of this is driven by well-known US atrocities such as Abu-Ghraib, the sergeant who went on a massacre of Afghan civilians, the total destruction of the two anti-Taliban town councils, the number of civilians (including wedding parties) killed in drone attacks, the well-known examples of torture by the US (183 waterboardings for one prisoner, for example),  the entire Iraq War and aftermath, and on and on. Certainly those do not in any way justify what ISIS is doing, but it perhaps can explain the source (and origin) of some of their anger. It’s not as though actions do not have consequences. The US cannot go around the world, conducting itself in such a fashion, and not expect pushback. That would be, IMO, unrealistic.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

Extremely interesting and informative post on tribalism and counter-insurgency

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David Moore has a good post at Informed Comment:

The rise of ISIL, as well as the resurgence of the Taliban, has brought numerous “experts” out to offer analyses on the best way to combat these developments. The consensus is to bomb and arm (or re-arm Sunni) groups to fight ISIL. Since I have written a book on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare in the First and Second Indochina Wars, I feel qualified to point out that my research shows we are on the wrong path for defeating ISIS, the Taliban, or any other insurgency in the future. (The book is based on my 1982 Master’s thesis in anthropology.)

My interest in unconventional warfare stemmed from my service in Vietnam, along with interest and education in the ancient Middle East and anthropology (a multi-disciplinary approach here is important: the first documented counter-insurgency dates to around 1,500 BC, between the Hittite Empire and Kaska tribesmen). Tribesmen have been recruited in history by diverse empires such as Babylonia, Rome and France, a practice that led to some disastrous outcomes for all three. This led me to write an anthropological case study of the effects of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare on the various tribal groups of Vietnam, from the French involvement to the American. I later published it as “Tribal Soldiers of Vietnam: the Effects of Unconventional Warfare on Tribal Populations.”

In my book, I note that the French discovered in the First Indochina War they were not only fighting the “typical” or “historical” insurgency, i.e. guerrilla war, but a much more complex form of warfare combining politics with unconventional warfare. The signature aspect of this new insurgency, which the French considered the key aspect of modern insurgency, was labeled “parallel hierarchies.” Simply put, the insurgency establishes an effective parallel government and social services, mimicking the ineffective government offices in contested tribal areas. The French ultimately published in 1957 a landmark—but much ignored—study in the magazine Revue Militaire d’Information devoted entirely to the parallel hierarchies.

One way I described the two competing forms of warfare was through the formula RW = (GW + PW), meaning revolutionary (insurgency) warfare was a close combination of guerrilla warfare married to political warfare. The North Vietnamese set up efficient parallel services of courts, social services, military, etc. I wrote the formula for Western counter-insurgency as COIN = (GW) + (PW). Lacking an effective central government and incorruptible bureaucrats, not to mention lacking the will to create one, the quick Western fix was to hire local warlords while leaving their often brutal mechanism for control intact. These warlords supplied their own version of “anti-communism,” telling Western military and political leaders what they wanted to hear while pursuing their own agendas, oftentimes counterproductive by driving their victims into the insurgency.
The expedient use by the US military of warlord armies to fight these insurgents, in my opinion, was a foreseeable catastrophe.

The explosion of armed gangs extorting villages and individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan was not a surprise for anyone familiar with counter-insurgency in Vietnam. As I showed in my book, the growth of armed groups demanding “protection,” “taxes,” etc., is directly related to the standard recruiting and training practices of Western militaries.

Conversely, using the communist model employing parallel hierarchies, insurgencies co-opt and absorb through politics. Politics and religion can overcome tribalism, but US counter-insurgency doctrine (especially in the Middle East) has only further entrenched tribal animosities, sectarianism and chaos. As I showed in my book, left to their own devices, tribal minorities may unite for a united political end, such as independence. . .

Continue reading.

At the link you’ll find not only the rest of the post, but also a video of a panel discussion of tribal societies and tribalism in Pakiston.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 12:00 pm

A story from the Blackwater massacre of Iraqi civilians

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This article by Jeremy Scahill in The Intercept includes a good description of what happened the day of the massacre. From the article:

. . . The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car:

“[T]hey saw one armored vehicle and then another, with men brandishing machine guns atop each one,” Mohammed recalls. The armored cars swiftly blocked off traffic. One of the gunners held both fists in the air, which Mohammed took as a gesture to stop. “Myself and all the cars before and behind me stopped,” Mohammed says. “We followed their orders. I thought they were some sort of unit belonging to the American military, or maybe just a military police unit. Any authority giving you an order to stop, you follow the order.” It turns out the men in the armored cars were neither U.S. military nor MPs. They were members of a Blackwater team code-named Raven 23.

As the family waited in traffic, two more Blackwater vehicles became visible. Mohammed noticed a family in a car next to his—a man, woman and child. The man was staring at Mohammed’s car, and Mohammed thought the man was eyeing Jenan. “I thought he was checking my sister out,” Mohammed remembers. “So I yelled at him and said, ‘What are you looking at?’” Mohammed noticed that the man looked frightened. “I think they shot the driver in the car in front of you,” the man told him.

