Archive for the ‘War on Terrorism’ Category

Offensive Combat Drones are Bad News

August 17, 2012

A recent AP news story about the US Airforce’s test-flight of a hypersonic jet (expected max speed: 3600 mph, 5800 kph) appealed to the technology-geek in me. I initially thought: “cool!”.

But then I got to the last line of the story: “… the aircraft is intended to allow the Pentagon to deliver strikes around the globe within minutes”.
[Read Story]

OK, that’s not cool.

What would be cool is a hypersonic drone aircraft designed to deliver medicine, food, or emergency supplies anywhere in the world within minutes. But, sadly, that’s not the purpose for which the hypersonic drone is being developed.

So I was not totally upset to read a followup AP press report that the test had failed.
[Read Follow-up Story]

Sure it is bad that several million of our tax-payer dollars (perhaps billions — I don’t know) crashed uselessly into the ocean, but it is not bad that the US military’s plans to rain death remotely upon people worldwide were set back.

Perhaps Jeremy Scahill was right when he said the “US has become a nation of assassins”.

More About Military Drones

US Military Drone

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Questions and Answers about the Afghanistan War

April 21, 2012

How long have we been fighting in Afghanistan? The war has ground on for over ten years now. Longer than WWI and WWII combined.

When will it end? According to the Obama administration, we will start withdrawing troops in September of 2012 and end our combat involvement there by 2014. However, few Americans believe that, least of all senior military officials, who argue that US and NATO troops should remain until Afghanistan is stable. Never mind that Afghanistan never has been stable and is unlikely to become so in this century.

How is it going? If you ask the US military command, it is challenging, but we are gradually winning the war against the enemy. Never mind that the number of US and NATO troops killed in the first three months of 2012 is about equal to the number killed in the first three years of the war, 2001-2003.

Who is the enemy? Al Qaeda, of course, ever since they attacked us on 9/11/2001. Never mind that Al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan since 2001.

Who are we are fighting, then? A subsitute enemy: the Taliban. Never mind that the Taliban did not attack us, know almost nothing about the world outside of their country, and therefore pose no international threat.

But didn’t the Taliban harbor the Al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us? Perhaps, but it is customary in Afghanistan to feed and harbor anyone who comes to your door. Also, the people who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks lived in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada, Florida, and Massachusetts. After the attacks, Pakistan harbored Osama bin Laden and his clan for many years. So those locations also harbored the terrorists, yet we haven’t gone to war with them.

OK, but the Taliban regime was hell for Afghan women, wasn’t it? Maybe Western intervention can help bring about a better life for women there. Yes, it was. But again, regimes all over the world repress women, and the US hasn’t invaded them.

Does the Afghan government want us to stay? No. They want us out, ASAP. In late 2010, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the US military strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive. Last Thursday, after a series of incidents in which US troops pissed on Taliban corpses, shot and killed unarmed Afghan women and children while they were sleeping, and posed with Taliban body parts, Karzai said that he wants Western forces to speed-up their departure. Bottom line: we aren’t there because the Afghans want us there.

So why are we still there? Countries north of Afghanistan — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan — have oil reserves. The US wants access to that oil. Obtaining secure access will require pipelines running south, through Afghanistan. The alternative pipeline routes go east, to China, or north, to Russia. The US doesn’t like those alternatives. Therefore, US neo-conservatives (and neo-liberals) consider Afghanistan a strategic piece of territory to control.

What can we do to help bring an end to the Afghanistan war? Join the Campaign for New Priorities, and donate to help the Campaign publish advertisements. Write or call your congressional representatives, Senators, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and ask them. Get their phone numbers and addresses via Google.

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Obama: Time to wind down Afghanistan War?

March 6, 2012

US President Barack Obama indicated in his first major press conference on the year that he considers it time to end the US-led war in Afghanistan. It is of course high time that the President arrived at that conclusion. However, Obama did not announce any acceleration of US plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Therefore it is unclear what the purpose of his statement was.

