Kurdish fighters say U.S. special forces have been fighting ISIS for months

The Guardian reports: On a damp afternoon in Iraqi Kurdistan, a 29-year-old peshmerga fighter named Peshawa pulls out his Samsung Galaxy mobile phone, flicks hurriedly through his library until he finds the video he wants, and presses play.

The clip, filmed just after dawn on 11 September, shows four tall and western-looking men in the heat of a battle against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. “These are the Americans,” says Peshawa in a secretive tone.

One is crouched behind a machine gun firing round after round from the top of a fortified mound; another lies on his front a few feet away, legs outstretched and taking aim at the enemy with a long rifle. A third wields a long-lens camera taking photo after photo, and the last stands back, apparently overseeing the others during the combat south-west of the city of Kirkuk.

The footage, Peshawa says, is evidence that US special forces have been waging a covert war on the frontline in Iraq for months. Such a claim could alter the feverish debate over whether Barack Obama should move farther and faster against Isis in the wake of the Paris attacks.

A string of terrorist atrocities in France, Lebanon and elsewhere has intensified pressure on Obama to take a more aggressive stand against Isis in Iraq and Syria. Having won election promising to end the Iraq war, however, the president has repeatedly insisted that he will not send back ground troops. In June last year he announced the redeployment of up to 300 military advisers there but pledged: “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

The US military denies any special operations forces involvement in combat on 11 September or in three other other incidents listed by the peshmerga. Yet in interviews with the Guardian, a dozen Kurdish fighters and commanders said that US special forces troops have been participating in operations against Isis for months.

In another video, dated 11 June, an American soldier wearing the fatigues and insignia of a Kurdish counter-terrorism unit can be seen walking alongside two dozen peshmerga in the aftermath of a seven-hour firefight with Isis militants in the village of Wastana and Saddam settlement, according to the peshmerga who filmed the video.

“Initially, the Americans rained fire on Wastana,” said Major Loqman Mohammed, pointing to the hamlet which remains under Isis control.

None of the peshmerga were willing to publish their photos or video footage for fear of dismissal, but they allowed the Guardian to watch the video and see the images on their mobile phones.

Karwan Hama Tata, a peshmerga volunteer, showed a Guardian reporter a video which appeared to show two Americans in the midst of the battle accompanied by three peshmerga fighters. He said: “They fight and they even fight ahead of the peshmerga. They won’t allow anyone to take photos of them, but they take photos of everyone.” [Continue reading…]


MSF calls for independent and impartial investigation of U.S. attack on Kunduz hospital

BBC News reports: A US aircraft attacked a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in the Afghan city of Kunduz because of “human error”, a US military inquiry said.

The investigation found the crew of the AC-130 gunship mistook the clinic for a nearby government building that had been seized by Taliban fighters.

At least 30 civilians were killed in the 3 October attack, amid a campaign to retake Kunduz from Taliban forces.

MSF said the report demonstrates “gross negligence” by the US military.

The group said the incident constituted “violations of the rules of war” and reiterated calls for an “independent and impartial investigation into the attack”. [Continue reading…]


Drone operators see children as ‘fun-sized terrorists’

The Guardian reports: When Michael Haas, a former senior airman with the US air force, looks back on the missions he flew over Afghanistan and other conflict zones in a six-year career operating military drones, one of the things he remembers most vividly is the colorful language airmen would use to describe their targets. A team of three would be sitting, he recalls, in a ground control station in Creech air force base outside Las Vegas, staring at computer screens on to which images would be beamed back from high-powered sensors on Predator drones thousands of miles away.

The aim of the missions was to track, and when the conditions were deemed right, kill suspected insurgents. That’s not how they put it, though. They would talk about “cutting the grass before it grows out of control”, or “pulling the weeds before they overrun the lawn”.

And then there were the children. The airmen would be flying the Predators over a village in the tribal areas of Pakistan, say, when a series of smaller black shadows would appear across their screens – telling them that kids were at the scene.

They called them “fun-sized terrorists”.

Haas is one of four former air force drone operators and technicians who as a group have come forward to the Guardian to register their opposition to the ongoing reliance on the technology as the US military’s modern weaponry of choice. Between them, the four men clocked up more than 20 years of direct experience at the coalface of lethal drone programs and were credited with having assisted in the targeted killings of hundreds of people in conflict zones – many of them almost certainly civilians. [Continue reading…]


Inside Sinjar: ‘It is liberated, but how can we come back?’