Mohammed scanned the area and noticed that the back windshield of the white Kia sedan in front of him was shattered. The man in the car next to Mohammed began to panic and tried to turn his car around. He ended up bumping into a taxi, and an argument ensued. The taxi driver exited his car and began yelling. Mohammed tried to break up the argument, telling the taxi driver that a man had been shot and that he should back up so the other car could exit. The taxi driver refused and got back into his vehicle.

At that point, an Iraqi police officer, Ali Khalaf Salman, approached the Kia sedan, and it started to slowly drift. The driver had been shot, and the car was gliding in neutral toward a Blackwater armored car. Salman, in an interview, described how he tried to stop it by pushing backward. He saw a panicked woman inside the car; she was clutching a young man covered in blood who had been shot in the head. She was shrieking, “My son! My son! Help me, help me!” Salman remembered looking toward the Blackwater shooters. “I raised my left arm high in the air to try to signal to the convoy to stop the shooting.” He said he thought the men would cease fire, given that he was a clearly identified police officer.

“As the officer was waving, the men on the armored cars started shooting at that car,” Mohammed says. “And it wasn’t warning shots; they were shooting as in a battle. It was as though they were in a fighting field. I thought the police officer was killed. It was insane.” Officer Salman managed to dive out of the way as the bullets rained down. “I saw parts of the woman’s head flying in front of me,” recalled his colleague, Officer Sarhan Thiab. “They immediately opened heavy fire at us.”

That’s how the Nisour Square massacre began.

“What can I tell you?” Mohammed says, closing his eyes. “It was like the end of days.”

Mohammed would later learn that the first victims that day, in the white Kia, were a young Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Al Rubia’y, and his mother, Mahassin, a physician. Mohammed is crystal clear that the car posed no threat. “There was absolutely no shooting at the Blackwater men,” he says. “All of a sudden, they started shooting in all directions, and they shot at everyone in front of them. There was nothing left in that street that wasn’t shot: the ground, cars, poles, sidewalks; they shot everything in front of them.” As the Blackwater gunners shot up the Rubia’ys’ vehicle, Mohammed said, it soon looked like a sieve “due to how many bullet holes it had.” A Blackwater shooter later admitted that they also fired a grenade at the car, causing the car to explode. Mohammed says the Blackwater men then started firing across the square. “They were shooting in all directions,” he remembers. He describes the shooting as “random yet still concentrated. It was concentrated and focused on what they aimed at and still random as they shot in all directions.”

One of the Blackwater shooters was on top of an armored vehicle firing an automatic weapon, he says. “Every time he would finish his clip, he would throw it on the ground and would load another one in and would start shooting again, and finish the new one and replace it with another.” One young Iraqi man got out of his car to run, and as he fled, the Blackwater shooter gunned him down and continued firing into his body as it lay on the pavement, Mohammed says. “He was on the ground bleeding, and they’re shooting nonstop, and it wasn’t single bullets.” The Blackwater shooter, he says, would fire at other Iraqis and cars and then return to pump more bullets into the dead man on the ground. “He sank in his own blood, and every minute the [Blackwater shooter] would shoot left and right and then go back to shoot the dead man, and I could see that his body would shake with every bullet. He was already dead, but his body was still reacting to the bullets. [The shooter] would fire at someone else and then go back to shoot at this dead man.” Shaking his head slowly, Mohammed says somberly, “The guy is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you continue shooting him?”

In his vehicle, as the shooting intensified, Mohammed yelled for the kids to get down. He and his sister did the same. “My car was hit many times in different places. All I could hear from my car was the gun shots and the sound of glass shattering,” he remembers. Jenan was frantic. “Why are they shooting at us?” she asked him. Just then, a bullet pierced the windshield, hitting Jenan’s headrest. Mohammed shows me a photo of the bullet hole.

As gunfire rained on the SUV, Jenan grabbed Mohammed’s hair, yanked his head down and covered him with her body. “My young sister was trying to protect me by covering me with her body, so I forced myself out of her grip and covered her with my body to protect her. It was so horrific that my little sister, whom I’m supposed to protect, was trying to protect me.” Mohammed managed to slip his cellphone from his pocket and was going to call his father. “It’s customary that when in agony before death, you ask those close to you to look after your loved ones,” he says. Jenan demanded that Mohammed put down the phone, reminding him that their father had had two strokes already. “If he hears what’s happening, he’ll die immediately,” she said. “Maybe he’ll die before us.”

At that moment, bullets pierced the SUV through the front windshield. A bullet hit the rearview mirror, causing it to whack Mohammed in the face. “We imagined that in a few seconds everyone was going to die–everyone in the car, my sister and I and our children. We thought that every second that passed meant one of us dying.” He adds, “We remained still, my sister and I. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We’d sneak a peek from under the dashboard, and they continued shooting here and there, killing this one and that one.”

And then the shooting stopped.

Kinani thought his family had somehow miraculously survived the massacre. But then the silence of the aftermath was shattered by relatives in his car shouting, “Ali is shot! Ali is shot!”