Perhaps it was meant as a warning to Afghans. If so, it could backfire. Afghans — particularly President Hamid Karzai — are sure to notice that Obama labels as “unacceptable” attacks on US troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for the US military’s accidental burning of Korans, but never said anything similar about repeated Afghan civilian deaths resulting from US or NATO airstrikes. Afghans could get the message that six US troop deaths are unnacceptable to Obama while thousands of US/NATO-caused “collateral” Afghan civilian deaths are acceptable.

Enough editorializing. Here’s the news report (excerpted):

Obama: Time has come to wind down Afghan war

March 06, 2012 6:20 PM EST, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Amid fresh concerns over the safety of American forces, President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the accidental burning of Qurans in Afghanistan and the retaliatory killings of US troops gave new credence to the need to end the war.

“I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it’s an indication that now is the time for us to transition,” Obama said during a White House news conference.

Obama announced no speeding up of the NATO-backed plan to end combat missions in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, saying “that continues to be the plan.” But he said the violence aimed at Americans in Afghanistan that followed the accidental burning of Qurans on a US base was “unacceptable.”

Six Americans were killed in retaliatory violence. Obama offered his apologies to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a move that was roundly criticized by his Republican presidential rivals as weak and unnecessary.

From Congress, Obama was getting tugged from another direction. A letter calling for Obama to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan had the backing of 23 senators, mostly Democrats but including two conservative Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who circulated the letter with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement that there “something fundamentally wrong with spending $88 billion for national building in Afghanistan while we’re asking Americans to make tough cuts here at home.”

Addressing another international crisis in Syria, Obama said the violence there was “heartbreaking” but he showed no new willingness for military involvement in that Mideast country.

Obama said unilateral military action by the United States against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a mistake. And he rejected a comparison to Libya, where the United States and allies did intervene last year, saying the situation in Syria is more complex. … Assad’s military is better equipped and more powerful than the Libyan force.

[Read entire story]

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Senator Barbara Boxer: End Afghanistan War

February 23, 2012

I recently wrote California Senator Barbara Boxer to give her my opinion that the Afghanistan war should be ended immediately. Boxer — or more likely, someone on her staff — sent a reply. Senator Boxer advocates a rapid draw-down of US military forces in Afghanistan. While it isn’t exactly a call for an immediate end to the war, her position is closer to that than I had expected.

The letter:

Dear __________:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the withdrawal of United States combat forces from Afghanistan. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I strongly believe that it is time to significantly decrease the presence of US combat forces in Afghanistan. That is why I proudly co-sponsored an amendment to the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act requiring President Obama to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and report to Congress on the progress of his plan. I was pleased that language based on this amendment was included in the final bill.

I believe that the United States has accomplished much of what it set out to achieve in Afghanistan and that the current cost — both to our armed forces and to the American taxpayer — is far too high. Ten years ago, the US Senate unanimously voted to use all necessary and appropriate force against those responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001 — the al Qaeda terrorist network. On May 2, 2011, the United States dealt al Qaeda a major blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Although we must remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and continue our support for the Afghan people, there is simply no justification for the continued deployment of roughly 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Our current forces should be drawn down to a point where they are sufficient only to conduct targeted counter-terrorism operations, train Afghan security forces, and protect American and coalition personnel.

As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, be assured that I will continue to advocate for a plan to accelerate the withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan while protecting US national security.

Again, thank you for writing to me. Please feel free to contact me in the future about this or any other issue of concern to you.

Barbara Boxer
US Senator

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Truth, Lies and Afghanistan

February 7, 2012

The Armed Forces Journal recently published an article by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis that assesses the state of the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Davis wrote two versions of his assessment: a classified version for security-cleared personnel only, and a shorter unclassified version. The unclassified article is amazingly candid. Here are excerpts from the unclassified article.

By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, Armed Forces Journal, 07 February 2012

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. … I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

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

I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

Much of what I saw during my deployment, let alone read or wrote in official reports, I can’t talk about; the information remains classified. But I can say that such reports – mine and others’ – serve to illuminate the gulf between conditions on the ground and official statements of progress.

In August, I went on a dismounted patrol with troops in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. … One of the unit’s senior officers rhetorically asked me, “How do I look these men in the eye and ask them to go out day after day on these missions? What’s harder: How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

On Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the infamous attack on the U.S., I visited [a] unit in Kunar province, this one near the town of Asmar. I talked with the local official who served as the cultural adviser to the U.S. commander. Here’s how the conversation went:

Davis: “Here you have many units of the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]. Will they be able to hold out against the Taliban when U.S. troops leave this area?”

Adviser: “No. They are definitely not capable. Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban. [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them.

In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described – and many, many more I could mention – had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.

I’m hardly the only one who has noted the discrepancy between official statements and the truth on the ground.

If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable. Naturally, I am not authorized to divulge classified material to the public. But I am legally able to share it with members of Congress. I have accordingly provided a much fuller accounting in a classified report to several members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members.

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid – graphically, if necessary – in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

[Read entire article at Reader-Supported News]

[Read entire article at Armed Forces Journal]

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Osama bin Laden is Dead. Bring the Troops Home.

May 5, 2011

Early reports of the US raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden said that he was armed and “engaged in a firefight” with US troops, but more recent reports from the Obama administration say that he was unarmed.

It’s hard to know what was possible in the confusion of the night raid, but if bin Laden was in fact unarmed, it is too bad he was killed rather than captured.

Bringing bin Laden to justice, as President Obama said he wanted to do, would have involved putting him on trial in every country where his organization carried out terrible acts of mass murder and destruction: Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, the US, and others. In Kenya and Tanzania, for example, he would have had to face hundreds of Kenyans who lost relatives or were maimed or blinded in Al Qaeda’s attack on the US embassies. In the US, he would have had to face families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks, as well as first responders. He would have been treated like the criminal he was.

But he’s dead, so let’s move on. Moving on means, among other things, ending the US-led war on Afghanistan, which was launched to punish the Afghan Taliban regime for harboring bin Laden and his cohorts and refusing to turn them over to the US. Both stated reasons for being in a war in Afghanistan are gone: 1) the Afghan Taliban are no longer harboring bin Laden and his cronies (and, it turns out, haven’t been for years), and 2) we caught bin Laden, killed him, and took possession of his body. It’s over. Time to move on.

We have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan now, plus thousands of military security contractors (aka mercenaries). It costs about $1 million per year to keep one US soldier in Afghanistan, and that doesn’t include the cost of caring for those troops after they come home with physical and psychic trauma. The war also costs many US and Afghan lives each month. We cannot afford these terrible costs. Moving on means withdrawing the vast majority, if not all, of our troops from Afghanistan.

We don’t need 100,000 troops there.

  • We don’t need 100,000 US troops there to hunt down remaining Al Qaeda leaders. The handful that remain are probably in Pakistan — not Afghanistan — anyway. Wherever they are, our regular troops won’t find them. Bin Laden was located by CIA intelligence analysts piecing together tiny shreds of evidence over a decade, and he was killed by Special Forces troops, in this case Navy SEALs. Regular troops were not involved at all.
  • We don’t need 100,000 US troops there to keep Afghanistan from exploding into civil war. True, the west should not simply abandon Afghanistan as it did after ousting the Soviets. But peacekeeping is better done by trained peacekeepers than by trained combat soldiers. Bring in United Nations peacekeepers, as in the Yugoslavian breakup conflicts.
  • We don’t need 100,000 US troops there to fight the Taliban. They only fight us because we are there. If we leave, they will stop fighting us. Unlike Al Qaeda, they have no international terrorism agenda.

We do not need 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Bring them home.

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US Drone Strikes in Pakistan Incite Resistance There and Here

April 24, 2011

As the US continues and intensifies its use of unmanned Predator drone aircraft (flown remotely by operators in the US) to strike at targets in Pakistan, resistance is increasing both in Pakistan and in the US.

Predator drone firing missile

Predator drone firing missile

On March 17, a US missile strike fired from a drone killed more than 40 people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Pakistani officials claim that the dead were civilian tribal elders meeting to resolve a mining rights dispute, but the US military claims that those killed were Taliban militants.

The Pakistani government has protested the drone-strikes as a violation of their sovereignty.

Recently, two high-level meetings between US military and Pakistani intelligence officials — one in Washington DC between the US CIA Chief and the Pakistani ISI Chief and one in Pakistan between US Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Khalid Shameem Wynne (Pakistani military chief) — took place to discuss the issue.

Two days after the CIA/ISI meeting, while the Mullen/Wynne meetings were taking place, another US drone strike killed 25 or more people in North Waziristan. According to officials, those killed included 18 suspected militants, three women, and four children.

Both drone strikes sparked protests by Pakistani citizens as well as official protests from Pakistani government officials. The protests by Pakistani citizens included a mass demonstration that shut down critical NATO military supply shipments from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Some Pakistani intelligence officials, in frustration over US drone strikes, disclosed that the US has personnel in Pakistan to refuel and relaunch the drones but may now be shutting down that operation. US officials deny the existence of military or CIA personnel in Pakistan but otherwise refuses to discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, in the US, protesters blockaded Hancock Air Base in upstate New York to protest the US military’s use of drones, resulting in 37 arrests.

Other Drone-Related News and Analysis

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Outstanding Book: War is a Lie

January 29, 2011

David Swanson, former Press Secretary for US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, has just published an amazing new book: War is a Lie. The book is so up-to-date that it discusses events that took place in September 2010.

It’s a point-by-point, historically rich, well-researched and well-documented expose’ of the lies that have been used to start and sustain humanity’s wars, including some that are usually considered “good wars” (a term that Swanson considers an oxymoron). The books provides the historical context and stated vs. actual motivation for most of our wars, as well as evaluating the results of wars against the goals.

Book Cover: War is a Lie

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Wars Are Not Fought Against Evil
  3. Wars Are Not Launched in Defense
  4. Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity
  5. Wars Are Not Unavoidable
  6. Warriors Are Not Heroes
  7. War Makers Do Not Have Noble Motives
  8. Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers
  9. Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields
  10. Wars Are Not Won, and Are Not Ended By Enlarging Them
  11. War News Does Not Come From Disinterested Observers
  12. War Does Not Bring Security and Is Not Sustainable
  13. Wars Are Not Legal
  14. Wars Cannot Be Both Planned and Avoided
  15. War Is Over If You Want It

Some interesting excerpts from the book:

“If WWII was a good war, why did 80 percent of the Americans who … made it into combat choose not to fire their weapons at the enemies? … There is good evidence that this was the norm in the ranks of the Germans, British, French, and so forth, and had been the norm in previous wars as well. The problem … was that about 98 percent of people are very resistant to killing other human beings. You can show them how to use a gun and tell them to go shoot it, but in the moment of combat many of them will aim for the sky, drop in the dirt, assist a buddy with his weapon, or suddenly discover that an important message needs to be conveyed along the line. … They’re horrified of committing murder.” — Chapter 4

“One need not think about … wars solely in terms of winning or losing. If the US were to elect officials and compel them to heed the public’s wishes and retire from foreign military adventures, we would all be better off. Why … must that desired outcome be called ‘losing’?” — Chapter 9

Bottom Line: War is a Lie should be read by everyone in the peace movement, every political analyst, every student of political science, ever Congressional Representative and Senator, everyone in the Obama administration, every non-US leader… oh, the heck with it! This book should be read by everyone who can read. Seriously.

The author’s website for the book, including opportunities for readers to help get it distributed to elected representatives, peace groups, and anti-military-recruitment youth organizations, is:

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Pakistan Nixes US Widening Drone Strike Zone

January 21, 2011

For years, the US has flown aerial drones over the mountainous regions of western Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Operated by the CIA, the drones are launched by ground crews in Afghanistn but flown remotely — via satellite link — by pilots based near Las Vegas, Nevada. Drones were originally designed mainly for aerial reconnaissance, but in Afghanistan and Pakistan they are used chiefly to locate Taliban, Al Qaida, and other insurgent forces, and fire deadly missiles at them. In fact, the Obama administration has greatly increased the use of the drones and the number of drone-launched missile strikes in Pakistan.

