Nick Turse: American ‘success’ and the rise of West African piracy

As American hysteria over events in the Middle East rises, news about whatever grim video the Islamic State (IS) has just released jostles for attention with U.S. bombing runs in Iraq, prospective ones in Syria, and endless confusing statements out of Washington about what the next seat-of-the-pants version of its strategy might be.  These days, such things are endlessly on the American radar screen.  On the other hand, the U.S. military has been moving into Africa big time for years and just about nobody seems to notice.  The Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) now annually engages in one kind of activity or another with 49 of that continent’s 54 countries.  Yet Americans know next to nothing about Washington’s “pivot” to a continent significant parts of which seem to be in a slow-motion process of destabilization that may be linked, at least in part, to U.S. military moves there.

Nearly everywhere in Africa, the U.S. military is in action.  However, except in rare cases, like the recent announcement of an “Ebola surge” in Liberia, you would never know it.  At the moment, for instance, according to the Associated Press, AFRICOM is “preparing to launch a ‘major’ border security program to help Nigeria and its neighbors combat the increasing number and scope of attacks by Islamic extremists.”  We’re talking, of course, about the other “caliphate,” the one in northern Nigeria announced by Boko Haram, an outfit that makes the militants of IS look moderate.  But that’s news you’re unlikely to read in this country, not at least until, at some future moment, things start to go really, really wrong. Similarly, U.S. drone bases are slowly spreading in Africa, but you’d have to have an eagle eye to notice it.  Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the “Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth.”  Tucked away, far from prying eyes, in the middle of the Sahara desert, the U.S. will now be cleared to fly drones out of “the mud-walled desert city of Agadez.”

It was typically incisive coverage of the shadowy doings of AFRICOM by Craig Whitlock, the one mainstream reporter who seems to keep an eye on American military moves there.  Other media outlets from Reuters to Air Force Times followed up with versions of the same story, but it all passed like a blip in the night.  If it caught your attention, I’d be surprised.

Still, if you’re a TomDispatch reader, Washington’s pivot to Africa and the expansion of U.S. air operations there won’t surprise you greatly.  After all, back in April, this site’s managing editor, Nick Turse, who’s had his eye on U.S. military operations in Africa for years, reported that, during a meeting for defense contractors, AFRICOM’s Rick Cook spoke about a future U.S. facility in Niger.  That country, Cook said, “is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis.”  Cook offered no information on the possible location of the facility, but Turse reported that contracting documents he had examined indicated that “the U.S. Air Force is seeking to purchase large quantities of jet fuel to be delivered to Niger’s Mano Dayak International Airport.”  And just where is Mano Dayak International Airport located? You guessed it: Agadez, Niger.

By the way, it’s not just boots on the continent and drones over it these days.  For the U.S. military, it’s also ships off the coast. But let Nick Turse tell you the rest. Tom Engelhardt 

Pirates of the Gulf of Guinea
In the face of rising maritime insecurity, AFRICOM claims success and Obama embraces a strongman
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

“The Gulf of Guinea is the most insecure waterway, globally,” says Loic Moudouma.  And he should know.  Trained at the U.S. Naval War College, the lead maritime security expert of the Economic Community of Central African States, and a Gabonese Navy commander, his focus has been piracy and maritime crime in the region for the better part of a decade.  

Moudouma is hardly alone in his assessment. 

From 2012 to 2013, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence found a 25% jump in incidents, including vessels being fired upon, boarded, and hijacked, in the Gulf of Guinea, a vast maritime zone that curves along the west coast of Africa from Gabon to Liberia.  Kidnappings are up, too.  Earlier this year, Stephen Starr, writing for the CTC Sentinel, the official publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, asserted that, in 2014, the number of attacks would rise again. 

Today, what most Americans know about piracy likely centers on an attraction at Walt Disney World and the Johnny Depp movies it inspired.  If the Gulf of Guinea rings any bells at all, it’s probably because of the Ebola outbreak in, and upcoming U.S. military “surge” into, Liberia, the nation on the northern edge of that body of water.  But for those in the know, the Gulf itself is an intractable hotspot on a vast continent filled with them and yet another area where U.S. military efforts have fallen short.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

facebooktwittermail

U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

What will U.S. forces do with ISIS prisoners?

Jeff Stein reports: Washington’s ramped up war on the Islamic State looks like an airliner lifting off the runway with mechanics still working on the wings.