Mike Giglio reports: The young soldier paused to take a somber selfie on the battered street. Kurdish forces had just cleared ISIS from the town of Sinjar, but unlike some of his comrades who sent bursts of gunfire into the air, 20-year-old Azhar Khalaf Shamo wasn’t celebrating. He was from this town, and he knew this street — he stood in front of what had been a family-run store. But now the entire block, like seemingly every block in Sinjar, was reduced to rubble and metal scraps. “It’s totally destroyed,” he said. “No place looks like before. Yes, it is liberated. But how can we come back?”

Sinjar became famous as the site of ISIS’s worst atrocities — after overrunning the region in August 2014, the group massacred thousands of members of the Yazidi religious sect that calls it home. President Obama cited the need to protect them when announcing the start of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

Yet as ethnic Kurdish forces, backed by the strikes, rolled triumphantly back into the city on Friday, Shamo seemed to be wondering what was left to save. He had lost seven siblings to ISIS’s rampage; more than 2,500 Yazidis are still believed to remain in control of ISIS as slaves. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The end of Isis rule came surprisingly easily. Fighter jets that had steadily picked off targets in the city over the past year intensified their attacks from Wednesday night. By Friday there was little left in the city to hit. Nearly every home had been damaged, roads had been pockmarked with craters, and power lines criss-crossed rubble like fallen spider webs.

Another Iraqi policeman, Corporal Ismael, also a Yazidi, picked his way through the litter of the war as he outlined how he and his family, who were in a refugee camp near Duhok, would soon try their luck on the migrant route across the Mediterranean. “I have saved all the money and soon I can get them out,” he said. “It is better to die in the ocean near Turkey than to come back to this.” [Continue reading…]


U.S. steps up its attacks on ISIS-controlled oil fields in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and its allies have sharply increased their airstrikes against the sprawling oil fields that the Islamic State controls in eastern Syria in an effort to disrupt one of the terrorist group’s main sources of revenue, American officials said this week.

For months, the United States has been frustrated by the Islamic State’s ability to keep producing and exporting oil — what Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter recently called “a critical pillar of the financial infrastructure” of the group — which generates about $40 million a month, or nearly $500 million a year, according to Treasury Department estimates.

While the American-led air campaign has conducted periodic airstrikes against oil refineries and other production facilities in eastern Syria that the group controls, the organization’s engineers have been able to quickly repair damage, and keep the oil flowing, American officials said. The Obama administration has also balked at attacking the Islamic State’s fleet of tanker trucks — its main distribution network — fearing civilian casualties.

But now the administration has decided to increase the attacks and focus on inflicting damage that takes longer to fix or requires specially ordered parts, American officials said.

The first evidence of the new strategy came on Oct. 21, when B-1 bombers and other allied warplanes hit 26 targets in the Omar oil field, one of the two largest oil-production sites in all of Syria. American military analysts estimate the Omar field generates $1.7 million to $5.1 million per month for the Islamic State. French warplanes struck another oil field nearby earlier this week.

The goal of the operation over the next several weeks is to cripple eight major oil fields, about two-thirds of the refineries and other oil-production sites controlled by the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL. [Continue reading…]


U.S. made huge effort to kill ‘Jihadi John’ but couldn’t make half that effort to save his victims, says James Foley’s mother

The Daily Beast reports: ISIS’s most famous executioner, Mohammed Emwazi — best known as “Jihadi John” — was targeted in a U.S. airstrike in Syria early Friday morning, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

Emwazi was suspected of carrying out dozens of executions for the so-called Islamic State, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley and other American hostages.

The results of the strike are still being assessed, so Emwazi’s death cannot yet be confirmed, the senior administration official told The Daily Beast.

“This isn’t about avenging deaths but removing a despicable individual who committed brutal murders under the false pretense of a bankrupt and hijacked ideology,” the official said.

A U.S. defense official told The Daily Beast that the U.S. military followed Emwazi for the better part of a day leading up to the strike, which happened as he left a building. While officials cannot officially say he is dead — and won’t be able to for some time — they are all but certain.

“We are pretty damn sure he is dead,” the defense official said. [Continue reading…]

ABC News reports: Diane Foley, mother of James Foley, told ABC News after hearing of Emwazi’s possible demise that it was “small solace” to the family.