Predator drone firing missile

Predator drone firing missile

Of course, launching missiles from high-flying drones against targets far below seen through video cameras relaying images via satellite to bases half a world away is highly error-prone. The images are poor and delayed by a second or so, and operator commands to the drones are similarly delayed. Thus, drone pilots base fire/no-fire decisions on information that is already outdated by the time they see it and even more outdated by the time their commands get back to the drones.

Therefore, the missiles often miss their targets, hitting other people and vehicles instead. Estimates of the ratio of civilian deaths to total deaths from drone-launched missile strikes range from about one third of those killed to over 90%.

Contributing to those statistics, unwillingly, was farmer Daraz Khan, who was blown to bits by a missile fired from a drone while he and two colleagues searched for scrap metal in the mountains. The drone operator targeted Khan because he was tall and had a beard.

Furthermore, the missiles contain high-power explosives that pulverize entire buildings, so even when they hit their intended targets, people who have the misfortune to be nearby are often killed or injured, and neighboring structures are damaged. “Collateral damage” they call it.

Even when they don’t launch missiles, drones buzzing high over towns and farms are a huge source of stress and psychological trauma for civilians, especially parents and children. Imagine what it would do to your psyche if you constantly had to be keeping an eye on a drone circling high over your neighborhood — you know it can fire missiles at you, but you can’t predict when or why.

For obvious reasons, the drones are highly unpopular in Pakistan. They are a significant source of anti-US sentiment.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the Pakistani government recently denied a US request to expand the areas in that country over which the US can fly aerial drones and launch missile-strikes. The US wants to use the drones in areas other than the tribal mountain regions bordering Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government has said “no”. [Read Full Story]

They should say “Hell no!” and they should revoke permission to use them anywhere over their country.

Related Stories:

Karzai: Military Strategy in Afghanistan is Counterproductive

November 14, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the US-led coalition’s “hunt, capture, and kill” military strategy in Afghanistan — where the targets include Taliban as well as Al Qaeda militants — not only is not working, it is actually counterproductive in that it produces more insurgents than it eliminates.

This is significant because until now the US has argued that the Afghan government needs and wants NATO’s military presence in order to not be immediately overthrown by the Taliban. Now it appears that even the Afghan government wants us out.

Afghan leader says U.S. must reduce troop presence

By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, November 14, 2010

President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that the United States must reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations in Afghanistan and end the … night raids that aggravate Afghans and could exacerbate the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview, Karzai said he wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war. His comments placed him at odds with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus, who has made capture-and-kill missions a central component of his counterinsurgency strategy, and who claims the 30,000 new troops have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency.

In an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors in his office in Kabul, Karzai said he was speaking out not to criticize the United States but in the belief that candor could improve what he called a “grudging” relationship between the countries. … And he said Afghans have lost patience with the presence of American soldiers in their homes and armored vehicles on their roads.

Karzai has long been publicly critical of civilian casualties at the hands of U.S. and NATO troops and has repeatedly called for curtailing night raids into Afghan homes. Under Petraeus and his predecessor, such raids by U.S. Special Operations troops have increased sharply, to about 200 a month, or six times the number being carried out 18 months ago, said a senior NATO military official, … These operations capture or kill their target 50 to 60 percent of the time, …

To American commanders, the nighttime strike missions are a crucial weapon to capture Taliban commanders, disrupt bomb-making networks and weaken the 30,000-man insurgency in Afghanistan. In the past three months, U.S. Special Operations troops have killed or captured 368 insurgent leaders. …

But Karzai was emphatic that U.S. troops must cease such operations, which he said violate the sanctity of Afghan homes and incite more people to join the insurgency.

[Read entire story]

[Associated Press version of same story]

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