Among the many unresolved issues in the campaign to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, as it’s generally known, is what to do with prisoners in Iraq or Syria, should American special operators or U.S.-backed forces be lucky enough to capture any. How deeply will we be involved in interrogating them? Will we stand by as our “moderate” Syrian rebels and our Iraqis “partners,” as the administration now calls them, go to work on prisoners? Where will detainees be held, and for how long? How will we enforce our newly embraced ban on torture, when the Iraqi security forces we’re advising employ mutilation and murder as a matter of course?

To say all this is a work-in-progress is an understatement.

A Pentagon spokesman told Newsweek the Defense Department doesn’t have a policy yet on how to handle Islamic State detainees. A CIA spokesman, declining to explain its interrogation role further, pointed me to early Obama administration legislation outlawing the spy agency’s detention of prisoners. The FBI, which has been involved in recent terrorist renditions from Libya and Somalia, didn’t respond to a request for guidance. The White House said that the Iraqis, those exemplars of humane prisoner treatment, are in charge of the war on the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

War on ISIS will be long and difficult, top defense officials tell Senate

McClatchy reports: In their first public briefing since President Barack Obama laid out his new strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the nation’s two top defense officials on Tuesday provided few details of their plans and no guarantees of success.

Instead, in response to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out a litany of likely obstacles to the president’s plan that were daunting in their breadth.

There is no guarantee that Iraqi military forces can be reconstituted to become an effective force against the Islamic State, they said. There’s no certainty a U.S.-trained Syrian force will choose to fight the Islamic State ahead of the government of President Bashar Assad, they said.

Indeed, the chances of success are far less in Syria than in Iraq, Dempsey said, as Hagel nodded agreement. “Five thousand alone is not going to be able to turn the tide,” Hagel said, referring to the number of Syrian rebels likely to be trained under a proposed U.S. program.

Even the pledge that no American soldiers would engage in ground combat operations seemed tenuous. Dempsey said he could foresee circumstances where American advisers would join Iraqi troops, for example, if the Iraqis tried to recapture Mosul, in what he called “close combat advising.”

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told the committee. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Pentagon: U.S. ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against ISIS

The Guardian reports: The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.

A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, preferring the term “close combat advising”.

It was the most thorough public acknowledgement yet from Pentagon leaders that the roughly 1,600 US troops Obama has deployed to Iraq since June may in fact be used in a ground combat role, something Obama has directly ruled out, most recently in a televised speech last week.

Dempsey, who has for years warned about the “unintended consequences” of Americanizing the Syrian civil war that gave rise to Isis, said he envisioned “close combat advising” for operations on the order of taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, away from Isis. [Continue reading...]

Middle East Monitor adds: The head of Iraq’s Shia Sadrist movement Muqtada Al-Sadr yesterday threatened the United States’ troops if they decide to return to Iraq.

Al-Sadr said, in a statement posted on his official website: “The Black House [The White House] has decided to resume its attacks on Iraqi territory and perhaps the American decision comes after it had regretted its mockery of a withdrawal from Iraq to avoid the Iraqi fierce military and political and popular resistance.”

Al-Sadr continued: “I say, if you [United States] decide to return to Iraq, we will fight you with all our power and you will regret your decision.”

Al-Sadr called on the Iraqi government not to seek the occupier’s help even under the pretext of defeating the Islamic State, claiming the radical organization is nothing but an “American colonial invention”.

facebooktwittermail

Nick Turse: American monuments to failure in Africa?

In light of recent history, perhaps it’s time to update that classic U.S. Army recruitment campaign slogan from “be all that you can be” to “build all that you can build.”  Consider it an irony that, in an era when Congress struggles to raise enough money to give America’s potholed, overcrowded highways a helping hand, building new roads in Afghanistan proved no problem at all (even when they led nowhere).  In fact, the U.S. military spent billions of taxpayer dollars in both Afghanistan and Iraq on nation-building infrastructural efforts of all sorts, and the Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG) repeatedly reported on the failures, disasters, and boondoggles that resulted.  In 2012, for instance, the IG found that of the $10.6 billion in Afghan funding it examined, $7 billion was “potentially wasted.”  And this has never ended.  In 2014, the IG typically reported that “some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics, and even fire stations built by the Army [in Afghanistan] are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.”

As of this year, more U.S. and NATO money had been “squandered” on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan than was spent on the full post-World War-II Marshall Plan to put a devastated Europe back on its feet.  And how has all that spending turned out?  One thing is certain: those torrents of money helped create a devastating economy of corruption.  As for reconstruction, the Inspector General found mainly “poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures, and inadequate oversight.”  

