Archive for the ‘War on Terrorism’ Category

The Inevitable Blowback from Combat Drones

February 26, 2013

The Associated Press reported last week that civilian casualties in Afghanistan from US drone strikes increased in 2012 over 2011.

I wonder if US Military Officials, and the President who is their Commander in Chief, ever consider the possible blowback from US drone strikes in Afganistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

First there is the ground-level blowback that occurs when young people in targetted areas are very quickly turned into anti-US combattants by having their relatives and friends blown to pieces by remote control.

But there also will be airborne blowback: drones deployed and launched by hostile countries or organizations. Does it not occur to US military leaders that drone technology is not the exclusive domain of the US — that it can and will be developed and deployed by other countries? For example, recently Iran brought down a US “stealth” drone — not stealthy enough apparently — and now is busy reverse-engineering it.

In the not-too-distant future, I foresee the following:

  • Drones deployed by Germany, France, England, Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, South and North Korea, as well as some non-state organizations.
  • US military bases, convoys, and ships targetted by drone attacks.
  • Security teams for US officials traveling abroad having to keep an eye on the skies overhead in addition to their current duties.
  • US tourists abroad being hit by drone attacks.
  • Attacks inside the US by drones from other countries, including even supposed allies like Israel, when they locate someone in the US who they consider an enemy.

My wife and I travel a lot outside the US, including many developing countries, so I really don’t look forward to the future I’ve outlined above. But I fully expect it to come about. What is to prevent it? US military might? Not likely. It hasn’t stopped car bombings, rocket attacks, or kidnapping; why would drone attacks be different?

Recent Noteworthy Articles about Drones:

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US Considers Retribution for Libya Consulate Attack

October 19, 2012

The San Francisco Chronicle recently printed an Associated Press story about the ongoing search for the perpetrators of the Sept 11 attack on the US Consulate in Libya. The article indicated that the Obama administration is considering retaliatory strikes if those who killed the US Ambassador and three other Americans can be found. [See article] [See follow-up article]

In response, I wrote a letter to the Chronicle questioning the wisdom of retribution, and suggesting that capturing the perpetrators would be more morally defensible, more effective, and less incendiary. On Thursday Oct 18, the Chronicle printed my letter. Below is the letter.

Don’t make them martyrs

Why is a “reprisal strike” the primary option under consideration (“U.S. forces on standby for reprisal strike on al Qaeda,” Oct. 16)? Since when is the United States an “eye for an eye” nation?

Why not capture the attackers and murderers of U.S. Embassy staff and put them on trial for their cowardly crimes? That would satisfy our goal of “taking them out” of action, and it would avoid making them into martyrs and alienating potential allies in the region.


To that, I’ll now add: The attackers are criminals, not warriors, and should be treated accordingly.

Comments welcomed.

Combat Drones: Counterproductive and Immoral

October 7, 2012

PeacePundit has previously described the problems of the US military’s strategy of using armed drone aircraft, piloted remotely by operators half a world away and viewing the ground through a video feed, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Previous posts about drones cited press reports and other sources to substantiate the many civilian casualties caused by drone attacks.

More recent reports and articles support the argument that using combat drones to launch air-strikes is error-prone and counterproductive, not to mention immoral. The articles come from diverse sources: an active-duty US Army Major writing in the conservative Armed Forces Journal, the politically centrist Los Angeles Times and Slate, and the left-leaning Rolling Stone and AlterNet.

The Problems of Combat Drones

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US Military Budget Dwarfs All Other Nations’ Military Budgets

September 22, 2012

Chart from shows that U.S. military budget dwarfs next 9 nation's budgets combined

As this chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies shows, the U.S. military budget (often erroneously called the “defense” budget) is larger than the next nine national military budgets put together.

If we could cut the military budget significantly, we’d could fund many things that now are chronically underfunded, such as education, transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, etc.

Write your representatives in Congress and demand that this insane military budget be cut… drastically.

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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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