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“The Cursed Platoon”

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One of the many horrific acts of Donald Trump was to pardon a convicted war criminal. The way the US no longer heeds the rule of law is another sign of decline. Greg Jaffe has a feature report in the Washington Post:

Only a few hours had passed since President Trump pardoned 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and the men of 1st Platoon were still trying to make sense of how it was even possible.

How could a man they blamed for ruining their lives, an officer the Army convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, be forgiven so easily? How could their president allow him to just walk free?

“I feel like I’m in a nightmare,” Lucas Gray, a former specialist from the unit, texted his old squad leader, who was out of the Army and living in Fayetteville, N.C.

“I haven’t been handling it well either,” replied Mike McGuinness on Nov. 15, the day Lorance was pardoned.

“There’s literally no point in anything we did or said,” Gray continued. “Now he gets to be the hero . . .”

“And we’re left to deal with it,” McGuinness concluded.

Lorance had been in command of 1st Platoon for only three days in Afghanistan but in that short span of time had averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found. On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat. His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence.

He had served six years when Trump, spurred to action by relentless Fox News coverage and Lorance’s insistence that he had made a split-second decision to protect his men, set him free.

The president’s opponents described the pardon as another instance of Trump subverting the rule of law to reward allies and reap political benefits. Military officials worried that the decision to overturn a case that had already been adjudicated in the military courts sent a signal that war crimes were not worthy of severe punishment.

For the men of 1st platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, the costs of the war and the fallout from the case have been profound and sometimes deadly.

Traumatized by battle, they have also been brutalized by the politicization of their service and made to feel as if the truth of what they lived in Afghanistan — already a violent and harrowing tour before Lorance assumed command — had been so demeaned that it no longer existed.

Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon’s three dozen soldiers have died. At least four others have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drugs or alcohol.

The last fatality came a few weeks before Lorance was pardoned when James O. Twist, 27, a Michigan state trooper and father of three, died of suicide. As the White House was preparing the official order for Trump’s signature, the men of 1st Platoon gathered in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the funeral, where they remembered Twist as a good soldier who had bravely rushed through smoke and fire to pull a friend from a bomb crater and place a tourniquet on his right leg where it had been sheared off by the blast.

They thought of the calls and texts from him that they didn’t answer because they were too busy with their own lives — and Twist, who had a caring wife, a good job and a nice house — seemed like he was doing far better than most. They didn’t know that behind closed doors he was at times verbally abusive, ashamed of his inner torment and, like so many of them, unable to articulate his pain.

By November 2019, Twist, a man the soldiers of 1st Platoon loved, was gone and Lorance was free from prison and headed for New York City, a new life and a star turn on Fox News.

This story is based on a transcript of Lorance’s 2013 court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., and on-the-record interviews with 15 members of 1st Platoon, as well as family members of the soldiers, including Twist’s father and wife. The soldiers also shared texts and emails they exchanged over the past several years. Twist’s family provided his journal entries from his time in the Army. Lorance declined to be interviewed.

In New York, Sean Hannity, Lorance’s biggest champion and the man most responsible for persuading Trump to pardon him, asked Lorance about the shooting and soldiers under his command.

Lorance had traded in his Army uniform for a blazer and red tie. He leaned in to the microphone. “I don’t know any of these guys. None of them know me,” Lorance said of his former troops. “To be honest with you, I can’t even remember most of their names.”

The 1st Platoon soldiers came to the Army and the war from all over the country: Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Indiana and Texas to name just a few. They joined for all the usual reasons: “To keep my parents off my a–,” said one soldier.

“I just needed a change,” said another.

A few had tried college but quit because they were bored or failing their classes. “I didn’t know how to handle it,” Gray said of college. “I was really immature.”

Others joined right out of high school propelled by romantic notions, inherited from veteran fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, of service and duty. Twist’s father served in Vietnam as a clerk in an air-conditioned office before coming back to Michigan and opening a garage. In his spare time Twist Sr. was a military history buff, a passion that rubbed off on his son, who visited World War II battle sites in Europe with his dad. Twist was just 16 when he started badgering his parents to sign his enlistment papers and barely 18 when he left for basic training. His mother had died of cancer only a few months earlier.

“I got pictures of him the day we dropped him off, and he didn’t even wave goodbye,” his father recalled. “He was in pig heaven.”

Several of the 1st Platoon soldiers enlisted in search of a steady paycheck and the promise of health insurance and a middle-class life. “I needed to get out of northeast Ohio,” McGuinness said. “There wasn’t anything there.”

In 1999, he was set to pay his first union dues and go to work alongside his steelworker grandfather when the plant closed. So he became a paratrooper instead, eventually deploying three times to Afghanistan.

McGuinness didn’t look much like a paratrooper with his thick, squat body. But he liked being a soldier, jumping out of planes, firing weapons and drinking with his Army buddies. After a while the war didn’t make much sense, but he took pride in knowing that his soldiers trusted him and that he was good at his job.

Nine months before 1st Platoon landed in rural southern Afghanistan, a team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.

Samuel Walley, the badly wounded soldier Twist pulled from the blast crater, wondered if they might be spared combat. “Wasn’t that the goal to kill bin Laden?” he recalled thinking. “Isn’t that checkmate?”

Around the same time, Twist was trying to make sense of what was to come. “I feel like the Army was a good decision, but also in my mind is a lot of dark thoughts,” he wrote in a spiral notebook. “I could die. I could come back with PTSD. I could be massively injured.”

“Maybe,” he hoped, “it will start winding down soon.”

But the decade-long war continued, driven by new, largely unattainable goals. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and many photos.

I wonder when President Trump will take notice of the fact that Russia has placed (and has paid) a bounty for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump doesn’t seem to care.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2020 at 9:54 am

Heather Cox Richardson on June 30, 2020

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Richardson writes:

Today’s big story was the increasing spread of the coronavirus across America. Yesterday, Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC) said in an interview that the virus is spreading too fast and too far for the United States to bring it under control.

Today, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified to a Senate committee on the coronavirus and the reopening of schools, he said he was “very concerned.” “We’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases,” he said, “so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly.”

The country is now seeing more than 40,000 new infections a day while the European Union, which has more people, is seeing fewer than 6,000. About half the new cases are coming from California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Florida’s cases increased by 277 percent in the past two weeks; Texas’s by 184 percent, and Arizona’s by 145 percent. As our national confirmed deaths are approaching 130,000 people, Arizona recently released a new triage scoring system to help healthcare providers decide how to allocate resources if they must make choices about which patients to treat.

Nonetheless, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) did not want to hear Fauci’s evaluation of the crisis. “It’s important to realize that if society meekly submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a great deal of harm may occur,” he lectured Fauci, who turned away Paul’s jabs with good humor. Paul told Dr. Fauci, “We need more optimism.”

I expected serious pushback today from the White House about the Russia bounty scandal, but their reaction was weirdly subdued. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany first suggested that the president hadn’t been “briefed” on the story, apparently using the word “briefed” to suggest it only means an oral report, rather than a written one. Multiple sources have confirmed that the information was indeed, in the President’s Daily Brief– the PDB– the written document of security issues he receives every morning.

Sources today also confirmed that it was a large money transfer from a bank controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to an account associated with the Taliban that alerted intelligence agencies that something was up, and that Trump was briefed on the information. This afternoon, in a press briefing, McEnany changed course, saying that “The president does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on Planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”

The White House tonight assured us that Trump has now been briefed on the bounty scandal, but while this story has consumed headlines since Friday—four full days ago—he has done and said nothing to condemn Russia’s actions. In a New York Times op-ed today, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice points out that instead, Trump has dismissed the evidence as “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!” Rice notes that if, indeed, Trump’s senior advisors thought there was no reason to inform Trump of the Russia bounty story, they “are not worthy of service.”

As a former National Security Adviser, she outlined what she would have done in their place after immediately giving the president the information. “If later the president decided, as Mr. Trump did, that he wanted to talk with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at least six times over the next several weeks and invite him to join the Group of 7 summit over the objections of our allies, I would have thrown a red flag: ‘Mr. President, I want to remind you that we believe the Russians are killing American soldiers. This is not the time to hand Putin an olive branch. It’s the time to punish him.’”

Rice called out the elephant in the room: Trump’s “perilous pattern” of deference to Russia.

He urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, then praised Wikileaks for publishing them. He denied Russian interference in the 2016 election, undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of that interference, and accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our intelligence community when Putin denied Russian interference at a conference in Helsinki.

Trump “recklessly” pulled U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, allowing Russian forces to take over our bases in the region. He has recently invited Putin to rejoin the international organization called the G7—from which Russia was excluded after it invaded Ukraine in 2014—and has suddenly announced that the U.S. will withdraw nearly a third of its troops from Germany, harming NATO and benefitting Russia. And now we know that Trump looked the other way as Russia paid for the slaughter of U.S. troops.

What does all this mean?

Rice doesn’t pull any punches: “At best, our commander in chief is utterly derelict in his duties, presiding over a dangerously dysfunctional national security process that is putting our country and those who wear its uniform at great risk. At worst, the White House is being run by liars and wimps catering to a tyrannical president who is actively advancing our arch adversary’s nefarious interests.”

The president’s weakness toward Russia was on the table today in another way, too, as Republicans stripped from a forthcoming defense bill a requirement that campaigns must notify federal authorities if they receive any offer of help from foreign countries. Accepting foreign money or help in any way is already illegal, as Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen Weintraub continually points out. The provision in this bill was a rebuke to the president, who told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos a year ago he would be willing to take such help, and then set out to get it from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also put on notice Attorney General William Barr, who in his confirmation hearing hedged his answer to whether he believes a campaign should alert authorities to foreign interference, finally saying he only considers help from foreign governments to be problematic.

For his part, the president continued to . . .

Continue reading. She includes all relevant links following her column.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2020 at 9:44 am

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

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And I just started (re)reading Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon. Wonder what Trump thinks of his good buddy Putin now? Charlie SavageEric Schmitt, and report in the NY Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

The Kremlin had not been made aware of the accusations, said Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Mr. Peskov said. A Taliban spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Spokespeople at the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment.

The officials familiar with the intelligence did not explain the White House delay in deciding how to respond to the intelligence about Russia.

While some of his closest advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have counseled more hawkish policies toward Russia, Mr. Trump has adopted an accommodating stance toward Moscow.

At a summit in Helsinki in 2018, Mr. Trump strongly suggested that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite broad agreement within the American intelligence establishment that it did. Mr. Trump criticized a bill imposing sanctions on Russia when he signed it into law after Congress passed it by veto-proof majorities. And he has repeatedly made statements that undermined the NATO alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression in Europe.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence and internal deliberations. They said the intelligence has been treated as a closely held secret, but the administration expanded briefings about it this week — including sharing information about it with the British government, whose forces are among those said to have been targeted. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2020 at 1:09 pm

Why the International Criminal Court will investigate possible U.S. war crimes — even if the Trump administration says it can’t

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Kelebogile Zvobgo writes in the Washington Post:

Judges in the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court on Thursday authorized Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan. This is a big milestone in international criminal justice — for the first time in history, U.S. leaders, armed forces and intelligence personnel may face a trial in an international court for crimes perpetrated in the context of the nation’s wars abroad.

In April, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected Bensouda’s first request for an investigation. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the Appeals Chamber’s overturning of the decision, calling the ICC “an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body.”

What are the alleged abuses? How does the ICC have jurisdiction over the United States? What will ordinary U.S. citizens make of an ICC investigation? My research explains how U.S. citizens are more supportive of the ICC than the Trump administration’s rhetoric suggests.<

The ICC prosecutor examined evidence of U.S. torture and abuse

In 2006, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Afghan conflict since 2003 — the year Afghanistan became a member of the ICC.

The OTP examined allegations of abuses by both anti-government and pro-government forces, including the Taliban, the Afghan National Security Forces, the United States, armed forces and the CIA. The OTP says the information it gathered indicates, among other allegations, that U.S. interrogation techniques used in Afghanistan — involving “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape” — amount to war crimes.

Some ICC judges are worried about going after the U.S.

The United States is not a member of the ICC. However, the treaty that created the court, the Rome Statute, allows it to investigate citizens of nonmember states if the alleged crimes occurred on the territory of a member state. Once Afghanistan ratified the Rome Statute and joined the ICC in 2003, U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan came under the court’s jurisdiction.

[The International Criminal Court was established 20 years ago. Here’s how.]

In November 2017 — after more than a decade of gathering evidence — the prosecutor requested authorization to open a full investigation, arguing there was “a reasonable basis to believe” U.S. military and intelligence personnel committed war crimes.

A year and a half later, in April 2019, the Pre-Trial Chamber unanimously rejected the request. The judges agreed the request was in the ICC’s jurisdiction and admissible before the ICC. However, they claimed the investigation would probably not be successful and, therefore, it would not serve the interests of justice to proceed.

The 2019 decision sparked controversy in the human rights community. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued statements criticizing the court’s judges for capitulating to the Trump administration’s threats and, in the process, abandoning the victims of the alleged crimes.

The ICC will move ahead, despite the political risks

Bensouda swiftly appealed the decision. Her office coordinated a multifaceted response, drawing on submissions from victims’ legal representatives and amicus curiae briefs from human rights organizations.

[The U.S. revoked the visa for the ICC prosecutor. That bodes poorly for international criminal justice.]

On Thursday, the Appeals Chamber unanimously reversed the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision, saying it had gone beyond its power by rejecting the prosecutor’s request. The Rome Statute requires only that the Pre-Trial Chamber determine whether “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” and whether “the case appears to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.”

Since these facts were not in dispute, there was no basis to reject the prosecutor’s request. Last week’s decision authorizes . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2020 at 4:14 pm

Why the Media Are Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers

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Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post’s investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: “The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.”

The documents are an indictment not only of one aspect of American foreign policy, but also of the U.S.’s entire policymaking apparatus. They reveal a bipartisan consensus to lie about what was actually happening in Afghanistan: chronic waste and chronic corruption, one ill-conceived development scheme after another, resulting in a near-unmitigated failure to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Both parties had reason to engage in the cover-up. For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was a key component in the war on terror. For the Obama administration, Afghanistan was the “good war” that stood in contrast to the nightmare in Iraq.

The Afghanistan Papers are, in other words, a bombshell. Yet the report has received scant attention from the broader press. Neither NBC nor ABC covered the investigation in their nightly broadcasts this week. In other outlets, it has been buried beneath breathless reporting on the latest developments in the impeachment saga, Joe Biden’s purported pledge to serve only one term, and world leaders’ pathological envy of a 16-year-old girl.

The relentless news cycle that characterizes Donald Trump’s America surely deserves some blame: This isn’t the first time that a consequential news story has been buried under an avalanche of other news stories. But one major reason that the Afghanistan Papers have received so comparatively little coverage is that everyone is to blame, which means no one has much of an interest in keeping the story alive. There are no hearings, few press gaggles.

George W. Bush started the Afghanistan War and botched it in plenty of ways, not least by starting another war in Iraq. But Barack Obama, despite his obvious skepticism of the war effort, exacerbated Bush’s mistakes by bowing to the Washington foreign policy blob and authorizing a pointless troop surge. Now, although both Democrats and Donald Trump seem to be on the same page about getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, there has been little progress with peace talks. The pattern across administrations is that any movement toward resolution is usually met with a slow slide back into the status quo, a.k.a. quagmire.

The political press loves the idea of bipartisan cooperation, which plays into a notion of American greatness and its loss. It also thrives on partisan conflict, because conflict drives narrative. It doesn’t really know what to do with bipartisan failure.

During the impeachment hearings, news outlets gleefully covered the conflict between Trump and members of the foreign policy establishment, holding up the latter as selfless bureaucrats working tirelessly and anonymously on behalf of the American interest, in contrast with the feckless and narcissistic head of the executive branch. The Afghanistan Papers don’t provide that kind of easy contrast; they demand a kind of holistic condemnation, in which Trump and those bureaucrats are part of the same problem.

The media also has a long-standing bias toward “new” news. The Afghanistan War has been a catastrophic failure for nearly two decades. Because little changes, there is little to report that will excite audiences. (Though the Afghanistan Papers are startling, they are hardly surprising.) Given that the president is the greatest supplier of “new” news in recent history—his Twitter feed alone powers MSNBC most days—more complex stories, like the situation in Afghanistan, are often buried in favor of the political equivalent of sports sideline reporting.