As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, author of the award-winning book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, reminds us today, thanks to the counterinsurgency strategy that the U.S. military has pursued in these years, most of this spending came under the heading of “winning hearts and minds” in the countries the U.S. invaded.  Any American batallion-level commander in an Afghan village could essentially reach into his pocket and pull out the funds to build a schoolhouse.  And yet, in the United States, much of our educational infrastructure, built after World War II for the Baby Boomer generation, is in need of reconstruction funds that are no longer in any pockets.  The same holds true for American airports (none having been built in almost 20 years), bridges (almost half of them needing “major structural investments” in the next 15 years and 11% now considered “structurally deficient”), highways, dams, levees, sewage and water systems, and the like.  In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+ and estimated that, to keep the U.S. a fully functioning first-world country, some $3.6 trillion dollars would have to be invested in infrastructural work by 2020. 

Fat chance.  Though no one ever comments on it, the constant spending of money to win hearts and minds in distant lands should be considered passing strange when hearts and minds are at stake in Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Oregon.  Stranger yet, the group designated to do that hearts-and-minds construction is also dedicated to destroying infrastructure in times of conflict.  It shouldn’t be surprising that nation-building, school by school, road by road, might not be its strong point.

Worse yet, as Nick Turse reports, continuing his remarkable ongoing investigation into the U.S. military’s “pivot” to Africa, even after the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems that there are hearts and minds still to win out there and all of Africa to build in. Tom Engelhardt

How not to win hearts and minds in Africa
Hushed Pentagon investigation slaps U.S. Africa Command’s humanitarian activities
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Movie night in Mouloud, Djibouti.  Skype lessons in Ethiopia.  Veterinary training assistance in Garissa, Kenya.  And in this country on the east coast of Africa, work on both primary and secondary schools and a cistern to provide clean water.  These are all-American good works, but who is doing them — and why?  

As I sit in a room filled with scores of high-ranking military officers resplendent in their dress uniforms — Kenyans in their khakis, Burundians and Ugandans clad in olive, Tanzanians in deep forest green sporting like-colored berets and red epaulets with crossed rifles on their shoulders — chances are that the U.S. military is carrying out some mission somewhere on this vast continent.  It might be a kidnapping raid or a training exercise.  It could be an airstrike or the construction of a drone base.  Or, as I wait for the next speaker to approach the lectern at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it could be a humanitarian operation run not by civilians in the aid business, but by military troops with ulterior motives — part of a near-continent-wide campaign utilizing the core tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. Special Operations Forces may already be fighting in Iraq

From Zumar in northern Iraq, the Daily Beast reports: At around 10 a.m. [yesterday], the Peshmerga halted our movement. Fearing that the situation was changing rapidly, we asked the Kurdish security element accompanying us what was happening. “We don’t know,” they said, “we just got information that you cannot move forward.” Repeated calls were met with the same firm statement that we could not move forward.

Stuck out in the open with no clear sense of what was occurring in the battle that required us to be stopped, we made contact with high-level Peshmerga ministries, both in Erbil and on the ground in Zumar. “Yes, we want to let you in, but we can’t,” said one high-level Kurdish government official. “We have visitors, you’ll see them,” he stated. As we tried to decipher his cryptic response our answer came: multiple armored Toyotas swept down the mountain, passing within feet of us. The Toyotas were packed with what appeared to be bearded Western Special Operations Forces. I watched the trucks pass and saw for myself the crews inside them. They didn’t wear any identifying insignia but they were visibly Western and appeared to match all the visual characteristics of American special operations soldiers.

Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw. “Yes,” one commander replied to our questions. “German and American forces are on the ground here. “They are helping to support us in the attack.”

“There are no U.S. troops on the ground in or around Zumar.” The Pentagon told The Daily Beast on Monday night. Captain Rick Haupt, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which has control over military operations in the Middle East, denied that U.S. troops were involved in the fighting but confirmed U.S. aircraft “performed one strike destroying several vehicles in the vicinity of Zumar” on Monday.

Kurdish officials told The Daily Beast a different story. Ranking members of the Kurdish military and intelligence service said that one team of U.S. Special Operations was on the ground in Zumar along with several German counterparts, working in conjunction with Peshmerga units. According to the Kurdish sources, U.S. and German special operations teams had taken up positions in Zumar that allowed them to coordinate with U.S. aircraft.