“This huge effort to go after this deranged man filled with hate when they can’t make half that effort to save the hostages while those young Americans were still alive,” said Foley, who has been a vocal critic of American hostage policy. “It’s unfortunate that the government doesn’t get it. They think it gives us solace, but it doesn’t.”

The family of Steven Sotloff, who was also shown beheaded in one of Emwazi’s videos, was similarly somber about the news.

“This development doesn’t change anything for us; it’s too little too late,” the family said in a statement provided to ABC News. [Continue reading…]


How policing in the U.S. is relentlessly being militarized

GQ reports: Last month, the local press in New York confirmed what civil rights advocates had been saying for years: the NYPD has been driving around in unmarked vans chock full of X-ray equipment and scanning for… something.

It was a major story, mostly because not much is known about “Z Backscatter” vans other than that they cost somewhere between $729,000 and $825,000. Yet, there’s no way to know for sure what they’re capable of because the NYPD refuses to talk about them, even though the ACLU won a lawsuit that required the department to reveal records about the vans (including their potential health impacts on people who might be exposed to X-rays without knowing it). “The devices we have, the vehicles if you will, are all used lawfully and if the ACLU and others don’t think that’s the case, we’ll see them in court — where they’ll lose!” Commissioner Bill Bratton told the New York Post.

The X-ray vans bring up all kinds of concerns about privacy, health, and general ickiness — no one wants to walk around New York wondering whether some bored cop in a van is checking out your skivvies — but by today’s police tech standards, the vans are actually relatively low-tech and benign. Departments large and small are using a host of new gadgets — from laser light weapons that can induce vomiting to surveillance systems that can predict crimes before they happen.

And what’s scariest of all is the majority of these technologies are being funneled down from the U.S. Military, down into neighborhoods that are most definitely not war zones. “After 15 years of war, there’s a demand for all these companies to find new markets for all these technologies,” said Joel Pruce a professor of human rights at the University of Dayton who studies police technology. “So it trickles down from the military to police.” The revelations about the backscatter vans were just one more sign that the future of policing is here, and it’s terrifying. [Continue reading…]


Tom Engelhardt: Roads to nowhere, ghost soldiers, and a $43 million gas station in Afghanistan

It’s a $cam!
The American way of war in the twenty-first century
By Tom Engelhardt

Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S.  The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003.  Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon.  And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.

It’s never ended.  In 2011, the final report of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated that somewhere between $31 billion and $60 billion taxpayer dollars had been lost to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan.  In Iraq, for instance, there was that $75 million police academy, initially hailed “as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country’s security.”  It was, however, so poorly constructed that it proved a health hazard.  In 2006, “feces and urine rained from the ceilings in [its] student barracks” and that was only the beginning of its problems.

When the bad press started, Parsons Corporation, the private contractor that built it, agreed to fix it for nothing more than the princely sum already paid.  A year later, a New York Times reporter visited and found that “the ceilings are still stained with excrement, parts of the structures are crumbling, and sections of the buildings are unusable because the toilets are filthy and nonfunctioning.”  This seems to have been par for the course.  Typically enough, the Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility, a $40 million prison Parsons also contracted to build, was never even finished.

And these were hardly isolated cases or problems specific to Iraq.  Consider, for instance, those police stations in Afghanistan believed to be crucial to “standing up” a new security force in that country.  Despite the money poured into them and endless cost overruns, many were either never completed or never built, leaving new Afghan police recruits camping out.  And the police were hardly alone.  Take the $3.4 million unfinished teacher-training center in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, that an Iraqi company was contracted to build (using, of course, American dollars) and from which it walked away, money in hand.

And why stick to buildings, when there were those Iraqi roads to nowhere paid for by American dollars? At least one of them did at least prove useful to insurgent groups moving their guerrillas around (like the $37 million bridge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built between Afghanistan and Tajikistan that helped facilitate the region’s booming drug trade in opium and heroin).  In Afghanistan, Highway 1 between the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, unofficially dubbed the “highway to nowhere,” was so poorly constructed that it began crumbling in its first Afghan winter.