The result is that this massive controversy receives disproportionately little coverage. Despite wasting thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, everyone in the U.S. government gets off scot-free. . .

Continue reading.

It is increasingly difficult to see how the US can get back on track. Too many different forces have motivation to stay the current course, which leads directly over a cliff.

The Daily 202: The Afghanistan Papers show the corrosive consequences of letting corruption go unchecked

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A lesson the US should heed for itself. James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: A toxic mix of U.S. government policies, under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, directly contributed to Afghanistan’s descent into one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

U.S. leaders said publicly that they had no tolerance for corruption in Afghanistan, but that was one of several topics related to the war effort on which they systematically misled the public, according to a trove of confidential government interviews obtained by The Washington Post.

American representatives often looked the other way at egregious and brazen graft, so long as the offenders were considered allies. Congress appropriated vast sums of money, which was handed out with little oversight or recordkeeping. The ensuing greed and corruption undermined the legitimacy of the nascent government and helped make the ground more fertile for the Taliban’s resurgence.

“The basic assumption was that corruption is an Afghan problem and we are the solution. But there is one indispensable ingredient for corruption — money — and we were the ones who had the money,” said Barnett Rubin, a former senior State Department adviser and a New York University professor.

The adage is as true in Afghanistan as America: Follow the money.

“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” said Ryan Crocker, who twice served as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul, in 2002 and again from 2011 to 2012. “Once it gets to the level I saw, when I was out there, it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it. … The corruption was so entrenched and so much a part of the lifestyle of the establishment writ broadly…”

Crocker told interviewers from the government that he felt “a sense of futility”: “I was struck by something [then-president Hamid] Karzai said and repeated a number of times during my tenure, which is that the West, led by the U.S., in his clear view, had a significant responsibility to bear for the whole corruption issue,” he explained. “I always thought Karzai had a point, that you just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption. … You just can’t.”

— The comments from Crocker and Rubin are included among more than 2,000 pages of previously private notes from research conducted by U.S. government investigators. More than 400 people who played a direct role in the war, from generals to diplomats and aid workers, were questioned about what went wrong. The interviews were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction between 2014 and 2018 for a “Lessons Learned” project. A report outlined the conclusions in broad brushstrokes in 2016, but a lot of the most noteworthy material was held back. The Post has fought a three-year legal battle, which is ongoing, to get these documents out under the Freedom of Information Act so that the American people can see for themselves what’s been going on.

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged in an interview with Craig Whitlock that the records show “the American people have constantly been lied to.” Whitlock has written a six-part series dissecting all the documents. (You can start with Part One here.)

— A key theme underlying many of the most candid interviews is that a short-term focus on maintaining security led to compromises that started small but became bigger and bigger. It’s a cautionary tale that can be cross-applied to a host of other challenges facing the United States.

Gert Berthold, a forensic accountant who served on a military task force in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012, analyzed 3,000 Defense Department contracts worth $106 billion. He said they calculated that about 40 percent of the money ended up in the pockets of insurgents, criminal syndicates or corrupt Afghan officials. But former government ministers told them it was higher. Berthold said few U.S. officials wanted to hear about the evidence they uncovered: “No one wanted accountability,” he said. “If you’re going to do anti-corruption, someone has got to own it. From what I’ve seen, no one is willing to own it.”

Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said the Afghan government led by Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006. “I like to use a cancer analogy,” the colonel told his government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.

— A lot of important information is still being concealed by the government. While the agency has turned over previously unpublished notes and transcripts from 428 of more than 600 interviews that were conducted, these documents identify only 62 of the people who were interviewed by their names. The names of 366 others are blacked out. A decision by a federal judge is pending in response to a motion to disclose the other names. But The Post chose to publish what it has now, instead of waiting for the judge to rule on the rest, because these records could contribute to the civic discourse over President Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban and the debate over whether to withdraw the 13,000 U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan, which has become a flashpoint in the 2020 campaign.

The Post attempted to contact for comment everyone whom it was able to identify as having given an interview as part of the project. (Their responses are compiled here.)

— Here are five of the most striking quotes about corruption from people whose identities are still redacted in the interview summaries:

1. An unnamed senior U.S. diplomat said the early years were “a dark space” with “not much documentation” about who we were giving cash. “We had partnerships with all the wrong players,” this diplomat lamented during an interview in August 2015. “The U.S. is still standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these people, even through all these years. It’s a case of security trumping everything else.”

2. From another unnamed senior U.S. official: “Our money was empowering a lot of bad people. There was massive resentment among the Afghan people. And we were the most corrupt here, so had no credibility on the corruption issue.”

3. From a former National Security Council staffer: “In the beginning, the military kept saying that corruption was an unfortunate short-term side effect then toward the end the feeling was ‘Oh, my God, this could derail the whole thing.’”

4. An unnamed State Department official said that U.S. officials were “so desperate to have the alcoholics to the table, we kept pouring drinks, not knowing [or] considering we were killing them.” This person said that the Americans “had no red lines” for cutting off corrupt partners. “We didn’t spend the money effectively and didn’t consider the implications,” this person told government interviewers. “We wanted to keep the country afloat, not to let the country be a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

5. An unidentified government contractor said his job was to distribute $3 million in taxpayer money each day for projects in an Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He recalled asking a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’”

— So often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Chapter four of Whitlock’s six-part series is a narrative, as told through these interviews, of how Afghanistan became consumed by corruption: “About halfway into the 18-year war, Afghans stopped hiding how corrupt their country had become. Dark money sloshed all around. Afghanistan’s largest bank liquefied into a cesspool of fraud. Travelers lugged suitcases loaded with $1 million, or more, on flights leaving Kabul. … Karzai won reelection after cronies stuffed thousands of ballot boxes. He later admitted the CIA had delivered bags of cash to his office for years, calling it ‘nothing unusual.’ … According to the interviews, the CIA, the U.S. military, the State Department and other agencies used cash and lucrative contracts to win the allegiance of Afghan warlords in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. …

In 2002 and 2003, when Afghan tribal councils gathered to write a new constitution, the U.S. government gave ‘nice packages’ to delegates who supported Washington’s preferred stance on human rights and women’s rights, according to a U.S. official who served in Kabul at the time. ‘The perception that was started in that period: If you were going to vote for a position that [Washington] favored, you’d be stupid to not get a package for doing it,’ the unnamed official told government interviewers. By the time Afghanistan held parliamentary elections in 2005, that perception had hardened. Lawmakers realized their votes could be worth thousands of dollars to the Americans, even for legislation they would have backed anyway … ‘People would tell each other, so-and-so has just been to the U.S. Embassy and got this money. They said ‘ok now I need to go,’’ the U.S. official said. ‘So from the beginning, their experience with democracy was one in which money was deeply embedded.’”

On Aug. 20, 2009, Afghans went to the polls to choose a president. … Right away, reports surfaced of electoral fraud on an epic scale — ghost voting, official miscounting, ballot-box stuffing, plus violence and intimidation at the polls. Initial results showed Karzai, the incumbent, had won. But his opponents, and many independent observers, accused his side of trying to steal the election. A U.N.-backed panel investigated and determined Karzai had received about 1 million illegal votes, a quarter of all those cast. The outcome put Obama administration officials in a box. They had said corruption was intolerable but also had promised to respect Afghan sovereignty and not interfere with the election. Moreover, they did not want to completely alienate Karzai. If there was another vote, many saw him as the likely victor anyway. In the end, the Obama administration brokered a deal in which Karzai was declared the winner after he agreed to share some power with his main rival. …

Peter Galbraith, a Karzai critic who served as a deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan in 2009, was removed from his post after he complained that the United Nations was helping cover up the extent of the election fraud. An American, Galbraith told government interviewers that the U.S. government also stood by when Karzai appointed cronies to election boards and anti-corruption posts.”

