Archive for the ‘Military’ Category
While the US military continues to investigate itself over the attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, this brief and partial listing of how the US has bombed other civilian facilities may be of interest. Jon Schwarz reports in The Intercept:
On October 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Kunduz, Afghanistan, partially destroying it. Twelve staff members and ten patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured. According to MSF, the U.S. had previously been informed of the hospital’s precise location, and the attack continued for thirty minutes after staff members desperately called the U.S. military.
The U.S. first claimed the hospital had been “collateral damage” in an airstrike aimed at “individuals” elsewhere who were “threatening the force.” Since then, various vague and contradictory explanations have been offered by the U.S. and Afghan governments, both of which promise to investigate the bombing. MSF has called the attack a war crime and demanded an independent investigation by a commission set up under the Geneva Conventions.
While the international outcry has been significant, history suggests this is less because of what happened and more because of whom it happened to. The U.S. has repeatedly attacked civilian facilities in the past but the targets have generally not been affiliated with a European, Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization such as MSF.
Below is a sampling of such incidents since the 1991 Gulf War. If you believe some significant examples are missing, please send them our way. To be clear, we’re looking for U.S. attacks on specifically civilian facilities, such as hospitals or schools.
Infant Formula Production Plant, Abu Ghraib, Iraq (January 21, 1991)
On the seventh day of Operation Desert Storm, aimed at evicting Iraq military forces from Kuwait, the U.S.-led coalition bombed the Infant Formula Production Plant in the Abu Ghraib suburb of Baghdad. Iraq declared that the factory was exactly what its name said, but the administration of President George H.W. Bush claimed it was “a production facility for biological weapons.” Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, chimed in to say, “It is not an infant formula factory. It was a biological weapons facility — of that we are sure.” The U.S. media chortled about Iraq’s clumsy, transparent propaganda, and CNN’s Peter Arnett was attacked by U.S. politicians for touring the damaged factory and reporting that “whatever else it did, it did produce infant formula.”
Iraq was telling the truth. When Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected to Jordan in 1995, he had every incentive to undermine Saddam, since he hoped the U.S. would help install him as his father-in-law’s successor — but he told CNN “there is nothing military about that place. … it only produced baby milk.” The CIA’s own investigation later concluded the site had been bombed “in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW [Biological Weapon] facility.” The original U.S. claims have nevertheless proven impossible to stamp out. The George W. Bush administration, making the case for invading Iraq in 2003, portrayed the factory as a symbol of Iraqi deceit. When the Newseum opened in 2008, it included Arnett’s 1991 reporting in a section devoted to — in the New York Times’ description — “examples of distortions that mar the profession.”
Air Raid Shelter, Amiriyah, Iraq (February 13, 1991)
The U.S. purposefully targeted an air raid shelter near the Baghdad airport with two 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs, which punched through ten feet of concrete and killed at least 408 Iraqi civilians. A BBC journalist reported that “we saw the charred and mutilated remains … They were piled onto the back of a truck; many were barely recognizable as human.” Meanwhile, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said: “We are chagrined if [civilian] people were hurt, but the only information we have about people being hurt is coming out of the controlled press in Baghdad.” Another U.S. general claimed the shelter was “an active command-and-control structure,” while anonymous officials said military trucks and limousines for Iraq’s senior leadership had been seen at the building.
In his 1995 CNN interview, Hussein Kamel said “there was no leadership there. There was a transmission apparatus for the Iraqi intelligence, but the allies had the ability to monitor that apparatus and knew that it was not important.” The Iraqi blogger Riverbend later wrote that several years after the attack, she went to the shelter and met a “small, slight woman” who now lived in the shelter and gave visitors unofficial tours. Eight of her nine children had been killed in the bombing.
Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory, Khartoum, Sudan (August 20, 1998) . . .
It’s not exactly subtle. Glenn Greenwald has a good account of how strongly the US is resisting having an independent organization investigate the attack on the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. The reason the US is resisting investigation by an independent outside investigator is obvious: the US would then not be able to control the investigation and shape the findings. That is, despite the many statements that US wants transparency in this investigation, that in fact is the last thing it wants. It wants the investigation to show that the attack was an “accident,” despite (a) the military knew full well the GPS coordinates of the hospital and (b) the military continued the attack for 30 minutes after getting notification that they were attacking the hospital.