If American troops were active in the fighting in Zumar, as they appeared to be on Monday, and as Kurdish officials stated, it would mark a significant break with U.S. official policy. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Decaying Guantánamo defies closing plans

The New York Times reports: The prison facilities amid this harsh landscape of sun, scrub and dust have expanded, even as the detainee population has shrunk. In 2003, about 680 prisoners filled Camp Delta, a sprawling complex with three units of open-air cellblocks and another area of communal bunks.

Today, the remaining 149 detainees live in newer buildings, and Camp Delta sits empty. To the north, the original complex, Camp X-Ray — with kennel-like cages that were used for about four months in 2002 while Delta was built — is a ghost prison, overrun by vegetation and banana rats, tropical rodents the size of opossums.

Hidden in the hills about a half-mile back from the seacoast sits Camp 7, an intelligence operations center where a group of high-level terrorism suspects, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, are imprisoned.

Last year, the Southern Command, or Southcom, requested about $200 million to rebuild that structure; to upgrade housing for the 2,000 troops participating in the prison task force; and to replace or repair other buildings, arguing that the compound was not designed for long-term use and patching up various buildings was no longer adequate.

The Pentagon rejected the request, but Congress may approve about $23 million for two wish-list items: replacing the kitchen building and moving the medical clinic closer to Camps 5 and 6, concrete-walled structures where most of the detainees now live surrounded by layers of high fences covered with concertina wire.

Moreover, military officials here say they are updating a 10-year budgeting “road map” to eventually build many of the other items. They would gradually tap general military construction funds, not seek line-item approval from lawmakers in spending bills.

“We are forced to at least forecast so that we’re prepared if this detention facility is open two years from now, 12 years from now, 22 years from now, so that we’re prepared to be able to continue to do the mission,” said Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, who took over the prison task force in July. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. airstrikes help Iraqi forces break ISIS siege of Amerli

The Washington Post reports: Iraqi troops aided by U.S. airstrikes entered the besieged town of Amerli Sunday, residents and Iraqi officials said, after a months-long blockade by Islamic State militants that had surrounded the Shiite Turkmen village and raised fears of an impending massacre.

“Amerli has been liberated,” said Mahdi Taqi, a local politician and Amerli resident who was inside the town during the siege. “There is so much joy and people are cheering in the streets.”

Jihadists had surrounded the town in June, preventing food and other aid from reaching the population there. Residents had armed themselves to fend off the militants, who have made sweeping gains across the country in recent months, but critical supplies began to run low.

The U.S. strikes around Amerli in support of Iraqi troops on Saturday, and which the Pentagon said would be “limited in their scope and duration,” appeared to swiftly tilt the balance in favor of Iraqi government forces.

Militia leaders aiding the offensive and Iraqi government officials had said that a coordinated assault to clear the Islamic State-controlled towns around Amerli – and eventually the siege’s front line – began after nightfall in Iraq on Saturday.

Karim al-Nouri, a high-ranking official in the Badr Brigades, a large Shiite militia, said that around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, thousands of the militia’s fighters moved toward the nearby Sunni town of Suleiman Beg, thought to be under the Islamic State’s control. Nouri said the operation was carried out in collaboration with other armed groups, the Iraqi air force and army.

The U.S. strikes and coordinated humanitarian aid drop marked the second time this month that the United States has intervened militarily in Iraq to prevent a jihadist attack on thousands of trapped civilians. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza neighborhood shocked the Pentagon

Mark Perry writes: The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions — if it holds — will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel’s Gaza operation that won’t be publicized is the U.S. military’s. Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior U.S. military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.

One of the more curious moments in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel’s military action. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.”
Rain of high-explosive shells

Kerry’s comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said that the source of Kerry’s apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.

According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

ISIS now appears to have grabbed SA-24 state-of-the-art antiaircraft missiles

The photo above allegedly shows an ISIS fighter inside the newly captured Tabqa military airbase outside Raqa in Syria. He appears to be holding a Russian SA-24 manpad (man-portable air defense system) containing a missile. This is a state-of-the-art antiaircraft missile system — not a leftover from the Soviet era.

C.J. Chivers writes:

It can be fired effectively at aircraft head-on, from the side, or from the rear, and has features to overcome the countermeasures on modern military aircraft designed to confuse and thwart heat-seeking missiles. It also has a longer range, a proximity fuse and a larger warhead. It is, in short, one of the graver threats in the manpads class.

In their rush to evacuate the air base, the Syrian air force also appears to have left lots of fighter aircraft behind.