It got worse in 2010: “Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest, nearly collapsed under the weight of $1 billion in fraudulent loans — an amount equal to one-twelfth of the country’s entire economic output the year before. The Afghan government engineered an emergency bailout to stem a run on the bank as angry crowds lined up to withdraw their savings. Investigators soon determined Kabul Bank had falsified its books to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in unsecured loans to politically connected business executives, including the president’s brother Mahmoud Karzai and the family of Fahim Khan, the warlord then serving as the country’s first vice president. ‘On a scale of one to 10, it was a 20 here,’ an unnamed U.S. Treasury Department official posted to Kabul as an Afghan government adviser told interviewers. ‘It had elements that you could put into a spy novel, and the connections between people who owned Kabul Bank and those who run the country.’ …

“At first, in public and in private, the Obama administration leaned on Karzai to fully investigate the Kabul Bank scandal — not only to recover the stolen money but also to demonstrate to the Afghan people that no one was above the law. … For about a year after the scandal became public, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, led by then-Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, made the case a top priority and pressed Karzai to take action, three former officials told government interviewers. But they said the embassy backed off after Eikenberry was replaced by Ryan Crocker in July 2011. … Crocker, as well as U.S. military commanders and others in Washington, did not want to risk alienating Karzai, because they needed his support as tens of thousands of additional U.S. soldiers arrived in the war zone. They also said Crocker and his allies did not want Congress or international donors to use the bank scandal as an excuse to cut off aid to Kabul.” . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2019 at 1:07 pm

At War With the Truth in Afghanistan

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Craig Whitlock has a special report in the Washington Post:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.

The interviews, through an extensive array of voices, bring into sharp relief the core failings of the war that persist to this day. They underscore how three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail in Afghanistan.

With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

The interviews also highlight the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.

The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The US has been betrayed by its leaders.

The sidebar has useful links:

THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS: At war with the truth

INTERVIEWS AND MEMOS – Key insiders speak bluntly about the failures of the longest conflict in U.S. history

POST REPORTS – Hear candid interviews with former ambassador Ryan Crocker and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn<

THE FIGHT FOR THE DOCUMENTS – It took three years and two federal lawsuits for The Post to pry loose 2,000 pages of interview records

PART 1 – U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.

PART 2 – Bush and Obama had polar-opposite plans to win the war. Both were destined to fail.

PART 3 – Despite vows the U.S. wouldn’t get mired in “nation-building,” it has wasted billions doing just that

PART 4 – The U.S. flooded the country with money — then turned a blind eye to the graft it fueled

PART 5 – Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption

PART 6 – The U.S. war on drugs in Afghanistan has imploded at nearly every turn

Interviewees respond

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2019 at 12:53 pm

The Marines don’t want you to see what happens when propaganda stops and combat begins

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Above is the trailer for Combat Obscura, and below is the full documentary. Alex Horton reviews the movie for the Washington Post:

Marines pass a joint to one another in the dark void of southern Afghanistan and, in crackling night-vision green, the question arises: Did they think they would ever be stoned within range of enemy fire?

The grunts take a moment to contemplate the infinite chasm between what the military wants you to believe happens in war, and what unfolds in just another night in combat.

“You think the Marine Corps is a bunch of perfect people who don’t do anything bad, don’t curse, and they’re just really squared-away killers,” one man says to another. “The Marine Corps is filled with the most f—– up individuals I’ve ever met.”

He takes a drag. “Just like me, you know?”

The Marine Corps, like other service branches, dispatches its media wing to curate its own version of war. Everyone knows the deal: The good will be widely distributed, and the violent, the illegal, the inexplicable are wiped from existence.

But the THC-laced epiphany halfway through the documentary “Combat Obscura,” directed by former Marine videographer Miles Lagoze, is something different.

Grunts posture and brood about war in the way they have seen men do in films, mindful that every second could be recorded. In this way, the camera documents reality as it simultaneously creates a version of it — a mix of therapy, confessional and a mirror held up to young, grime-streaked faces.

And it reveals shimmers of brutal honesty perhaps only possible when a Marine records comrades overcome with an urge to speak freely, confident that what they say would be too honest, and too raw, to ever find its way to an audience.

So why not be real?

“It replicates the rhythm of an actual deployment,” Lagoze said of the manic and at times confounding flow between scenes. “The chaos, the mixed emotions, the paradoxes.”

And yet, the footage found its way out of Afghanistan, and the Marine Corps has fought to keep it under wraps.

The Corps has good reason.

The brass covets images of fresh-faced grunts handing coloring books to kids with a wink and a wave, along with Marines parroting the Pentagon’s vague and confident optimism of elusive victory to come.

Lagoze had marching orders to deliver such video.

But the rest of the war unspooled in spurts of gore and mind-bending boredom over eight months, much of it recorded by Lagoze and his fellow cameraman Justin Loya while assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, in 2011. In one of the few title cards at the beginning of the film, he announces: “We filmed what they wanted, but then we kept shooting.”

The documentary . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2019 at 11:06 am

How Toxic Masculinity Threatens Peace in Afghanistan

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Elizabeth Weingarten writes in the New Republic:

What does it mean to be a man? In the United States, that’s a debate recently stoked by a Gillette ad about harmful masculine norms, as well as the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines to help therapists work with men and boys in a culture that tells them to hide their emotions and pain. But though it’s a question some dismiss as philosophical rather than practical, or a badge of “political correctness” culture, research in the past several years has suggested it’s also a question with profound implications for international relations: Put simply, how men define their roles—and whether they’re able to live up to them—can have real consequences for national security. And in some of the theaters in which the United States has tested its military prowess in the past two decades, goals may be foiled not by the mechanics of fourth-generation warfare, but what may seem a much more pedestrian issue: gender.

On January 29, the gender equality NGO Promundo released a new report showing that younger men in Afghanistan are less likely than their fathers to support gender equality, and that both women and men still define men’s roles in traditional terms—as the breadwinners and protectors of their families. The report came a day after the announcement Tuesday that U.S. and Taliban representatives had tentatively agreed to a peace framework.

Two-thirds of the men Promundo surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “women in Afghanistan have too many rights.” Younger men “associate the dilution of their culture with the spread of women’s rights and gender equality ideals,” said Sayed Idrees Hashimi, a Promundo report co-author and project manager at the Opinion Research Center of Afghanistan. And these findings, in turn, have troubling implications for security.

In Afghanistan, “real men” can be narrowly defined by their ability to provide for and protect their families. For many men, living up to that socially sanctioned definition amidst inexorable physical and economic insecurity is impossible: They don’t have the money to pay a bride dowry, can’t find a job, or they cannot protect their family from extremist violence or insurgencies. “If you’re a 17, 18, or 20-year-old man in Afghanistan right now, it’s a crippling identity moment for you,” explained Brian Heilman, one of the study authors and a senior research officer at Promundo.  “You feel entitled to certain elements of ‘manhood’ that you can’t actually achieve in your social environment.” Often insecure and humiliated, these men can seek power from another source—the subordination of women, and often, from extremist organizations.  “Gender bias and violent extremism are two sides of the same coin,” one Afghan man who worked as a U.S. government advisor for its Promote project, designed to empower Afghan women through training and by connecting them with educational and economic opportunities, told me.

The Promundo research, which included a nationally representative household survey of 1,000 male and 1,000 female participants, focus group discussions with both men and women, as well as other interviews with men, complements other findings that Afghani gender norms, which many thought the fall of the Taliban would improve, have resisted change: A 2016 Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit ( AREU) study showed Afghan men across generations believed men to be superior to women when it came to leadership qualities and levels of education and thought that men held the primary responsibility for the security of their families. More than half of young and more mature men thought wife-beating was acceptable. “Our talks and discussions about women’s rights are all as slogans but nothing in action,” one AREU focus group participant told researchers. “Here, if a stranger bothers my wife or sister as he stares at them on their way home, I cannot tolerate that; I would have to kill him, or else I am not called a man in my community… .”

In recent years, political science research has increasingly suggested a correlation between gender equality and a number of indicators of stability and prosperity: GDP per capita, growth rates, and low corruption. Political scientist Mary Caprioli, to cite just one example, has found that increased political, economic, and social gender equality makes states less likely to resort to military options in international conflicts and crises, and less likely to experience civil conflict. There’s also more specific evidence that regressive gender norms and expectations around masculinity play into terrorist recruitment: Nearly all of the former jihadi fighters interviewed in a 2015 Mercy Corps study cited a common justification for their decision to travel to Jordan and Syria to fight—protecting Sunni women and children. “Those men who went to fight, those are real men,” one young man in Ma’an told researchers.