And don’t think that this was an aberration.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hired an American nonprofit, International Relief and Development (IRD), to oversee an ambitious road-building program meant to gain the support of rural villagers.  Almost $300 million later, it could point to “less than 100 miles of gravel road completed.”  Each mile of road had, by then, cost U.S. taxpayers $2.8 million, instead of the expected $290,000, while a quarter of the road-building funds reportedly went directly to IRD for administrative and staff costs.  Needless to say, as the road program failed, USAID hired IRD to oversee other non-transportation projects.

[Read more…]


Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

By Jon Moran, University of Leicester

Building an army in a short space of time is a very difficult task. To be sure, there are some impressive examples. Cromwell’s republican New Model Army was put together while the English Civil War was already underway; Washington’s army of US Independence quickly wore down and beat the British in the 18th century; Napoleon’s revolutionary army was born from the French Revolution and swept all Europe before it; the Red Army of the Soviet Union was forged from the chaos of its defeat in World War I.

But the list of failures is just as spectacular. The South Vietnamese Army boasted billions of dollars, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art training, but couldn’t control even South Vietnam itself. It ultimately surprised observers only by holding on as long as it did after the Americans left.

The Soviet Union similarly built up the communist army in Afghanistan but always distrusted it as a fighting force; it ultimately suffered mass desertions.

And the latest ignominious addition to the list seems to be the Iraqi Army. Despite being nourished, trained and supplied by the US, it seems to be perpetually in trouble, whether failing to fend off terrorist groups or all but collapsing in the face of a stunning advance by Islamic State (IS).

[Read more…]


Senior U.S. intelligence official says escalation of Russian bombing in Syria ‘should be fun’

When journalists grant government sources anonymity, the proforma explanation for doing so is the following line (or one of its common variants): officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to comment publicly.

That claim is almost always false. Authorization is besides the point. The primary reason for an official wanting anonymity is so that his or her remarks will have no return address. No one other than the journalist offering their source camouflage will be in a position to come back with a follow-up question. When there is no risk of any comeback, assertions can be made and opinions expressed in the knowledge that they will escape critical scrutiny. Likewise, propositions can be floated and later easily abandoned.

Another reason sources want anonymity is for the same reason that internet trolls conceal their identities: they don’t want to be held responsible for the language they use. They imagine that invisibility creates space for unvarnished honesty — even though the evidence more often shows that this kind of freedom from social inhibitions has a habit of releasing the inner jerk.

The Daily Beast reports: [S]ix U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.

“Now maybe they will start attacking [ISIS],” one senior defense official smugly wondered last week. “And stop helping them,” referring to ISIS gains in Aleppo that came, in part, because the group took advantage of Russian strikes on other rebels and militant outfits.

Since the plane crashed, Russia has struck two ISIS-controlled areas in Syria: Raqqa and Palmyra.

“I suppose now he’ll really let ISIS have it. This should be fun,” one senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]

Fun, perhaps, if you’re an intelligence analyst with a 9-5 job in Langley, Virginia, or the Pentagon. But although Raqqa and Palmyra are under the control of ISIS, they still have civilian populations. And bombing isn’t fun for anyone on the receiving end.

It is already clear that in its bombing operations in Syria, Russia is not greatly concerned about the precision of its targeting. It’s definition of inefficiency is for a jet to return to its base without releasing its bombs.

Those U.S. officials who now relish the prospect of Russia “finally take the gloves off” against ISIS are conjuring images of what are euphemistically described as “robust kinetic operations” — the type that ISIS apparently deserves. Implicit in this characterization is the assumption that restraint is an expression of timidity, the antidote to which is unrestrained force.

In reality, the effect of indiscriminate bombing will be to tell local populations that there are no outside forces working for their liberation.

If the enemies of ISIS pose a greater threat than ISIS itself, the logic for joining ISIS only becomes more compelling.


U.S.-led air war on ISIS in Syria has little allied support

The New York Times reports: As the United States prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the Arab allies who with great fanfare sent warplanes on the initial missions there a year ago have largely vanished from the campaign.

The Obama administration heralded the Arab air forces flying side by side with American fighter jets in the campaign’s early days as an important show of solidarity against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh. Top commanders like Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who oversees operations in Syria and Iraq, still laud the Arab countries’ contributions to the fight. But as the United States enters a critical phase of the war in Syria, ordering Special Operations troops to support rebel forces and sending two dozen attack planes to Turkey, the air campaign has evolved into a largely American effort.