The full story is well worth reading. It begins:
In Geneva this morning, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded a formal, independent investigation into the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz. The group’s international president, Dr. Joanne Liu (pictured above, center), specified that the inquiry should be convened pursuant to war-crime-investigating procedures established by the Geneva Conventions and conducted by The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. “Even war has rules,” Liu said. “This was just not an attack on our hospital. It was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated.”
Liu emphasized that the need for an “independent, impartial“ investigation is now particularly compelling given what she called “the inconsistency in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over the recent days.” On Monday, we documented the multiple conflicting accounts offered in the first three days by the U.S. military and its media allies, but the story continued to change even further after that. As The Guardian’s headline yesterday noted, the U.S. admission that its own personnel called in the airstrike – not Afghan forces as it claimed the day before – meant that “US alters story for fourth time in four days.” All of this led Liu to state the obvious today: “We cannot rely on internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.” . . .
The report, which includes a video and an exchange between US officials and reporters, concludes:
. . . Many Americans, and especially a large percentage of the nation’s journalists, need no investigation to know that this was nothing more than a terrible, tragic mistake. They believe that Americans, and especially their military, are so inherently good and noble and well-intentioned that none would ever knowingly damage a hospital. John McCain expressed this common American view and the primary excuse now accompanying it – stuff happens – on NPR this morning:
They’re certain of this despite how consistent MSF has been that this was a “war crime.” They’re certain of it despite how many times, and how recently, MSF notified the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of this hospital. They’re certain of it even though bombing continued for 30 minutes after MSF pleaded with them to stop. They’re certain of it despite the substantial evidence that their Afghan allies long viewed this exact hospital with hostility because – true to its name and purpose – the group treated all wounded human beings, including Taliban. They’re certain of it even though Afghan officials have explicitly defended the airstrike against the hospital on the ground that Taliban were inside. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has radically changed its story about what happened as facts emerged that proved its latest claims false. They’re certain of it despite how many times the U.S. has attacked and destroyed civilian targets under extremely suspicious circumstances.
But they are not apparently so certain that they desire an independent, impartial investigation into what actually happened here. The facially ludicrous announcement by the State Department that the Pentagon will investigate itself produced almost no domestic outrage. A religious-like belief in American exceptionalism and tribal superiority is potent indeed, and easily overrides evidence or facts. It blissfully renders the need for investigations obsolete. In their minds, knowing that it was Americans who did this suffices to know what happened, at least on the level of motive: it could not possibly be the case that there was any intentionality here at all. As McCain said, it’s only the Bad People – not Americans – who do such things deliberately.
But those who already know that this was all a terrible mistake, that no U.S. personnel would ever purposely call for a strike on a hospital even if they thought there were Taliban inside, should be the ones most eager for the most credible investigation possible: namely, the one under the Geneva Conventions which MSF this morning demanded, by the tribunal created exactly for such atrocities.
Democracy Now! has a video (with transcript) about the U.S. bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan, a bombing that occurred even though the US knew exactly where the hospital was located, having been repeatedly given the GPS coordinates.
Doctors Without Borders is demanding an independent international inquiry into a U.S. airstrike Saturday on an Afghan hospital in the city of Kunduz that killed 22 people, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. At least three dozen people were injured. The attack continued for 30 minutes after the U.S. and Afghan militaries were informed by telephone that the hospital was being bombed. We speak with Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.
Eric Schmidt and Tim Arango report in the NY Times:
With alarming frequency in recent years, thousands of American-trained security forces in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia have collapsed, stalled or defected, calling into question the effectiveness of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the United States on foreign military training programs, as well as a central tenet of the Obama administration’s approach to combating insurgencies.
The setbacks have been most pronounced in three countries that present the administration with some of its biggest challenges. The Pentagon-trained army and police in Iraq’s Anbar Province, the heartland of the Islamic State militant group, have barely engaged its forces, while several thousand American-backed government forces and militiamen in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province were forced to retreat last week when attacked by several hundred Taliban fighters. And in Syria, a $500 million Defense Department program to train local rebels to fight the Islamic State has produced only a handful of soldiers. [A U.S. general estimated that five (5) soldiers have been trained: $100 million per soldier. – LG]
American-trained forces face different problems in each place, some of which are out of the United States’ control. But what many of them have in common, American military and counterterrorism officials say, is poor leadership, a lack of will and the need to function in the face of intractable political problems with little support. Without their American advisers, many local forces have repeatedly shown an inability to fight.
“Our track record at building security forces over the past 15 years is miserable,” said Karl W. Eikenberry, a former military commander and United States ambassador in Afghanistan.
The American military has trained soldiers in scores of countries for decades. But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that mission jumped in ambition and scale, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the ultimate goal was to replace the large American armies deployed there.
The push to rebuild the Iraqi Army that the United States disbanded after the 2003 invasion had largely succeeded by the time American troops withdrew eight years later. But that $25 billion effort quickly crumbled after the Americans left, when the politicization of the army leadership under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki eroded the military’s effectiveness at all levels, American officials said.
In Afghanistan, basic training typically included marksmanship, ambush drills and other counterterrorism skills. Before they could begin that, most new Afghan recruits also needed time-consuming literacy training so they could read the serial numbers on their weapons, or lessons on proper hygiene to prevent illnesses that would reduce their effectiveness in combat. Still, there were notable successes: Afghan special forces trained and advised by their American counterparts proved to be especially capable fighters.
Then, in a commencement speech at West Point in May 2014, President Obama put the training of foreign troops at the center of his strategy for combating militant groups that threaten American interests. The United States, he said, will no longer send large armies to fight those wars and, in the case of Afghanistan, would continue to withdraw the forces that are there. Instead, it will send small numbers of military trainers and advisers to help local forces, providing them with logistical, intelligence and other support.
“We have to develop a strategy,” Mr. Obama said, “that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments. We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”
Mr. Obama’s approach has already endured several setbacks, but with no political appetite among most Republicans or Democrats to send in large numbers of American troops, the administration is adjusting its strategy, often turning to regional allies for help in supporting local forces.
In northwest Africa, the United States has spent more than $600 million to combat Islamist militancy, with training programs stretching from Morocco to Chad. American officials once heralded Mali’s military as an exemplary partner. But in 2012, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya to rout the military, including units trained by United States Special Forces. That defeat, followed by a coup led by an American-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, astounded and embarrassed American commanders. French, United Nations and European Union forces now carry out training and security missions in Mali.
In Yemen, American-trained troops and counterterrorism forces largely disbanded when Houthi rebels overran the capital last year and forced the government into exile. The United States is now relying largely on a Saudi-led air campaign that has caused more than 1,000 civilian casualties.
More recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the military campaigns against the Taliban and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have made little headway. After acknowledging that only four or five American-trained Syrian rebels were actually in the fight there, Pentagon officials said last week that they were suspending the movement of new recruits from Syria to Turkey and Jordan for training. The program suffered from a shortage of recruits willing to fight the Islamic State instead of the army of President Bashar al-Assad, a problem Mr. Obama noted at a news conference on Friday.
“I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to,” he said. “A part of the reason, frankly, is because when we tried to get them to just focus on ISIL, the response we get back is, ‘How can we focus on ISIL when, every single day, we’re having barrel bombs and attacks from the regime?’ ”
In Afghanistan, the United States has spent about $65 billion to build the army and police forces. Even before last week’s setback in Kunduz, many Afghan forces were struggling to defeat the Taliban, partly because of what many senior commanders said had been a precipitous American drawdown before Afghans were ready to be on their own. But how thousands of Afghan Army, police and militia defenders could fare so poorly against a Taliban force that most local and military officials put only in the hundreds baffled and frustrated the Pentagon. . .
I wonder whether the Administration and Congress can learn from this experience, which is a startling record of abject failure.
The military continues its self-investigation of what happened, and Glenn Greenwald comments:
When news first broke of the U.S. airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the response from the U.S. military was predictable and familiar. It was all just a big, terrible mistake, its official statement suggested: an airstrike it carried out in Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Oops: our bad. Fog of war, errant bombs, and all that.
This obfuscation tactic is the standard one the U.S. and Israel both use whenever they blow up civilian structures and slaughter large numbers of innocent people with airstrikes. Citizens of both countries are well-trained – like some tough, war-weary, cigar-chomping general – to reflexively spout the phrase “collateral damage,” which lets them forget about the whole thing and sleep soundly, telling themselves that these sorts of innocent little mistakes are inevitable even among the noblest and most well-intentioned war-fighters, such as their own governments. The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic: it requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase and throw enough doubt on what happened in the first 48 hours and the media will quickly lose interest.