No doubt it’s widely assumed that ISIS does not possess trained pilots in its ranks, but at this point we should probably stop making assumptions.

facebooktwittermail

ISIS allegedly tipped off to U.S. operation to free Foley from Antakya

Today’s Zaman: A secret planned United States military operation in Syria this summer to save US journalist James Foley before he was beheaded by the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was ultimately unsuccessful because ISIL was tipped off about the plan when its members saw Americans asking about the hostages in the province of Antakya, in Turkey.

A Syrian source close to ISIL, which is also knows as the “Islamic State,” told Reuters that the ISIL militants learned about the operation after Americans were desperately looking for their hostages or any information about the. The source, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said: “They [Americans] met people in Antakya and asked questions. Afterwards, the operation became expected. The state [ISIL] anticipated the operation and took precautions. They expected it and that is why they probably changed the location of the hostages.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. considers military action against ISIS in Syria

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting both ISIS as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But American officials said they would also take a look at airstrikes by fighter jets and bombers as well as potentially sending Special Operations forces into Syria, like those who tried to rescue Mr. Foley and other hostages on a mission in July. One possibility officials have discussed for Iraq that could be translated to Syria would be a series of unmanned drone strikes targeting ISIS leaders, much like those conducted in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Whether Mr. Obama would actually authorize a new strategy remained unclear and aides said he has not yet been presented with recommendations. The president has long expressed skepticism that more assertive action by the United States, including arming Syrian rebels as urged in 2011 by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, would change the course of the civil war there. But he sent out a top adviser on Friday to publicly hint at the possibility a day after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said ISIS could not be defeated without going after it in Syria.

“If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you, wherever you are,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, where Mr. Obama is on a much-interrupted vacation. “We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with that threat and we’re not going to be restricted by borders.” [Continue reading...]

This report quotes Stephen Miles, advocacy director of Win Without War, saying: “We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”

Is that right?

Let’s refresh everyone’s memory: the last time a militant group seized control of large portions of two states and created a de facto state of its own… the last time would be?

Oh! It’s never happened before.

Whatever movie Miles is referring to was a work of fiction because despite the fact that we have witnessed 13 years of uninterrupted war, the current situation in the Middle East bears little resemblance to the chapters of air war, invasions, occupations, and insurgencies that came before.

No doubt ISIS has its own strategic thinkers and they study history carefully, gleaning whatever useful lessons they can find from Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Mali. But when the Pentagon says that we are witnessing something new, this isn’t just fear-mongering hype — this really is something new and the government officials who are now trying to come up with a response seem to be struggling more to catch up with the present than to be guilty of their much more common practice: overstating the magnitude of whatever happens to have been dubbed the global threat du jour.

facebooktwittermail

Pentagon: ISIS is an ‘apocalyptic’ threat that can be ‘contained’ — but not indefinitely

The Guardian reports: Senior Pentagon officials described the Islamic State (Isis) militant group as an “apocalyptic” organisation that posed an “imminent threat” on Thursday, yet the highest ranking officer in the US military said that in the short term, it was sufficient for the United States to “contain” the group that has reshaped the map of Iraq and Syria.

Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that while Isis would eventually have to be defeated, the US should concentrate on building allies in the region to oppose the group that murdered an American journalist, James Foley.

“It is possible to contain them,” Dempsey said, in a Pentagon press conference alongside the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. “They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

Dempsey’s comments came a day after secretary of state John Kerry said Isis “must be destroyed” following the killing of Foley, the first American known to have died at the hands of Isis. President Obama had referred to the organisation as a “cancer”. Their remarks raised expectations that the administration was preparing for a wider war aimed at wiping out Isis, rather than stopping its advances in Iraq.

Internal administration deliberations over a response to Isis continue, and US officials predicted that there would be little departure from the strategy of limited airstrikes launched since 8 August. One said the military plan “may ultimately evolve”.

Hours after a senior White House foreign-policy official, Ben Rhodes, said the US would not be limited in its response by “geographic boundaries”, Dempsey assessed that cross-border action was necessary to defeat the group. At the same time, he tamped down speculation that US warplanes would strike Isis in Syria as well as Iraq.

Isis “will have to be addressed on both sides of what is at this point essentially a non-existent border”, Dempsey said, which would require “a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is air strikes. I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America.”[Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. staged secret operation into Syria in failed bid to rescue Americans

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces staged an unsuccessful operation this summer to rescue photojournalist James Foley and other Americans being held in Syria by Islamic State militants, according to senior Obama administration officials.