Some researchers have found that young men have more open and flexible attitudes about gender equality and masculinity until they reach puberty. In Afghanistan around that age, young men “begin to understand that they are never going to be accepted unless they marry and become head of a household,” Texas A&M University Professor Valerie Hudson told me. “That means they will have to come up with a bride price, which may be the equivalent of several years’ income, in addition to the cost of the wedding itself, which may involve up to 1000 guests.” Hudson’s research suggests that bride price “is a catalyst for conflict and instability”; rising prices make it harder for men who are un- or underemployed to come up with the money to pay for a bride, and more likely that they’ll turn to an extremist group that promises them either money or brides in exchange for service. Unraveling “the web of incentives and disincentives that men are given in Afghan culture,” she said, is key to understanding the patterns behind instability and extremist recruitment in the region.

Despite the relevance of gender inequality for U.S. security policy and strategy in Afghanistan, prioritizing gender norms in the military’s strategy to stabilize the area isn’t as simple as it might seem. Masculinity, anywhere, is a difficult subject.  “We’ve floated talking about masculinity in the military,” one female naval commander told me. “It doesn’t go over very well. People get defensive pretty much immediately, and make it personal and visceral. It’s part of their identity.” That makes it difficult, she said, to address strategic blindspots and approach problems like violent extremism or conflict reconstruction holistically: “If we aren’t having those conversations, especially when you’re talking about dealing with male-dominated organizations, like militaries, police sectors and government, we open ourselves up to missing things,” she said. “In the countering violent extremism fight, what it means to be a man is a lot of times directly related to women. When terrorists use women and rape as a weapon of war, there is a reverberation and impact on men in society—the men who weren’t able to protect those women, and who have to resort to violence to feel like real men. That needs to be explored to really understand the problem and begin to address solutions to the instability.”

Some women, too, hesitate to integrate discussions of masculinity into U.S. foreign policy and programming, fearing it could overshadow or detract from the conversation about the needs and experiences of women and girls. “There’s a philosophical tension there,” said Jamille Bigio, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who previously worked on the White House National Security Council staff. Even in countries that are progressive when it comes to feminist foreign policy, like Canada and Sweden, the idea has been to talk more about women and girls’ needs, rather than “feminist principles, which are different. Integrating feminist principles would start a different conversation about gender norms and gender roles,” one that would systematically include men, she told me.

And in the end, challenging gender norms, and getting the buy-in necessary to shift them a bit, is not easy. Gender equality and security at the national level starts in the household—with egalitarian partnerships. But men benefit from household inequality—at least in the short-term. Spending less time on household labor frees them up to access more economic, social, and political opportunities, begetting more power and privilege outside of the home. (At the same time, they lose out in the long term on the benefits of sharing equal parenting responsibilities, for instance, and in living in a society that’s more stable, secure and productive.)  And women participate in gender-policing, too. Belquis Ahmadi, a pioneer of masculinity research in Afghanistan who works at the United States Institute of Peace, told me that some Afghan women viciously ridicule men in their household who attempt to help with domestic work or who act more sensitively towards their wives. “In some parts of Afghanistan, a man who helps with the chores is called Zancho—which means a man with female characteristics,” Ahmadi said. “That’s considered the worst thing you can call a man.”


So how to fix the problem? . . .

. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2019 at 11:15 am

American Exceptionalism Is a Dangerous Myth

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

Donald Trump has done more to elevate the left’s critique of U.S. foreign policy than any politician in modern memory.

As a presidential candidate, the mogul told Republican primary audiences that George W. Bush had lied the United States into Iraq; that said war had done a “tremendous disservice to humanity”; and that America could have saved countless lives by investing $5 trillion in domestic infrastructure instead. As commander-in-chief, Trump has suggested that there is no moral distinction between the U.S. and other great powers; that American foreign policy in the Middle East is largely dictated by the interests of arms manufacturers; and that the U.S. judges foreign regimes by their utility to American economic interests, not their commitment to human rights.

But if Trump’s descriptions of geopolitics echo Noam Chomsky, his prescriptions owe more to Attila the Hun. The president does see the invasion of Iraq as a criminal waste — but only because the U.S. failed to expropriate the region’s oil fields. He does imply that, in the eyes of the American state, Raytheon’s profits count more than journalists’ lives —but he sees that as a good thing. And when Trump suggests our country isn’t “so innocent,” he isn’t imploring neoconservatives to hold America to higher moral standards, but rather, to hold foreign autocrats to lower ones.

In other words, the Trump presidency can be read as an object lesson in the virtues of hypocrisy. Having a global hegemon that preaches human rights — while propping up dictators and incinerating schoolchildren — is bad. But having one that does those things while preaching nihilism is worse; not least because even a nominal commitment to liberal values can function as a constraint against their violation. Trump’s distaste for the whole “shining city on a hill” shtick has, among other things, enabled the Pentagon to tolerate higher levels of civilian casualties in the Middle East, the Israeli government to accelerate settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and the Saudi crown prince to take a bonesaw to international law.

It’s understandable, then, that many liberal intellectuals are eager to revive the national myths that Trump has busted. Such thinkers concede that Trump has highlighted flaws in the triumphalist, Cold War narrative about American global leadership. And they acknowledge the necessity of rethinking what “leading the free world” truly requires of the United States. But they nevertheless insist that America’s self-conception as an exceptional power — which is to say, as a hegemon whose foreign policy is shaped by universal ideals (as opposed to mercenary interests) — isn’t just a beneficent fiction, but an actual fact. And that compulsion is unfortunate; because it will be difficult for liberals to realize their vision for America’s exceptional future, if they refuse to grapple with its unexceptional past.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, former Hillary Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan presents one of the more compelling cases for making America exceptional again. Against Dick Cheney’s arrogant, unilateralist approach to world leadership — and Trump’s nihilistic disavowal of America’s international obligations — Sullivan offers a call for restoring the U.S. to its former role as a benevolent hegemon, one whose global supremacy is legitimated by its demonstrable commitment to spreading peace, democracy, and shared prosperity.

Crucially, Sullivan recognizes that this restoration is contingent on sweeping reform. He acknowledges that,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2019 at 2:30 pm

The U.S. Goes to War Against the ICC to Cover Up Alleged War Crimes in Afghanistan

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“Alleged” is sort of weak, given that we’ve seen videos of war crimes in Afghanistan. Murtaza Hussain reports in the Intercept:

THE UNITED STATES has never been a friend of the International Criminal Court. While relations between the U.S. and the ICC have fluctuated over the course of different administrations, the American government has steadfastly refused to take the step that 124 other states have of ratifying the Rome Statute and thus becoming a member of the international legal body. The ICC’s mandate to investigate war crimes has thus been hampered by the unwillingness of the world’s sole superpower to commit to the organization.

Recent statements from the Trump administration suggest that the United States is now preparing to go to war against the ICC itself, motivated largely by an effort to silence investigations into alleged American war crimes committed in Afghanistan, as well as alleged crimes committed by Israel during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. In a speech at a D.C. event held by the Federalist Society on Monday, Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC as “illegitimate” and expressed his intentions toward the institution in no uncertain terms. “We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

In addition to this death wish against the court, Bolton said that the United States would retaliate against any ICC investigations into U.S. activities by sanctioning the travel and finances of ICC officials, even threatening to prosecute them in American courts.

Because it involves U.S. officials themselves, at the center of the campaign against the ICC is a 2016 report by ICC prosecutors that deals in part with the war in Afghanistan. That report alleges the commission of widespread crimes by the Taliban and Afghan government forces. But the report also makes allegations of serious crimes committed by U.S. military forces and the CIA, including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape.”

The crimes in question appear to have been related to detention programs run in Afghanistan during the early years of the U.S. occupation. While the report does not name the individuals responsible nor their victims, it indicates that there are dozens of cases in which torture, cruel treatment, and sexual assault were committed by American soldiers and CIA officers in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004.

The report also states that the alleged crimes “were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” adding that “there is a reasonable basis to believe these alleged crimes were committed in furtherance of a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods which would support U.S. objectives in the conflict in Afghanistan.”

Given longstanding U.S. refusals to cooperate with ICC investigations, it’s unlikely that the 2016 document — a preliminary report from the prosecutor’s office — would have succeeded in bringing U.S. officials to trial at the Hague. Bolton’s campaign thus seems intended on solidifying the fact that the United States is free of international norms on human rights conduct, with those who even investigate its actions subject to threat.

THAT THE ICC investigation reaches back to the George W. Bush era, when Bolton served as United Nations ambassador, is fitting. In the years after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States began to come under withering scrutiny for its detention policies in those countries. In addition to high-profile cases of torture at prison sites like Abu Ghraib, the CIA and U.S. military have been accused of brutalizing and even murdering prisoners held in their custody at detention facilities like Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

Civilian contractors working for the CIA have also engaged in the murder of Afghan detainees, including David Passaro, who beat to death an Afghan man named Abdul Wali who had turned himself in to authorities after being accused of involvement in a militant attack. Passaro was later sentencedto eight and a half years in jail by an American court. Following his release, he briefly returned to the public eye in media interviews justifying his involvement in the murder.

To date, Passaro, a civilian, is the only person to have been held legally accountable for torture and murder carried out under the CIA detention program, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. This despite a landmark 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee that documented, in excruciating detail, widespread evidence of torture and other abuses carried out by CIA officials.

The unwillingness or inability of U.S. courts to seriously investigate war crimes carried out by American citizens is part of why the ICC mandate in Afghanistan has been viewed as an important effort to bring a minimum level of accountability over the conflict. This past November, the court announced that it planned to move forward with investigations stemming from its 2016 report.

In a statement responding to Bolton’s threats, the ICC said that “the ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law.”

Given its longstanding intransigence toward the ICC, it was unlikely that the United States would ever have cooperated with its investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, even under a less bellicose administration. But the Trump administration’s threats to target specific ICC officials over their war crimes investigations enters a new realm of hostility against international law. The consequences could be a further degradation of already shaky international norms surrounding human rights in conflict zones. . .

Continue reading.

It’s quite clear that military will do nothing about US war crimes (except to deny them and try to conceal them). And the Federal government seems uninterested in bringing war criminals to justice (if the war criminals are American), and even when action is taken, it is extremely mild: the US military deliberately slaughtered between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians at My Lai in Vietnam. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. and only one person, Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest.

The military prides itself on “Honor.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see why.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2018 at 2:58 pm

War Without End: The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.

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C.J. Chivers paints a grim but realistic picture:

Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night. They were about 30 men in all, riflemen and machine-gunners reinforced with scouts, a mix of original platoon members and replacements who filled gaps left by the wounded and the dead. Many of them considered their plan foolish, a draining and dangerous waste of time, another example of a frustrated Army unit’s trying to show activity for the brass in a war low on focus and hope. They muttered foul words as they moved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

He faced the steep uphill climb, physically ready, emotionally spent. We’re just trying to get out of here in two months, he thought. He and his fellow soldiers had been in the valley long enough that they moved in the sinewy, late-deployment fitness of infantry squads seasoned by war. Sweat soaked his back. His quadriceps and calves drove him on, pushing him like a pack animal for the soldier beside him, Specialist Arturo Molano, who carried an M240 machine gun. The two fell into a rhythm. One soldier would get over a hard patch, turn around and extend a hand to the other. “Hey, man, you good?” Soto would ask. Molano would say he was fine. “You want me to carry the gun?” Soto would offer. Molano declined every time. Soto considered Molano to be selfless and tough, someone who routinely carried more than men of much larger size. He liked being partnered with someone like this.

After a few hours, Second Platoon reached the crest, high above the valley. The soldiers inhaled deeply, taking in the thin air. Away from the outpost’s burning trash, the air tasted clean.

A few soldiers went forward to check the trail before the rest of the platoon moved to the ambush site. With little more than whispers, the soldiers arranged themselves in a triangle astride a mountain footpath. Second Lt. Justin Smith, their platoon leader, put Molano at one corner and a second man with an M240 at another, with their machine guns angled back toward each other so their fire could create an interlocking zone of flying lead. Other soldiers set claymore mines on small stands.

Everything was ready before dark. The air was chilly and the ridge raked by gusts. Soto was shivering. He pulled a dry undershirt and socks from his pack, changed clothes, ate a protein bar and washed it down with water. He saw his company’s outpost below, across the open space, and realized this must be what it looked like to militants when they attacked. A distant call to prayer floated on the mountain air.

In early October, the Afghan war will be 17 years old, a milestone that has loomed with grim inevitability as the fighting has continued without a clear exit strategy across three presidential administrations. With this anniversary, prospective recruits born after the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be old enough to enlist. And Afghanistan is not the sole enduring American campaign. The war in Iraq, which started in 2003, has resumed and continues in a different form over the border in Syria, where the American military also has settled into a string of ground outposts without articulating a plan or schedule for a way out. The United States has at various times declared success in its many campaigns — in late 2001; in the spring of 2003; in 2008; in the short-lived withdrawal from Iraq late in 2011; and in its allies’ recapture more recently of the ruins of Ramadi, Falluja, Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State, a terrorist organization, formed in the crucible of occupied Iraq, that did not even exist when the wars to defeat terrorism started. And still the wars grind on, with the conflict in Afghanistan on track to be a destination for American soldiers born after it began.

More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. More are killed or wounded each year, in smaller numbers but often in dreary circumstances, including the fatal attack in July on Cpl. Joseph Maciel by an Afghan soldier — a member of the very forces that the United States has underwritten, trained and equipped, and yet as a matter of necessity and practice now guards itself against.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

As the costs have grown — whether measured by dollars spent, stature lost or blood shed — the wars’ architects and the commentators supporting them have often been ready with optimistic or airbrushed predictions, each pitched to the latest project or newly appointed general’s plan. According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.

Aside from displacing tyrants and leading to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, none of this turned out as pitched. Prominent successes were short-lived. New thugs rose where old thugs fell. Corruption and lawlessness remain endemic. An uncountable tally of civilians — many times the number of those who perished in the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 — were killed. Others were wounded or driven from their homes, first by American action and then by violent social forces American action helped unleash.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine. Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Almost two decades after the White House cast American troops as liberators to be welcomed, large swaths of territory where the Pentagon deployed combat forces are under stubborn insurgent influence. Areas once touted as markers of counterinsurgency progress have become no-go zones, regions in which almost no Americans dare tread, save a few journalists and aid workers, or private military contractors or American military and C.I.A. teams.

Across these years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks. They did not make policy. They lived within it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US cannot afford this.

Denying reality is ultimately a losing strategy.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2018 at 1:28 pm

A disheartening report: New CIA Director Gina Haspel Oversaw Torture at a Black Site Then Lost Evidence of It

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Matthew Gault writes in Motherboard:

In another shake up in Washington, Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State and President Trump said he will promote CIA Chief Mike Pompeo to the position. Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Haspel famously ran the CIA’s first black site prison in Thailand during the early days of the War on Terror.

Haspel has tortured people, overseen the torture of people, and destroyed the evidence of said torture. A quick reminder—torture isn’t an effective method of intelligence gathering.

We know this because of cables the CIA declassified describing the torture. In August 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah—former manager of a training camp in Afghanistan—and began to torture him at a black site in Thailand while Haspel was running it. The Senate’s infamous torture report also details the torture of Zubaydah while he was in Haspel’s custody.

“Subject began crying as he was told that we wanted information to stop operations against the U.S,” the cables read. “Subject was told he could stop the process at any time. Subject continued with his appeal that he has told all that he has and muttered ‘help me.’ Between 1250 and 1315 the waterboard technique was applied numerous times. Subject was put into a large box at 1317.”

To get a sense of Zubaydah’s treatment, the Senate report mentions his name 1,343 times in 712 pages.

On another day, “subject was led to the small box and shut in at 1349 hours…at 1412 hours, subject could be heard sobbing, which continued for some time.” When the CIA captured Zubaydah, he had two eyes. Now he has one. He was waterboarded a total of 83 times.

According to the Senate’s torture report, “CIA Headquarters formally proposed that [Zubaydah] be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that [Zubaydah] not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead [Zubaydah] to develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness.’”

Haspel was the head of the Thailand site during Zubaydah’s torture, a position referred to in the documents as the “chief of base.” Repeatedly in the cables, the chief of base or COB takes a direct role in the torture. “On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques applied to [Zubaydah] would be discontinued,” the Senate torture report explained.

At one point, the chief of base congratulated Zubaydah on a fine acting job and accused him of faking a mental breakdown under torture, according to CIA psychologist and torture architect James Mitchell. “Good job,” Mitchell wrote in his book, quoting the COB. “I like the way you’re drooling, it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.” Several former associates put her in the room at the time of Zubaydah’s torture. She signed many of the reports sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

One cable detailed in the Senate report attributed to Detention Site Green’s chief of base read notes some opposition to the techniques: . . .

Continue reading.

A willingness to torture people is to my mind a sign of bad character, as is a willingness to torture animals.

Trump has declared that he wants the US to resume its practice of torture. He has also called for the entire family of any terrorist to be murdered (i.e., no due process). The US seems to be circling the moral drain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 11:19 am

Pentagon tried to block independent report on child sex among Afghan forces, Senate office says

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I am repeatedly taken aback by the military’s idea of “honor,” which does not seem to apply to honorable behavior at all, but rather includes lying and covering up any wrongdoing by the military or, indeed, anything that might even embarrass the military. Corruption seems endemic to authoritarian hierarchical organizations like the military and the Catholic church, illustrating repeatedly the corrupting effects of power.

Alex Horton reports in the Washington Post:

 

The Pentagon tried to block an independent assessment of child sex abuse crimes committed by Afghan soldiers and police, instead insisting on the creation of its own report offering a far less authoritative review of human rights violations perpetrated by U.S. allies, according to an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Although the report released Nov. 16 by the Defense Department Inspector General’s office (DODIG) reached the grim conclusion that, for years, U.S. personnel have been inadequately trained to report such crimes, a parallel investigation by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is thought to contain a much more detailed accounting of the problem’s severity.

But the results of SIGAR’s unreleased inquiry, which was requested by 93 members of Congress in 2015, remains classified at the Pentagon’s direction, raising questions about the military’s transparency and the extent to which it is complying with laws meant to curb such abuse.

The Pentagon responded with “resistance” when Congress tapped SIGAR to conduct the probe, said Tim Rieser, an aide to Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee whose namesake legislation, known as the Leahy Law, requires the U.S. military to halt assistance to foreign military units found to have committed gross human rights violations.

Instead, senior Pentagon officials argued that SIGAR, which since 2009 has produced dozens of reports exposing corruption within the Afghan government and incompetence among Afghan security forces, lacked the jurisdiction for this particular task, Rieser said.

“It’s fair to say there was an effort to discourage the investigation” by SIGAR, he said, adding that eventually the two agencies agreed to coordinate and release complementary reports, but that the Pentagon’s investigators did not fulfill promises to fully cooperate.

Kathie Scarrah, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department Inspector General’s office, said that its investigators “heard no complaints throughout the evaluation about coordination” with SIGAR. The DODIG’s unclassified report “had significant findings,” she added, “which should be the focus of the attention.”

It’s unclear who within the Pentagon’s senior ranks resisted SIGAR’s involvement. A spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense declined to address questions about the two reports, citing the Thanksgiving holiday and the  “extensive research” that would be required.

Afghan security personnel have been known to recruit young boys as servants, sometimes to use for sex. There is a broader practice in Afghan society to dress some boys as women and have them dance at gatherings. Known as bacha bazi, it was banned under the Taliban but revived after the U.S. invasion in 2001. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2017 at 6:57 am

I Was a Mercenary. Trust Me: Erik Prince’s Plan Is Garbage.

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Sean McFate writes in Politico:

For the past year, Erik Prince has been peddling an idea that should alarm anyone who has followed his career: We should replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries, preferably his.

For those who do not know Prince, he was a founder of Blackwater International, the private military contractor that became so toxic, he had to change the company’s name. Under his management, Blackwater committed perhaps the worst war crime of the Iraq War: A squad of armed contractors killed 17 civilians at the Nisour traffic circle in Baghdad. The incident sparked a political uproar in Iraq, vastly complicated the mission of the State Department diplomats the contractors were ostensibly there to protect, and set off multiple probes into Blackwater’s conduct. A FBI inquiry later found that 14 of the 17 deaths were unjustified. For Americans, the “Nisour Incident” was a stain on their country’s moral character. For Iraqis, Blackwater’s reckless behavior and callous disregard for Iraqi lives seemed emblematic of America’s handling of the war as a whole, and helped to hasten our exit.

Now, Prince wants to privatize the Afghanistan War. And Afghans thought the worst we could do was bomb them.

The generals laughed at Prince, and thankfully the president went with the nonmercenary option. But Prince refuses to disappear, excoriating the generals in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, and pushing again for mercenaries, suggesting “it is not too late to alter the course.”

As a former military contractor, I cannot imagine a worse outcome for Afghanistan or the U.S. than handing everything over to mercenaries.

Prince’s argument has lots of problems. He insists contractors should not be stigmatized as “mercenaries,” even though he is proposing armed civilians in conflict zones—the classic definition of a mercenary. Instead, he says they are like the Flying Tigers, the popular name of the 1st American Volunteer Group that flew against the Japanese in 1941–42. Here is where his analogy takes a nosedive: The Flying Tigers were not mercenaries. Rather, they were U.S. military pilots who took off their uniforms to fly as civilians, so that FDR did not have to declare war. Once war was declared, they flew as American fighter pilots once again. That’s hardly the same thing as contractors being paid, often exorbitantly, to fight a war on our behalf.

Prince also compares mercenaries to SpaceX, the private space company, probably offending SpaceX employees everywhere. Elon Musk does not kill people for money.

Crazy as all this sounds, it is a marked improvement over Prince’s earlier op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he advocates neocolonialism—a deeply un-American idea. He urged an American “viceroy” be installed to rule Afghanistan like a colonial overlord, backed by a mercenary army modeled on the old British East India Co. That’s like recommending plantations to assist African-Americans in poverty. Anger was swift. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s ex-president, tweeted this: “I vehemently oppose the proposal to the U.S. govt to outsource its war in Afghanistan to private security firms.”

Besides being offensive, Prince’s proposal is unworkable. I know because I’ve done these things. For years, I worked as a private military contractor in Africa and elsewhere. I built armies for clients, dealt with warlords, conducted strategic reconnaissance, worked with armed groups in the Sahara, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe and even helped prevent a genocide in Central Africa. I use fiction to reveal the secretive world of mercenaries. It’s worse than people think.

Mercenaries are back, a dangerous trend occurring in the shadows. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 September 2017 at 10:59 am

Trump breaks these 3 rules about how U.S. presidents relate to the military

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Risa Brooks in the Washington Post:

Editors’ note: After President Trump’s announcement Monday night that the United States would expand the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, we asked Marquette University Associate Professor Risa Brooks to comment on the U.S. strategy shift, in light of her earlier analysis for the Monkey Cage on the decision-making in the U.S. raid on Yemen in the early weeks of the Trump administration. Here are her insights:

Q: Does the Afghan strategy review differ from Trump’s decision on the Yemen raid?

Brooks: It certainly appears that the decision-making process was more systematic. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis put it, “the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous.” Trump is also reported to have been deeply engaged, sharply pushing back at his generals’ proposals and brashly criticizing them.

Unlike the situation in the Yemen raid, he publicly owned the strategy in his televised speech to Americans. Yet critics will undoubtedly ask whether Trump’s engagement was more optics than reality. The president shifted dramatically from his long-standing position on Afghanistan. Some will say that ultimately he deferred to his generals and approved their preferred strategy.

Q:  Do you see any changes to civil-military relations in the Trump administration since you wrote this March 2017 piece on Trump and the military for the Monkey Cage?

Brooks: Donald Trump’s unconventional relationship with the military continues. He persistently bucks the military’s tradition of apolitical professionalism — for example, when he recently urged a largely military audience to actively lobby Congress on defense spending and health care. He is also surrounded by a cohort of generalsin top advisory positions in charge of security matters. These men have so far worked hard to maintain conventions of civilian control of the military, despite their unconventional commander in chief. Consider that Trump gave Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, but the Secretary chose not to act until after the president signed off on the larger strategy. Still, what remains to be seen is whether these dynamics will politicize the U.S. military in the long term.

[March 24, 2017] Donald Trump’s presidency has shown us that he likes to break political rules. This includes those for how presidents usually relate to the U.S. military and act as commander in chief. Right after being inaugurated, he showed us this when he authorized a Special Forces raid in Yemen.

U.S. civil-military relations 101

Civil-military relations in the United States are based on a particular organizing principle that reflects established theory and practice: The U.S. observes a kind of division of labor between civilian and military leaders.

Civilian presidents decide when to commit military forces and how to conduct them in war. Meanwhile, military officers engage in the “profession of arms” and train, equip and otherwise prepare for armed conflict. As professionals, they follow civilian decisions to employ force, while staying clear of politics. Those rules may at times be imperfectly followed, but both civilian leaders and military officers for the most part respect them.

Three rules for how presidents usually treat the military

In particular, presidents generally follow three unwritten “rules” in civil-military relations.

First, they carefully assess decisions involving the use of force and ask hard questions of their military chiefs. In the U.S. system, military leaders are obligated to offer presidents what the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls “the best military advice.” The president scrutinizes that advice, usually within some kind of systematic advisory process.

Presidents may vary in how much they delegate on-the-ground decisions in armed conflict to military commanders. But as commander in chief, most take seriously their obligation to analyze risky military operations — especially those with potentially major strategic or political consequences. The risks of failing to do so are considerable. As my research shows, when civil-military relations are flawed, strategic assessment suffers, sometimes with deadly results.

Second, presidents take the blame when the use of force goes poorly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2017 at 12:55 pm

When Bannon and Kushner asked two businessmen who do contract work for the military how to proceed in Afghanistan, guess what they said?

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They said to turn it over to private military contractors (and to pay those contractors handsomely). Big surprise, eh? (Do you get the idea that Bannon and Kushner are way out of their depth?) Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, and Michael Gordon report in the NY Times:

President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.

“The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

Last month, Mr. Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan — a number believed to be about 4,000 — as a stopgap measure to stabilize the security situation there. But as the administration grapples with a longer-term strategy, Mr. Trump’s aides have expressed concern that he will be locked into policies that failed under the past two presidents.

Mr. Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, according to an official, while Mr. Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster, said a second person.

Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. While he was at Blackwater, the company became involved in one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

After selling his stake in Blackwater in 2010, Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

If Mr. Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force. Mr. Feinberg controls DynCorp through Cerberus Capital Management, a firm he co-founded in 1992.

Mr. McFate, who used to work for DynCorp in Africa, said it could train and equip the Afghan Army, a costly, sometimes dangerous mission now handled by the American military. “The appeal to that,” he said, “is you limit your boots on the ground and you limit your casualties.” Some officials noted that under the government’s conflict-of-interest rules, DynCorp would not get a master contract to run operations in Afghanistan. . .

Continue reading.

It’s become clear that no one in the Trump administration has the vaguest clue as to what constitutes a conflict of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 6:47 am

Anatomy of a US airstrike: Are Afghan strongmen calling the shots?

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Jessica Purkis and Jack Serle report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Afghan police commander Sadiqullah Sadaqat was taking a brief break from duty to buy lunch for his men. They were defending a security post on the outskirts of Tarin Kot, the capital city in the southern province of Uruzgan. The Taliban had launched a fierce battle for the city ten days earlier.

Sadaqat had been asked by local strongman Rahimullah Khan – the commander of a highway linking Tarin Kot to the major city of Kandahar – to defend a post located on this strategic stretch of road.

Tarin Kot was at risk of falling into Taliban hands, leading the Kabul government to call in General Abdul Raziq – the police commander of Kandahar province – to help defend it. Sadaqat was one of hundreds of men of diverse affiliations, some in uniform, some not, who were holding the line against a bold enemy.

Sadaqat had raised a group of sixteen men to man the post. But when he got back from lunch that day on September 18, he found nearly half of them dead.

It was not the Taliban that had killed them, but an airstrike ordered by General Raziq, the strongman called in from Kandahar (pictured in main image). One man died in an initial strike on a small post located above the main checkpoint and then a second attack, known as a “double tap” strike, took out a further six who rushed to help. Sadaqat heard the Taliban crowing over the attack on the radio as he prepared to head back.

The men were “torn into pieces by the Americans”, said Sadaqat, whose brother and cousin died in the strike. “God knows what happened, I do not have any information on what really happened or why it happened.”

The story of the friendly fire incident at Tarin Kot underscores the chaos on the ground in Afghanistan. Afghan security forces who are now leading the fight against the Taliban, with US support, are leaning on local warlords and irregular forces. Keeping the Taliban at bay depends to a large part on all these actors’ ability to work together.  If Tarin Kot is anything to go by, the signs are not promising.

The battle for Tarin Kot

The Taliban made a push for Tarin Kot in early September. As they advanced closer to the city, government officials began to warn of its potential fall. The Afghan troops defending it were overstretched and complained of shortages in supplies from ammunition to food as they struggled to hold the insurgents back.

Rahimullah was in charge of the highway at the time of the strike. He had previously been deputy police chief of the province, a title given to him following the assassination of his brother, provincial police chief Matiullah Khan. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

The U.S. seems to be fighting in a war intimately entwined with cultural conflicts we do not understand. In wars in which the enemy wears uniforms and has a command structure that directs operations and can, for example, surrender, the U.S. has had some success (though not always: the Korean War, for example). But in wars driven by cultural issues, with the general population (civilians) being made up of both enemies and non-enemies, the US has not had much luck because traditional military attacks don’t lead to an involvement with and understanding of the local cultural constraints, demands, and norms, so we end up fighting somewhat blindfolded.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 1:08 pm

Judicial Watch Wants to Salt the Earth Over Hillary Clinton’s Corpse

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post worth reading about the unrelenting and irrational hostility the Right has against Hillary Clinton—this is their continued insistence that there must be something bad in the emails, despite the inability of the FBI and a Congressional committee to find anything. This is similar to the continued insistence that Clinton must have done something wrong in Benghazi, despite the inability of countless investigations to turn anything up and the inability of those holding that view to state anything specific that she did wrong. Same with the Clinton Foundation. A look at the Trump Foundation found sleazy practice along with outright violation of the law, but in all the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, nothing was exposed except a lot of good works. The fact is, those on the Right just don’t like her, they really, really don’t like her. It doesn’t matter what she does, there must be something wrong because… they dislike her.

The post is worth reading, but I’ll quote just the postscript:

I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I’ll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn’t happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.

So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton’s emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here’s my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton’s emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?

I know I’m missing something here, but I’ve been missing it for a long time.

Specifically, if anyone can get all the emails of a previous Secretary of State just by filing a FOIA request, let’s see all the emails from Secretary of State Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009). That’s a very interesting period, covering the 9/11 attacks, the initial of the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq. Those emails would be quite interesting, and if they are available with a simple FOIA request, let’s do it.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2016 at 11:30 am

Newly-Released Documents Confirm Bureau of Prisons Visit to CIA Torture Site in Afghanistan

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Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

One of the many alarming facts that came to light with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Torture Report in 2014 was that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons had sent a “delegation of several officers” to Afghanistan to conduct an assessment an infamous CIA detention site and concluded the CIA “did not mistreat the detainees.”

Senate investigators found that the bureau officers visited a detention site codenamed Cobalt north of Kabul in November 2002. That site — also known as the Salt Pit — has become infamous for the brutal torture inflicted on detainees there, including rectal exams conducted with “excessive force.” According to Senate investigators, the CIA’s own employees described the facility as “a dungeon,” where detainees “cowered” as interrogators opened the door and “looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

In April, the ACLU filed suit to obtain documents related to the visit, which the Bureau of Prisons initially claimed did not exist.

The bureau has now turned over several emails mentioning the visit — along with a written declaration by a senior Bureau of Prisons lawyer explaining the attempted cover-up. That declaration states that the officers were tasked orally, so that there was no record of their travel, and that the CIA forbade the two officers from producing records of or about the visit.

In a newly released 2011 email, one of the officers tells a supervisor that “we were not even allowed to speak with a supervisor about what was going on.”

The declaration says that due to the lack of records, searches for documents based on keywords like “CIA, Afghanistan, and COBALT,” initially turned up no documents. After the ACLU filed suit, the bureau conducted a more thorough search, identifying the individuals who traveled to Afghanistan, and searching their communications.

The declaration confirms that two Bureau of Prisons officers traveled to “an international location,” in November 2002 to provide “basic correctional practices training” to the CIA. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

While BOP officers toured the facility, interrogators tortured detainee Gul Rahman to death. A CIA team dragged Rahman out of his cell, beat him, immersed him in cold water, and put him in an isolation cell, where he died of hypothermia overnight.

According to the Senate report, the Bureau of Prison officers remarked that “there is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” but nonetheless concluded that the prison was “sanitary,” and “not inhumane.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2016 at 1:19 pm

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