Administration officials had sought to avoid the appearance of another American-dominated war, even as most leaders in the Persian Gulf seem more preoccupied with supporting rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now, some of those officials note with resignation, the Arab partners have quietly left the United States to run the bulk of the air war in Syria — not the first time Washington has found allies wanting.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest. [Continue reading…]


Médecins Sans Frontières releases internal review of Kunduz hospital attack

Médecins Sans Frontières reports: The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today released an internal document reviewing the October 3 airstrikes by US forces on its hospital in northern Afghanistan. The chronological review of the events leading up to, during, and immediately following the airstrikes reveal no reason why the hospital should have come under attack. There were no armed combatants or fighting within or from the hospital grounds.

The document, part of an ongoing review of events undertaken by MSF, is based upon sixty debriefings of MSF national and international employees who worked at the 140-bed trauma center, internal and public information, before and after photographs of the hospital, email correspondence, and telephone call records. At least thirty people were killed in the airstrikes, including 13 staff members, 10 patients and 7 unrecognizable bodies yet to be identified.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director. “But we don’t know why. We neither have the view from the cockpit, nor the knowledge of what happened within the US and Afghan military chains of command.”

The initial findings of the MSF review firmly establish the facts from inside the hospital in the days leading up to and during the attack. The review includes the details of the provision of the GPS coordinates and the log of phone calls from MSF to military authorities in attempt to stop the airstrikes. MSF had reached an agreement with all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality of the hospital, based on international humanitarian law.

“We held up our end of the agreement — the MSF trauma center in Kunduz was fully functioning as a hospital with surgeries ongoing at the time of the US airstrikes,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF. “MSF’s no-weapons policy was respected and hospital staff were in full control of the facility prior to and at the time of the airstrikes.”

Among the 105 patients at the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict in Kunduz, as well as women and children.

“Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban,” said Stokes. “Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

The MSF internal review describes patients burning in their beds, medical staff that were decapitated and had lost limbs, and others who were shot from the air while they fled the burning building.

“The attack destroyed our ability to treat patients at a time of their greatest need,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF. “A functioning hospital caring for patients cannot simply lose its protected status and be attacked.”


Ann Jones: The never-ending war

In an effort to attack Taliban fighters, an air strike by a U.S. plane killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In the wake of the attack, an American general responded in unequivocal fashion. “I take this possible loss of life or injury to innocent Afghans very seriously,” he said. “I have ordered a complete investigation into the reasons and results of this attack, which I will share with the Afghan people.”

In an effort to attack Taliban fighters, an air strike by a U.S. plane killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In the wake of the attack, an American general responded in unequivocal fashion. “I want to offer my deepest condolences to those innocent civilians who were harmed and killed on Saturday,” he said. “I’ve ordered a thorough investigation into this tragic incident… we will share the results of the investigation once it is complete.”

The first of those air strikes took place in 2009 and targeted fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban. The second took place last month and targeted a hospital that Afghan officials say was used as a safe haven by the Taliban. The striking similarities between the two attacks are rooted not in uncanny coincidence but in the law of averages. Bomb a country long enough and such echoes are bound to occur.

Of course, U.S. planes have been carrying out attacks and terrorizing innocent Afghans in and around Kunduz (and elsewhere in the country) since 2001. This is, after all, America’s war in Afghanistan, which has produced eerily repetitive tragedies; a war that’s also seen almost endless announcements of achievements, improvements, and progress; a war that seems to regularly circle back on itself.

“The Taliban is gone,” Army General Tommy Franks, the chief of U.S. Central Command, announced in 2002. “Afghanistan is rising from the oppression of the Taliban into an independent, democratic nation.” Six years later, the Taliban was, oddly enough, still around. But things were still going well. “We’re clearly not done… But I do know that we’re making good progress, and each and every day we’re making a difference in the Afghan people’s lives,” said Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser. In 2010, Army General David Petraeus offered his unique assessment of the war. “We’re making progress, and progress is winning, if you will,” he insisted. This summer, another five years having passed, Army General John Campbell weighed in: “We have done a great job, both from both a conventional perspective and our special operating forces, and from the Afghan security forces… I see [the Afghans] continue to progress and continue to be very resilient.”

There have been so many claims of “progress” these last 14 years (and so many air strike apologies as well) and yet each announcement of further success seems to signal the very opposite. Days after Campbell spoke, for instance, Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, the U.S. deputy chief of staff for communications in Afghanistan, told reporters, “Kunduz is — is not now, and has not been in danger of being overrun by the Taliban… that’s sort of how we see it.” Just over a month later, Kunduz fell to the Taliban.

This is the war that TomDispatch regular Ann Jones has monitored, analyzed, and covered since its opening stages, first as a humanitarian worker and then as a reporter. While the military was spinning tales of progress, Jones had a far more realistic assessment. “The story of success in Afghanistan was always more fairy tale than fact — one scam used to sell another,” she wrote at this site in 2006, drawing attention to “a threefold failure: no peace, no democracy, and no reconstruction.” After embedding with U.S. troops in 2010 she said all the things America’s generals never did. “I’d been ‘on the front’ of this war for less than two weeks, and I already needed a vacation,” she wrote. “Being outside the wire had filled me with sorrow as I watched earnest, heavily armed and armored boys try to win over white-bearded Afghans — men of extraordinary dignity — who have seen all this before and know the outcome.”

All this is to say Jones has been remarkably, consistently, undeniably ahead of the curve on the conflict, a reality reflected in her revelatory look at the deeply personal costs of America’s second Afghan War in her now-classic book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story. She’s done what billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, the finest officers produced by America’s premier military academies, and untold numbers of analysts with access to highly classified information, have failed to do: accurately assess the situation in a country the U.S. has been intimately enmeshed in, on and off now, for the better part of four decades. With that in mind, let Jones give you the lowdown on the current state of “progress” there. When you’re through, chances are — even if you lack a top-secret clearance and have never set foot in the Greater Middle East — you’ll have a better grasp of the reality of the war than either the Pentagon or the president has ever had. Nick Turse

Afghanistan “after” the American war
Once more down the rabbit hole
By Ann Jones

Ten months ago, on December 28, 2014, a ceremony in Kabul officially marked the conclusion of America’s very long war in Afghanistan. President Obama called that day “a milestone for our country.” After more than 13 years, he said, “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

That was then. This is now. In between, on September 28, 2015, came another milestone: the Taliban takeover of Kunduz, the capital of the province of the same name in northern Afghanistan, and with a population of about 270,000, the country’s fifth-largest city.

[Read more…]


U.S.-backed offensive against ISIS in northern Syria suffers devastating setback

McClatchy reports: The newest U.S.-backed offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria suffered a devastating setback when the extremist group detonated an explosive-laden vehicle near a Kurdish-led column of armored vehicles, an Arab militia commander said Monday.

The Islamic State said the suicide bomber, with five tons of explosives, attacked a convoy of 70 vehicles Sunday, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, killed dozens of Arabs and members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Such vehicles are a favorite tactic of the Islamic State in northeastern Syria, according to another commander in the region, Abu Issa, of the Liwa Thurwar Al-Raqqa, or Raqqa Revolutionaries. He said between mid-July and mid-October, the Islamic State had sent 45 such vehicle bombs against his force, which is based north of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-styled capital. Among those killed were five of the 20 men who had been trained by the U.S. in the use of TOW anti-tank missiles.

“They empty out a 10-ton armored personnel carrier. They remove the seats and everything. There’s one driver, and he comes really fast,” Abu Issa told McClatchy in an interview last month. He said a TOW missile can stop the vehicle, but he said the U.S. had not supplied his forces with those missiles.

Abu Issa’s is not the only group hoping for U.S. arms in order to take on the Islamic State. Even the Sanadid militia, which took part in the fighting near al Hawl, has yet to receive U.S. ammunition, Bandar told McClatchy on Monday.

“We got nothing yet from the Americans,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Flash was detected as Russian jet broke apart, U.S. military officials say

The New York Times reports: American military officials said Tuesday that satellite surveillance had detected a large flash of light just as a Russian chartered jet broke apart and fell from the sky over the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people aboard.

The United States military is not part of the multinational investigation into the crash, but officials said the satellite images were the first indication that the plane had exploded, because of either a bomb or the ignition of a fuel tank. But it will probably take several more days for the authorities to better understand what occurred.

The disaster has set off waves of hand-wringing in Egypt, Russia and elsewhere about whether mechanical failure, human error or terrorism was the cause. But here in the resort area where the plane took off minutes before the crash, thousands of sun-seekers from Russia and other European countries arriving daily say they are undeterred. Most have already written off the possibility that the crash was terrorism. [Continue reading…]