The attempt, in which at least one U.S. serviceman was injured, came after at least six Western hostages freed by the militants had been debriefed by U.S. intelligence.

“The president authorized earlier this summer an operation to attempt the rescue of American citizens held by ISIL,” one of the acronyms used to refer to the Islamic State, said a senior official who provided information on the mission on condition of anonymity.

“We had a combination of…intelligence that was sufficient to enable us to act on it,” the official said, and the military moved “very aggressively, very quickly to try and recover our citizens.”

“Unfortunately,” the official said, “it was not ultimately successful because the hostages were not present…at the site of the operation.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. halts transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel

The Wall Street Journal reports: White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.

Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it.

The munitions surprise and previously unreported U.S. response added to a string of slights and arguments that have bubbled behind the scenes during the Gaza conflict, according to events related by senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials involved.

In addition, current and former American officials say, U.S.-Israel ties have been hurt by leaks that they believe were meant to undercut the administration’s standing by mischaracterizing its position and delay a cease-fire. The battles have driven U.S.-Israeli relations to the lowest point since President Barack Obama took office.

Now, as Egyptian officials shuttle between representatives of Israel and Hamas seeking a long-term deal to end the fighting, U.S. officials are bystanders instead of in their historic role as mediators. The White House finds itself largely on the outside looking in.

U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal.

As a 72-hour pause in the fighting expired at midnight Wednesday, a senior Hamas official said negotiators agreed to another cease-fire, this one of five days. The cease-fire was holding on Thursday.

The frayed relations raise questions about whether Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu can effectively work together. Relations between them have long been strained over other issues, including Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran and U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians.

Today, many administration officials say the Gaza conflict—the third between Israel and Hamas in under six years—has persuaded them that Mr. Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy.

The watershed moment came in the early morning in Gaza July 30. An Israeli shell struck a United Nations school in Jabaliya that sheltered about 3,000 people. Later that day, it was reported in the U.S. that the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds had been released to the Israeli military.

“We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat said.

White House and State Department officials had already become increasingly disturbed by what they saw as heavy-handed battlefield tactics that they believed risked a humanitarian catastrophe capable of harming regional stability and Israel’s interests.

They were especially concerned that Israel was using artillery, instead of more precision-guided munitions, in densely populated areas. The realization that munitions transfers had been made without their knowledge came as a shock.

“There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have,” another U.S. defense official said.

Then the officials learned that, in addition to asking for tank shells and other munitions, Israel had submitted a request through military-to-military channels for a large number of Hellfire missiles, according to Israeli and American officials.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, according to Israeli and congressional officials. It was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon, and top officials at the White House instructed the DSCA, the U.S. military’s European Command and other agencies to consult with policy makers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests.

A senior Obama administration official said the weapons transfers shouldn’t have been a routine “check-the-box approval” process, given the context. The official said the decision to scrutinize future transfers at the highest levels amounted to “the United States saying ‘The buck stops here. Wait a second…It’s not OK anymore.’ “

facebooktwittermail

U.S. airstrikes helped, but Kurds from Syria turned tide against #ISIS

McClatchy reports: Victory, they say, has many fathers, and as Kurdish peshmerga militia pushed Islamic State forces from a string of towns near Irbil Sunday and Monday, it was easy to cite two: accurate airstrikes by U.S. aircraft that eliminated artillery positions and convoys and timely deliveries of light arms and ammunition from the CIA.

But a third may have been just as important, though less publicized: the addition of hundreds of fighters from a Turkish group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.

Visits to front-line positions Monday made it clear that an influx of fighters with links to the Kurdish Workers Party, known by its Kurdish initials PKK, had played a major role in driving the Islamic State from key areas within a 30-minute drive of Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. It was Irbil’s possible fall last week that ended weeks of Obama administration inaction on Iraq.

“The PKK took Mahmour,” a peshmerga fighter at a checkpoint outside Mahmour acknowledged, shaking his head in admiration. Then, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, he offered an explanation: “They’re very experienced from fighting Daash in Syria and are true guerrilla fighters from their time in Turkey. They have more experience and training than we do.”

There was plenty of gratitude for the U.S. intervention, which since Friday has included at least seven announced airstrikes on Islamic State targets near Irbil.

“The strikes came at the last second but, thank God, they came,” said one Kurdish defense official at Kalak, where the peshmerga has set up a defense line that, compared with last week’s ragged look, had developed a formidable array of machine guns mounted on pickup trucks with ample supplies of light ammunition. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail