Showing posts with label Pentagon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pentagon. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Obama Administration's Drone Death Figures Don't Add Up

By Justin Elliot, cross-posted from ProPublica

Last month, a “senior administration official” said the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under President Obama is in the “single digits.” But last year “U.S. officials” said drones in Pakistan killed about 30 civilians in just a yearlong stretch under Obama.

Both claims can’t be true.
A centerpiece of President Obama’s national security strategy, drones strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civilians. The underlying facts are often in dispute and claims about how many people died and who they were vary widely.

So we decided to narrow it down to just one issue: have the administration’s own claims been consistent?

We collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims. The numbers sometimes do not add up. (Check out our interactive graphic to explore the claims.)

Even setting aside the discrepancy between official and outside estimates of civilian deaths, our analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility.

There have been 307 American drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, according to a New America Foundation count. Just 44 occurred during the Bush administration. President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones to attack suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups in Pakistan’s remote northwest region.

Obama officials generally do not comment by name on the drone strikes in Pakistan, but they frequently talk about it to reporters (including us) on condition of anonymity. Often those anonymously sourced comments have come in response to outside tallies of civilian deaths from drone attacks, which are generally much higher than the administration’s own figures.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Thoughts On National Defense

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

We can best honor those who have given their lives for this nation in combat by making sure our military might is proportional to what America needs.

The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together.

With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the cost of fighting wars is projected to drop – but the “base” defense budget
(the annual cost of paying troops and buying planes, ships, and tanks – not including the costs of actually fighting wars) is scheduled to rise. The base budget is already about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation.

One big reason: It’s almost impossible to terminate large defense contracts. Defense contractors have cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill and located their plants and facilities in politically important congressional districts. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and others have made spending on national defense into America’s biggest jobs program.

So we keep spending billions on Cold War weapons systems like nuclear attack submarines, aircraft carriers, and manned combat fighters that pump up the bottom lines of defense contractors but have nothing to do with 21st-century combat.

For example, the Pentagon says it wants to buy fewer F-35 joint strike fighter planes than had been planned – the single-engine fighter has been plagued by cost overruns and technical glitches – but the contractors and their friends on Capitol Hill promise a fight.

The absence of a budget deal on Capitol Hill is supposed to trigger an automatic across-the-board ten-year cut in the defense budget of nearly $500 billion, starting January.


But Republicans have vowed to restore the cuts. The House Republican budget cuts everything else — yet brings defense spending back up. Mitt Romney’s proposed budget does the same.

Yet even if the scheduled cuts occur, the Pentagon is still projected to spend over $2.7 trillion over the next ten years.

At the very least, hundreds of billions could be saved without jeopardizing the nation’s security by ending weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare. We should shrink the F-35 fleet of stealth fighters. Cut the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And take a cleaver to the Navy and Air Force budgets. (Most of the action is with the Army, Marines and Special Forces.) 


At a time when Medicare, Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending (including most programs for the poor, as well as infrastructure and basic R&D) are in serious jeopardy, Obama and the Democrats should be calling for even more defense cuts.

A reasonable and rational defense budget would be a fitting memorial to those who have given their lives so we may remain free. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Quagmire Accomplished

 One Year After Bin Laden's Death, Bring The Troops Home Now

By Kevin Martin and Michael Eisenscher, cross-posted from Common Dreams

Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Instead, his administration has negotiated an agreement with President Hamid Karzai’s government for a U.S. presence in that country until at least 2024, ten years past the supposed date for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The U.S. and its NATO allies are supposed to commit to ongoing training of the Afghan military, as well as development aid. Obama swept into Afghanistan in the middle of the night to sign the agreement, but full details of the agreement remain secret.

U.S. troops would also still have a limited combat role, namely Special Forces counter-insurgency operations, according to a draft proposal described by Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations. A more detailed security plan will surely be discussed at the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago.

If the agreement covers a ten year period, commits U.S. military forces for training and counter-insurgency (which means inevitable combat), obligates the U.S. to continue providing billions of taxpayer dollars annually in aid (essentially bankrolling the entire Afghan government and military), and posits support for any number of "nation-building" measures, isn't this in fact a treaty, subject to U.S. Senate ratification, rather than an intergovernmental memorandum of agreement?

Karzai apparently feels obligated to take the agreement to his parliament for approval.  Doesn’t Obama have a similar obligation - one imposed by the U.S. Constitution?It’s not clear what the year since the killing of Bin Laden has done to improve U.S. or Afghan security. It’s even less clear what staying for another dozen years will do for either country.

Quite apart from these legal, “process” questions, does anyone think our staying until 2024 is going to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan? We’ve already been there for eleven years – the longest war in our country’s history.  What do we really have to show for it?  We’ve spent almost $523 billion.  Almost 2000 Americans have been killed and another 15,300 wounded.  1000 NATO troops have lost their lives.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Panetta, Polls, And The Afghan Quagmire

By Matthew Rothschild, cross-posted from Progressive.org

It’s disgusting to watch Defense Secretary Leon Panetta trying to justify the ongoing war in Afghanistan long after it’s proven unwinnable and now after the public has decisively moved against it.

A recent poll showed that 69 percent of the American people are against the war.

But Panetta doesn’t care. “We cannot fight wars by polls,” he said. “If we do that, we’re in deep trouble.”

But it’s the people who are supposed to decide whether we wage war or not. That’s why our Constitution requires Congress, the elected officials closest to the people, to make this fateful decision, not the President, nor the Secretary of Defense, nor the brass.

And the lesson of Vietnam, the lesson of Iraq, is that when the American public clearly doesn’t support the way anymore, the war can’t be won.

The pathetic and inexcusable thing is that Panetta must know that himself. The generals must know it. And Obama must know it.

But like Robert McNamara, and General Westmoreland, and Lyndon Johnson before them, they keep fighting the war because they are unwilling, for political reasons, to come clean to the American public that hired them.

It’s shameful that they keep sending our soldiers to fight and die in a useless cause.

And a government that continues to wage war without the support of its people forfeits the right to call itself a democracy.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine, which is one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in this country.  He is the host of "Progressive Radio," a syndicated half-hour weekly interview program, and does a two-minute daily radio commentary, entitled "Progressive Point of View," which is also syndicated around the country.  Rothschild is the author of You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression (New Press, 2007)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time For A Plan "B" For Afghanistan?

This piece was written before the report that a U.S. sergeant "methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan."  

Dead Americans, Dead Goats, and Half a Million Gunmen on the Loose

By Ann Jones, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

The Afghan sport of Buzkashi
Recent weeks have brought yet another sad chance to watch badly laid plans in Afghanistan go haywire.  In three separate incidents, allies, most from the Afghan National Army (ANA), allegedly murdered six Americans -- two of them officers in the high-security sanctum of Kabul’s Interior Ministry.  Marine General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, even briefly withdrew NATO advisors and trainers from all government ministries for their own protection.

Until that moment, the Afghan National Army was the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s strategy for drawing down forces in Afghanistan (without really leaving).  Trained in their hundreds of thousands over the past 11 years by a horde of dodgy private security contractors, as well as U.S. and NATO troops, the Afghan National Army is supposed to replace coalition forces any day now and defend its own country.

This policy has been the apex of Washington’s Plan A for some time now.  There is no Plan B.

But what to make of the murders in the Ministry?  An AP article headlined “Acts of Afghan Betrayal Are Poisoning U.S. War Plan” detected “a trend of Afghan treachery.”  This “poisoning” is, however, nothing new.  Military lingo has already long defined assaults on American and NATO soldiers by members of the Afghan National Security Force (a combination of the ANA and the Afghan National Police) as “green on blue incidents.” Since the military started recording them in May 2007, 76 NATO soldiers have been killed and an undisclosed number wounded in 46 recorded “deliberate attacks.”

These figures suggest more than a recent “trend of Afghan treachery” (though Afghans are increasingly blamed for everything that goes wrong in their country).  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who perversely called the latest green on blue incidents signs of Taliban “weakness,” told the press: “I’ve made clear and I will continue to make clear that, regardless of what the enemy tries to do to us, we are not going to alter our strategy in Afghanistan.”

This is, of course, the definition of paralysis in Afghanistan, so much easier in the short term than reexamining Plan A.  In other words, as the American exercise in Afghanistan rolls ever closer to the full belly-up position, Plan A remains rigidly in place, and signals that, from Secretary Panetta and General Allen on down, Americans still don’t seem to get what’s going on.

Monday, March 5, 2012

How To Fund An American Police State

By Stephan Salisbury, cross-posted from TomDispatch

At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of “shock and awe” had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, California.  American police forces had been “militarized,” many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New York’s streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization -- a bleak domestic no man’s land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers, and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public.  It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?

So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.

But why drone on?  We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders.  At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Global War On Terror: From Liberation To Assassination

By Andrew Bacevich, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

With the United States now well into the second decade of what the Pentagon has styled an “era of persistent conflict,” the war formerly known as the global war on terrorism (unofficial acronym WFKATGWOT) appears increasingly fragmented and diffuse.  Without achieving victory, yet unwilling to acknowledge failure, the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq.  It is trying to leave Afghanistan, where events seem equally unlikely to yield a happy outcome.

Elsewhere -- in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, for example -- U.S. forces are busily opening up new fronts.  Published reports that the United States is establishing “a constellation of secret drone bases” in or near the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula suggest that the scope of operations will only widen further.  In a front-page story, the New York Times described plans for “thickening” the global presence of U.S. special operations forces.  Rushed Navy plans to convert an aging amphibious landing ship into an “afloat forward staging base” -- a mobile launch platform for either commando raids or minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf -- only reinforces the point.

Yet as some fronts close down and others open up, the war’s narrative has become increasingly difficult to discern.  How much farther until we reach the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin?  What exactly is the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin?  In fact, is there a storyline here at all?

Viewed close-up, the “war” appears to have lost form and shape.  Yet by taking a couple of steps back, important patterns begin to appear.  What follows is a preliminary attempt to score the WFKATGWOT, dividing the conflict into a bout of three rounds.  Although there may be several additional rounds still to come, here’s what we’ve suffered through thus far.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Pentagon's Afghan Basing Plans For Prisons, Drones And Black Ops

By Nick Turse, cross-posted by Tom Dispatch

In late December, the lot was just a big blank: a few burgundy metal shipping containers sitting in an expanse of crushed eggshell-colored gravel inside a razor-wire-topped fence.  The American military in Afghanistan doesn’t want to talk about it, but one day soon, it will be a new hub for the American drone war in the Greater Middle East.

Next year, that empty lot will be a two-story concrete intelligence facility for America’s drone war, brightly lit and filled with powerful computers kept in climate-controlled comfort in a country where most of the population has no access to electricity.  It will boast almost 7,000 square feet of offices, briefing and conference rooms, and a large “processing, exploitation, and dissemination” operations center -- and, of course, it will be built with American tax dollars.

Nor is it an anomaly.  Despite all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, there has been a years-long building boom in Afghanistan that shows little sign of abating.  In early 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had nearly 400 bases in Afghanistan.  Today, Lieutenant Lauren Rago of ISAF public affairs tells TomDispatch, the number tops 450.

The hush-hush, high-tech, super-secure facility at the massive air base in Kandahar is just one of many building projects the U.S. military currently has planned or underway in Afghanistan.  While some U.S. bases are indeed closing up shop or being transferred to the Afghan government, and there’s talk of combat operations slowing or ending next year, as well as a withdrawal of American combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the U.S. military is still preparing for a much longer haul at mega-bases like Kandahar and Bagram airfields. The same is true even of some smaller camps, forward operating bases (FOBs), and combat outposts (COPs) scattered through the country’s backlands.  “Bagram is going through a significant transition during the next year to two years,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gerdes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bagram Office recently told Freedom Builder, a Corps of Engineers publication.  “We’re transitioning... into a long-term, five-year, 10-year vision for the base.”

Whether the U.S. military will still be in Afghanistan in five or 10 years remains to be seen, but steps are currently being taken to make that possible.  U.S. military publications, plans and schematics, contracting documents, and other official data examined by TomDispatch catalog hundreds of construction projects worth billions of dollars slated to begin, continue, or conclude in 2012.

While many of these efforts are geared toward structures for Afghan forces or civilian institutions, a considerable number involve U.S. facilities, some of the most significant being dedicated to the ascendant forms of American warfare: drone operations and missions by elite special operations units.  The available plans for most of these projects suggest durability.  “The structures that are going in are concrete and mortar, rather than plywood and tent skins,” says Gerdes. As of last December, his office was involved in 30 Afghan construction projects for U.S. or international coalition partners worth almost $427 million.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ACLU Sues To Obtain Info On Targeted Killings

I've previously written about last September's drone attack in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda.  (See, e.g., International Execution.)  Samir Kahn, also a U.S. citizen, was reportedly killed in the same attack.  Two weeks later, al-Alwaki's 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki,  was killed elsewhere in Yemen

Last week, the ACLU filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act after the government refused to release records on the factual and legal bases for using drones to target United States citizens for assassination overseas.

From the ACLU's website:
Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.
The New York Times recently filed a similar suit that seeks the legal memos on which the targeted killing program is based.   But, the ACLU's suit goes further, seeking, in addition "the government’s evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011. We’re also seeking information about the process by which the administration adds Americans to secret government “'kill lists.'”

The Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the CIA have refused to provide any records in response to the ACLU's FOIA requests, and won't even confirm that any records responsive to the requests even exist.  As the ACLU states, "essentially, these agencies are saying the targeted killing program is so secret that they can’t even acknowledge that it exists."

This is outrageous given that the President and Secretary of Defense Panetta (most recently on 60 Minutes) each have publicly acknowledged the existence of the program and have defended, if not boasted of, its use.  As the ACLU argues, this self-serving and highly selective attitude towards disclosure and transparency is unacceptable:
Officials cannot be allowed to release bits of information about the targeted killing program when they think it will bolster their position, but refuse even to confirm the existence of a targeted killing program when organizations like the ACLU or journalists file FOIA requests in the service of real transparency and accountability.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Attacking Iran: Lessons From The Iran-Iraq War

Military action against Iran, and even the continuing threat of attack, is likely to give the Islamic Republic a new lease on life.
 By Annie Tracy Samuel, cross-posted from openDemocracy

The presumed aim of an attack by the United States and/or Israel on Iranian nuclear and military facilities would be to weaken the Islamic Republic, particularly by hindering its ability to build a nuclear weapon. However, the history of the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980 calls into question the contention that an attack will weaken the regime in Tehran. Iran’s security policies, and its policy outlook more generally, have been shaped enormously by the country’s experience in the Iran-Iraq War. As the Iranians themselves continuously point to the lessons of the war and their bearing on the present day, it behooves policymakers to follow suit.

The Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 was a movement of several different groups that were united most strongly in their opposition to the regime of Muhammad Reza Shah. Following the ouster of the Shah in February 1979, the union of those groups began to break down. In invading Iran, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein assumed that the divided Iranians and their dilapidated armed forces would be unable to put up much of a fight. He was wrong. Iranians responded to the invasion by uniting against him and under their current leadership, even though many opposed the direction the revolution had taken. Iran’s leaders quickly resurrected the armed forces by halting military trials and purges and enforcing conscription.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which was established following the revolution to serve primarily as an internal security force, transformed into a second military and rushed to confront the invading forces. Thousands of volunteers were incorporated into both the IRGC and the regular military. They were driven to defend the country, the revolution, and the Islamic Republic by a potent combination of nationalism, revolutionary mission, and religious zeal that was stoked by the foreign threat. Their dedicated and determined defense, combined with the Iraqi forces’ poor performance, caused the invaders to stall and then retreat. The IRGC and the Basij remain today as the Islamic Republic’s most devoted defenders. They have a substantial interest in the survival of the regime, and can therefore be expected to vigorously confront attacking forces, just as they did when the Iraqis invaded.

An attack on Iran by the United States or Israel will likely add to the ranks of the regime’s supporters. Just as a divided population came together to confront the Iraqi invasion, Iranians of all stripes will unite in opposition to an attack. The upshot will be a stronger, more cohesive, and more militant Islamic Republic. In the words of Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s reformist former president and a harsh critic of some of Iran’s current leaders and policies, “If there should one day be any military interference in Iran, then all factions, regardless of reformists or non-reformists, would [unite] and confront the attack.” Iranians interviewed by Reuters, Radio Farda, and the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran made the same argument. “A war will unite the regime, and it will also force many to unite behind a regime they don’t even support” said a 56-year-old woman living in Tehran. “What else should we do, [cheer] for Israel, which would kill our countrymen working in the nuclear sites?” Similarly, a Tehran-based journalist who said he sympathized with the opposition Green Movement wrote that, “[Iranian] society will not welcome any country that attacks its soil.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Droning On And On And On

On Saturday, as Glenn Greenwald reports, "in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news." 
Clearly, we are cranking up our drone operations, a targeted assassination program which often goes awry.  (Tom Engelhardt points out that according to he London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have, over the years, killed at least 168 children.Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones reports that the Pentagon will announce today that to meet new budget constraints it will be slashing Army troop levels by 80,000 soldiers, or 14 percent of the force, while expanding bases for drones.   Legality and morality aside, as Nick Turse argues below, drones are counterproductive tools of war.  Turse points to 70 drone mishaps which "draw attention not only to the technical limitations of drone warfare, but to larger conceptual flaws inherent in such operations." 

The Crash and Burn Future of Robot Warfare
What 70 Downed Drones Tell Us About the New American Way of War
 
By Nick Turse, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

American fighter jets screamed over the Iraqi countryside heading for the MQ-1 Predator drone, while its crew in California stood by helplessly.  What had begun as an ordinary reconnaissance mission was now taking a ruinous turn.  In an instant, the jets attacked and then it was all over.  The Predator, one of the Air Force’s workhorse hunter/killer robots, had been obliterated.

An account of the spectacular end of that nearly $4 million drone in November 2007 is contained in a collection of Air Force accident investigation documents recently examined by TomDispatch.  They catalog more than 70 catastrophic Air Force drone mishaps since 2000, each resulting in the loss of an aircraft or property damage of $2 million or more.

These official reports, some obtained by TomDispatch through the Freedom of Information Act, offer new insights into a largely covert, yet highly touted war-fighting, assassination, and spy program involving armed robots that are significantly less reliable than previously acknowledged.  These planes, the latest wonder weapons in the U.S. military arsenal, are tested, launched, and piloted from a shadowy network of more than 60 bases spread around the globe, often in support of elite teams of special operations forces.  Collectively, the Air Force documents offer a remarkable portrait of modern drone warfare, one rarely found in a decade of generally triumphalist or awestruck press accounts that seldom mention the limitations of drones, much less their mission failures.

The aerial disasters described draw attention not only to the technical limitations of drone warfare, but to larger conceptual flaws inherent in such operations.  Launched and landed by aircrews close to battlefields in places like Afghanistan, the drones are controlled during missions by pilots and sensor operators -- often multiple teams over many hours -- from bases in places like Nevada and North Dakota.  They are sometimes also monitored by “screeners” from private security contractors at stateside bases like Hurlburt Field in Florida.  (A recent McClatchy report revealed that it takes nearly 170 people to keep a single Predator in the air for 24 hours.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bradley Manning, Washington, And The Blood Of Civilians

By Chase Madar, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

From animated piece by Michael Daly
Who in their right mind wants to talk about, think about, or read a short essay about... civilian war casualties?  What a bummer, this topic, especially since our Afghan, Iraq, and other ongoing wars were advertised as uplifting acts of philanthropy: wars to spread security, freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law, etc.

A couple hundred thousand dead civilians have a way of making such noble ideals seem like dollar-store tinsel.  And so, throughout our decade-long foreign policy debacle in the Greater Middle East, we in the U.S. have generally agreed that no one shall commit the gaucherie of dwelling on (and “dwelling on” = fleetingly mentioned) civilian casualties. Washington elites may squabble over some things, but as for foreigners killed by our numerous wars, our Beltway crew adheres to a sullen code of omertà.

Club rules do, however, permit one loophole: Washington officials may bemoan the nightmare of civilian casualties -- but only if they can be pinned on a 24-year-old Army private first class named Bradley Manning.

Pfc. Manning, you will remember, is the young soldier who is soon to be court-martialed for passing some 750,000 military and diplomatic documents, a large chunk of them classified, to the website WikiLeaks.  Among those leaks, there was indeed some serious stuff about how Americans dealt with civilians in invaded countries.  For instance, the documents revealed that the U.S. military, then the occupying force in Iraq, did little or nothing to prevent Iraqi authorities from torturing prisoners in a variety of gruesome ways, sometimes to death.

Then there was that gun-sight video -- unclassified but buried in classified material -- of an American Apache helicopter opening fire on a crowd on a Baghdad street, gunning down a dozen men, including two Reuters employees, and injuring more, including children.  There were also those field reports about how jumpy American soldiers repeatedly shot down civilians at roadside checkpoints; about night raids gone wrong both in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a count of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, a tally whose existence the U.S. military had previously denied possessing.

Together, these leaks and many others offered a composite portrait of military and political debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan whose grinding theme has been civilian casualties, a fact not much noted here in the U.S.  A tiny number of low-ranking American soldiers have been held to account for rare instances of premeditated murder of civilians, but most of the troops who kill civilians in the midst of the chaos of war are not tried, much less convicted.  We don’t talk about these cases a lot either.  On the other hand, officials of all types make free with lusty condemnations of Bradley Manning, whose leaks are luridly credited with potential (though not actual) deaths.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Inspector General Okays Pentagon's Propaganda Machine

By Meteor Blades, cross-posted from Daily Kos



Bruce Ackerman writes:
This is a time of good cheer at the Pentagon—its watchdog, the inspector general, has just ruled that its Bush-era campaign to manipulate the media was entirely acceptable under Defense Department regulations. The report, dated Nov. 11, was held back until Christmas Eve, when it was released at the happiest time of the year. But we should not allow it to slip into oblivion.
No worries there. Since it's perfectly all right for the Pentagon to train and send scores of retired top officers out to spread propaganda that supports whatever project it has in mind—say another war of choice—we can expect to see it happen again in some new form.

It isn't bad enough that so many of these guys serve on the boards of the arms manufacturers. From those post-retirement perches, they work their past subordinates to obtain approval for the latest upgrade or new weapon. And they succeed by virtue of the fact it's hard to say no to someone who used to be your boss and may someday get you on the board of an arms maker. In addition, they now have the okay to get paid to shape public opinion as supposedly expert but objective analysts as long as they don't say anything contrary to what the Pentagon desires.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Robot Airplanes With Wings Of Clay

What a Busted Robot Airplane Tells Us About the American Empire in 2012 and Beyond
 By Nick Turse, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

The drone had been in the air for close to five hours before its mission crew realized that something was wrong.  The oil temperature in the plane’s turbocharger, they noticed, had risen into the “cautionary” range. An hour later, it was worse, and it just kept rising as the minutes wore on.  While the crew desperately ran through its “engine overheat” checklist trying to figure out the problem, the engine oil temperature, too, began skyrocketing.

By now, they had a full-blown in-flight emergency on their hands.  “We still have control of the engine, but engine failure is imminent,” the pilot announced over the radio.

Almost two hours after the first signs of distress, the engine indeed failed.  Traveling at 712 feet per minute, the drone clipped a fence before crashing.

Land of the Lost Drones

The skies seem full of falling drones these days.  The most publicized of them made headlines when Iran announced that its military had taken possession of an advanced American remotely piloted spy aircraft, thought to be an RQ-170 Sentinel.

Questions about how the Iranians came to possess one of the U.S. military’s most sophisticated pieces of equipment abound.  Iran first claimed that its forces shot the drone down after it "briefly violated" the country’s eastern airspace near the Afghan border.  Later, the Islamic Republic insisted that the unmanned aerial vehicle had penetrated 150 miles before being felled by a sophisticated cyber-attack.  And just days ago, an Iranian engineer offered a more detailed, but as yet unsubstantiated, explanation of how a hack-attack hijacked the aircraft.

For its part, the United States initially claimed that its military had lost the drone while it was on a mission in western Afghanistan.  Later, unnamed officials admitted that the CIA had, in fact, been conducting a covert spy operation over Iran.

The drone crash that led this piece did occur in Afghanistan -- Kandahar, to be precise -- in May of this year.  It went unreported at the time and involved not a sleek, bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, but the older, clunkier, if more famous, MQ-1 Predator, a workhorse hunter/killer machine of the Afghan war and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.

A document detailing a U.S. Air Force investigation of that Predator crash, examined by TomDispatch, sheds light on the lifecycle and flaws of drones -- just what can go wrong in unmanned air operations -- as well as the shadowy system of bases and units scattered across the globe that keep those drones constantly in the skies as the U.S. becomes ever more reliant on remote-controlled warfare.

That report and striking new statistics obtained from the military offer insights into underexamined flaws in drone technology.  They are also a reminder of the failure of journalists to move beyond awe when it comes to high-tech warfare and America’s latest wonder weapons -- their curious inability to examine the stark limitations of man and machine that can send even the most advanced military technology hurtling to Earth. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Trial Of Bradley Manning: Intimidation, Retaliation, Retribution

By Ann Wright, cross-posted from WarIsACrime.org (formerly AfterDowningStreet)

Yesterday, December 16, 2011, 40 supporters of Bradley Manning saw him in person in the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland and another 60 saw him on a video feed from the court, the first time Manning has been seen by the public in 19 months.  Over 100 other supporters, including 50 from Occupy Wall Street who had bused down from New York City, were at the front gates of Fort Meade in solidarity with Manning.

Hundreds of supporters will gather today, Saturday, December 17, for a large rally and march.
For his first court appearance, Bradley was in what looked to be a new military uniform and typically military, he had a fresh haircut.  He was not in shackles in the courtroom, but it appeared in a photo that he was shackled in the van that brought him to the court. Manning talked freely with his civilian defense counsel and his two military legal counsels.

He did not turn around and look at the people in the court, but as he was brought in and taken out during the various recesses of the court, he no doubt noticed supporters in Bradley Manning t-shirts.
Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for 19 months, since May, 2010, without a trial.  Yesterday, December 16, 2011, an Article 32 hearing began at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which an investigating officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the crimes with which the military has charged him for the case to be referred to a General court-martial.

In July, 2010, Manning was charged with transferring classified information onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source.  22 more crimes were charged in March 2011, including "aiding the enemy," a capital offense.  Defense Department prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. In April, 2011, Manning was found fit to face a court martial.

Monday, September 26, 2011

America's Wars: The Logic Of Escalation

By Paul Rogers, cross-posted from openDemocracy

The United States political-military strategy for draw-down in Afghanistan is in trouble, even as Washington is tempted by increased high-tech military engagement in other theaters of war. 

The killing of Afghanistan’s former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in a suicide bomb-attack at his home in Kabul on 20 September 2011 removes a senior player who for decades was at the centre of the country’s political scene. A major incident in itself, which led the current Afghan president Hamid Karzai to return home from New York to attend the funeral, Rabbani’s death follows the concerted assault on key targets in central Kabul on 13-14 September that lasted twenty hours.

The exact responsibility for Rabbani's death is still to be established. But this and similar operations - such as attacks on Kabul hotels, and on the offices of the British Council in the city on 19 August - reflect the ability of the Taliban to hone tactics in recent months in response to the "surge" in United States troops into Afghanistan.

There is a specific and two-sided context here. First, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups have been seeking to maintain control of rural districts in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, using both subtle and violent means. The endemic government corruption and maladministration creates a base of support for these groups, many of whom can build on their pre-existing links with the same communities; such support can be supplemented by often ruthless intimidation.

Second, the paramilitaries face substantial dangers in engaging openly with the increasing numbers of US troops that can be deployed to suppress any large-scale insurgent activity. Such more open confrontation has worked in the past (especially against some of the more remote US outposts), but the Americans’ huge manpower and firepower superiority underpins a shift to assassinations and suicide-martyr missions.

The impact of the Taliban’s refocus may be less important militarily than in psychological and political terms. The death of Rabbani, who was involved in negotiation with the Taliban, makes any talks process less likely to produce results. The broader Kabul attacks, embarrassing as they are, don't of themselves constrain greatly US and other Nato troops; but they confirm that these forces do not control the country, and make it harder for them to contemplate an early withdrawal.

This is a real problem for the Barack Obama administration, which wants to accelerate the drawdown of forces as the US presidential-election campaign of 2012 begins to dominate calculations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

After The Pentagon Spending Spree: How Safe Are You?

What Almost $8 Trillion in National Security Spending Bought You

By Chris Hellman, cross-posted from TomDispatch

The killing of Osama Bin Laden did not put cuts in national security spending on the table, but the debt-ceiling debate finally did.  And mild as those projected cuts might have been, last week newly minted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was already digging in his heels and decrying the modest potential cost-cutting plans as a "doomsday mechanism” for the military. Pentagon allies on Capitol Hill were similarly raising the alarm as they moved forward with this year’s even larger military budget.

None of this should surprise you.  As with all addictions, once you’re hooked on massive military spending, it’s hard to think realistically or ask the obvious questions.  So, at a moment when discussion about cutting military spending is actually on the rise for the first time in years, let me offer some little known basics about the spending spree this country has been on since September 11, 2001, and raise just a few simple questions about what all that money has actually bought Americans.

Consider this my contribution to a future 12-step program for national security sobriety.