But there’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority.
In this case, though, the U.S. military bombed the hospital of an organization – Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) – run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored. Doctors who travel to dangerous war zones to treat injured human beings are regarded as noble and trustworthy. They’re difficult to marginalize and demonize. They give compelling, articulate interviews in English to U.S. media outlets. They are heard, and listened to.
MSF has used this platform, unapologetically and aggressively. They are clearly infuriated at the attack on their hospital and the deaths of their colleagues and patients. From the start, they have signaled an unwillingness to be shunted away with the usual “collateral damage” banalities and, more important, have refused to let the U.S. military and its allies get away with spouting obvious falsehoods. They want real answers. As the Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman put it last night: “MSF’s been going incredibly hard, challenging every US/Afgh claim made about hospital bombing.”
In particular, MSF quickly publicized numerous facts that cast serious doubt on the original U.S. claim that the strike on the hospital was just an accident. To begin with, the organization had repeatedly advised the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital. They did so most recently on September 29, just five days before the strike. Beyond that, MSF personnel at the facility “frantically” called U.S. military officials during the strike to advise them that the hospital was being hit and to plead with them to stop, but the strikes continued in a “sustained” manner for 30 more minutes. Finally, MSF yesterday said this:
The hospital was repeatedly & precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched #Kunduz
— MSF International (@MSF) October 4, 2015
All of these facts make it extremely difficult – even for U.S. media outlets – to sell the “accident” story. At least as likely is that the hospital was deliberately targeted, chosen either by Afghan military officials who fed the coordinates to their U.S. military allies and/or by the U.S. military itself.
Even cynical critics of the U.S. have a hard time believing that the U.S. military would deliberately target a hospital with an airstrike (despite how many times the U.S. has destroyed hospitals with airstrikes). But in this case, there is long-standing tension between the Afghan military and this specific MSF hospital, grounded in the fact that the MSF – true to its name – treats all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight. That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before.
In July – just 3 months ago – Reuters reported that Afghan special forces “raided” this exact MSF hospital in Kunduz, claiming an Al Qaeda member was a patient. This raid infuriated MSF staff: . . .
We are shocked by the shooting at Umpqua Community College in which 9 people were killed. The USAF bombing of the hospital in Kunduz killed 22 staff and patients, including three children. Where’s the outrage?
Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes in the Washington Post:
In a pair of stunningly candid admissions during the past few weeks, the U.S. Central Command has signaled that a $500 million effort to train and equip Syrian rebel forces has failed. Just four or five fighters of a force planned to number 3,000 to 5,000 by now are active in the battle against the Islamic State; many more of those trained may now be fighting for the other side. A significant chunk of the U.S. military hardware given to the rebels has passed through their hands and into the possession of al-Qaeda. Based on what is publicly known, the United States is worse off now than it was before it started training the rebels.
Seen through a narrow lens, this failure illustrates how difficult progress against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will be without putting U.S. boots on the ground. Viewed more broadly, however, these Centcom revelations show fundamental defects in the idea that we can graft U.S. capabilities onto foreign forces to achieve our ends.
Train-and-equip missions like the one in Syria fall under the category of “security assistance” programs, which provide money, materiel or advisory support to foreign forces. The most expensive of these have been the massive efforts to build armies and police forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with mixed success that I saw firsthand as an embedded adviser with Iraq’s security forces at the war’s height. Closely related are the “foreign military sales” programs, overseen by the State and Defense departments, that delivered more than $40 billion last year in U.S. weaponry and assistance to allies and partners. And then there is the State Department’s $2 billion portfolio ofpolice training and assistance, along with various counterterrorism and military aid programs overseen by Defense. These efforts together are sometimes described as “building partner capacity” and currently include 148 countries.
The programs rest on a theory embraced across the U.S. government: Sometimes direct military interventions do more harm than good, andindirect approaches get us further. The theory briefs well as a way to achieve U.S. goals without great expenditure of U.S. blood and treasure. Unfortunately, decades of experience (including the current messes in Iraq and Syria) suggest that the theory works only in incredibly narrow situationsin which states need just a little assistance. In the most unstable places and in the largest conflagrations, where we tend to feel the greatest urge to do something, the strategy crumbles.
It fails first and most basically because it hinges upon an alignment of interests that rarely exists between Washington and its proxies. Most security-assistance situations, as distinct from relationships between the United States and its close allies, tend to be myopic and transactional. The United States has no meaningful long-term ties to the Syrian rebels, nor the Iraqi army and police. Our interests align to the extent that we collectively seek to destroy Islamic State, but even there, we differ as to how badly we want to do so. No wonder that when loyalties are tested among U.S.-trained Syrian rebels, those fighters disappear — and some are tempted to join forces with former enemies whose interests may be closer to theirs.
Second, the security-assistance strategy gives too much weight to the efficacy of U.S. war-fighting systems and capabilities, assuming that they alone are enough to produce desired outcomes for both our foreign proxies and ourselves. In American hands, sophisticated weapons work because they are supported by a complex U.S. military machine, one that includes global supply chains, advanced maintenance systems, and millions of well-educated and trained military, civilian and contractor personnel. That machine is impossible to replicate, especially during a short-term or crisis mission like that in Syria.
For security assistance to have any chance, it must build on existing institutions, adding something that fits within or atop a partner’s forces. That was the case with our support to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, our counter-drug assistance to Colombia beginning in the 1990s and our more recent financing of the Israeli Iron Dome missile-defense system. In those instances, our help has made a big difference.
But giving night-vision goggles and F-16 aircraft to a third-rate military like the Iraqi army won’t produce a first-rate force, let alone instill the will to fight. Embedded advisers can help stiffen the resolve of local forces, but only to a point. My team in Iraq donated Humvees (painted blue and dubbed “Smurfvees”) to our Iraqi police counterparts, only to see them sit unused and fall into disrepair.
The third problem with security assistance is that . . .
If the USAF is indeed to bomb with “surgical precision,” as they often claim, then the attack on the hospital was deliberate. If the attack was accidental, then the USAF should stay well away from civilian areas. They killed patients and staff in a Doctors Without Borders hospital and in effect closed the hospital altogether. No wonder the US is unloved in countries in which our military is active.
The initial story from yesterday by Alissa Rubin in the NY Times begins:
A United States airstrike appeared to have badly damaged a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in the Afghan city of Kunduz early Saturday, killing at least 16 people, including patients and staff members, and wounding dozens.
The United States military, in a statement, confirmed the 2:15 a.m. airstrike, saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters inside the hospital.
A Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position.
The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked the Afghan security forces. . .
It seems quite possible that the Afghan security forces wanted to take out the hospital because they didn’t like the way Doctors Without Borders worked, and simply gave the USAF wrong information to ensure the hospital was hit. And it worked: Alissa Rubin and Ashley Southall report today in the NY Times:
Doctors Without Borders said Sunday that it was withdrawing from Kunduz, a day after its hospital there was hit by what appeared to be an American airstrike, leaving the remaining residents in the embattled northern Afghan city even more vulnerable.
The aid organization also raised the death toll in Saturday’s airstrike on the hospital, saying that three more patients had died, raising the total fatalities to 22 — 10 patients and 12 staff members. The charity has said that at least three of the dead patients were children, and that 37 people were wounded in the attack.
“No medical activities are possible now in the MSF hospital in Kunduz, at a time when the medical needs are immense,” said Tim Shenk, a spokesman for the organization in New York.
The charity, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, called on its Twitter feed for an independent investigation, “under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed.”
“Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the hospital compound prior to the US airstrike on Saturday morning,” it said. “The hospital was repeatedly & precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.”
The Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday that an investigation of the episode under the auspices of the NATO military headquarters in Afghanistan would be completed in a matter of days. The United States military has also opened “a formal investigation to conduct a thorough and comprehensive inquiry,” it said in the statement. The Afghan government has also vowed to investigate the airstrike.
The Pentagon said the strike was targeting insurgents who were firing on American service members advising and assisting Afghan security forces in Kunduz. It acknowledged that the strike was conducted “in the vicinity” of the hospital.
Residents walking around the city and reached by phone said they saw dead bodies from the fighting, lying in the street because there were now no hospitals to pick them up. . .
I thought the Afghanistan war was over for the US. Sounds like we’re still in the thick of it.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on the military “formal investigation.” The military has a long and inglorious record of lies and coverups when it makes a mistake or does something dishonorable.