Mohammed rushed around . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2014 at 1:36 pm

Laws have consequences—cf. drug laws that have created the opium trade in Afghanistan

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Ryan Devereaux reports in The Intercept:

A new report has found the war on drugs in Afghanistan remains colossally expensive, largely ineffective and likely to get worse. This is particularly true in the case of opium production, says the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In a damning report released Tuesday, the special inspector general, Justin F. Sopko, writes that “despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013,” hitting 209,000 hectares, surpassing the prior, 2007 peak of 193,000 hectares. Sopko adds that the number should continue to rise thanks to deteriorating security in rural Afghanistan and weak eradication efforts.

Though the figures it reports are jarring, the inspector general’s investigation highlights drug policy failures in Afghanistan that have been consistently documented for years. Indeed, Sopko himself has been raising concerns over the failing drug war in Afghanistan for some time. In January, he testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and described a series of discouraging conversations with counternarcotics officials from Afghanistan, the U.S., and elsewhere.

“In the opinion of almost everyone I spoke with, the situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond,”Sopko told the lawmakers. “All of the fragile gains we have made over the last 12 years on women’s issues, health, education, rule of law, and governance are now, more than ever, in jeopardy of being wiped out by the narcotics trade which not only supports the insurgency, but also feeds organized crime and corruption.”

While many of the numbers included in the inspector general’s investigation have been made public before, the report . . .

Continue reading.

Mother Jones has an excellent article on this: We Spent $7.6 Billion to Crush the Afghan Opium Trade—and It’s Doing Better Than Ever

The NY Times has a report on Afghanistan as a narco-state.

Here’s an ABC News report. All those billions of dollars, totally pissed away to no purpose.

I earlier blogged the review of a new book on Afghanistan.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2014 at 3:21 pm

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’

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In the NY Review of Books Rory Stewart reviews a recent book on Afghanistan:

1.

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was twelve years ago. No one speaks like that now—not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over thirteen years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. [And now those very former prisoners hate us for our freedoms. /snark - LG] It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

Gopal’s investigations into development are no more encouraging. I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan.

Or consider Gopal’s description of the fate of several principal Afghan politicians in the book:

Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo….

Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time….

Nine Guantanamo inmates claimed the most striking proof of all that they were not Taliban or al-Qaeda: they had passed directly from a Taliban jail to American custody after 2001.

Why didn’t I—didn’t most of us—know these details? . . .

Continue reading.

The US has fucked up. But still we honor many of those responsible for the fuck-up. We do not learn, as a nation, or at least we learn quite slowly and uncertainly and quickly forget our lessons. We are a people who will put a teacher on leave because she was in Dallas, though she did not get within 10 miles of Texas Presbyterian Hospital. (On the bright side, we did not force everyone in Dallas to stay home for a couple of weeks.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:06 pm

I believe “FUBAR” was originally a Navy term?

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It’s easy to see why. Read this whole story, and think about iceberg visibility or about pulling just one thread on the coat…  for want of a nail. This thing has the potential to uncover quite a bit.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 2:49 pm

More on the Navy’s silencer scam

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I can’t get over how quickly the Navy destroyed evidence. I suppose practice improves efficiency, but the overt support for lawbreaking seems ominous. Jordan Smith provides new details about the scandal in The Intercept:

A former Navy intelligence officer is slated to go on trial in federal court next week on charges he conspired with a California auto mechanic to manufacture untraceable silencers for automatic rifles, ship them cross-country, and to defraud the feds of nearly $1.7 million in the process.

The strange and soap operatic tale of Pentagon-centered intrigue has been unfolding since 2011, when the two conspirators facing criminal charges — Lee Hall, then a civilian Naval intelligence officer, and Mark Landersman, a mechanic facing a separate trial who is also the  brother of Hall’s former boss  — entered into a nearly $1.7 million deal to have 349 silencers manufactured, apparently for a clandestine military operation, according toThe Washington Post and court documents. Federal prosecutors say the silencers only cost around $10,000 to make.

Even the prosecutors alleging fraud acknowledge the silencers were connected to a genuine, high-level secret operation, known in federal parlance as a “special access program.” But exactly what that operation might have been is entirely unclear. One story suggests the silencers were being procured for use by Navy SEAL Team 6, which disavowed any knowledge of them; another says they were being produced to outfit a stockpile of AK-47-style rifles that were seized overseas and then stored in the U.S. for later, untraceable, use abroad.

That the illegal baffling devices were manufactured and shipped is clear, but as the tale spins forward in federal court, the why and what for remain, at least publicly, unknown.

As the Post notes in its reporting this week, many documents related to the investigation have been filed under seal with the federal court in Arlington, Va., making it difficult, at best, to determine whether they were purchased for a legitimate, secret military mission, or whether they were procured as part of a “rogue operation,” being run out of the Navy’s Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Interrogation — a small office meant to provide support for Navy and Marine intelligence operations and staffed by civilians, most of them military retirees. As a former senior Navy official told the Post, directorate officials behaved as “wanna-be spook-cops” who acted like “they were building their own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency.”

Here is what is clear, according to public court records: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 8:41 am

Posted in Business, Military

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