U.S. operates drones from secret bases in Somalia

Foreign Policy reports: Some say the Americans are everywhere. Some say they are nowhere. Still others say they are everywhere and nowhere at once. But the shadowy U.S. presence in this strategic port city in war-torn southern Somalia has clear consequences for anyone with a share of power here. That includes Somali regional officials who are quick to praise American counterterrorism efforts, African Union forces who rely on U.S. intelligence as they battle back al-Shabab, and even the al Qaeda-linked militants themselves, who are increasingly hemmed in by a lethal combination of AU-led counterinsurgency, airstrikes, and raids by U.S. special operators.

Based out of a fortress of fading green Hesco barriers at the ramshackle airport in Kismayo, a team of special operators from the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite U.S. military organization famous for killing Osama bin Laden, flies drones and carries out other counterterrorism activities, multiple Somali government and African Union sources have confirmed. Their presence in this volatile city, which until 2012 was controlled by al-Shabab, has not previously been reported. Nor has the United States acknowledged operating drones from Somali soil. (Unmanned armed and surveillance flights are said to originate from Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti or from bases in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.)

“They have a base over there,” Abdighani Abdi Jama, state minister for the presidency in the interim regional administration in Kismayo, said of U.S. forces, gesturing to a heavily fortified compound not far from the airport’s small terminal. He confirmed that as many as 40 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Kismayo, roughly 300 miles south of the capital of Mogadishu, where he said they operate drones from the airport’s single runway and carry out covert “intelligence” and “counterterrorism” operations. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

PTSD calls for collective healing

Sebastian Junger writes: In two American studies of middle-class families during the 1980s, 85 percent of young children slept alone — a figure that rose to 95 percent among families considered “well-educated.” Northern European societies, including America, are the only ones in history to make very young children sleep alone in such numbers. The isolation is thought to trigger fears that make many children bond intensely with stuffed animals for reassurance. Only in Northern European societies do children go through the well-known developmental stage of bonding with stuffed animals; elsewhere, children get their sense of safety from the adults sleeping near them.

More broadly, in most human societies, almost nobody sleeps alone. Sleeping in family groups of one sort or another has been the norm throughout human history and is still commonplace in most of the world. Again, Northern European societies are among the few where people sleep alone or with a partner in a private room. When I was with American soldiers at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, we slept in narrow plywood huts where I could reach out and touch three other men from where I slept. They snored, they talked, they got up in the middle of the night to use the piss tubes, but we felt safe because we were in a group. The Taliban attacked the position regularly, and the most determined attacks often came at dawn. Another unit in a nearby valley was almost overrun and took 50 percent casualties in just such an attack. And yet I slept better surrounded by those noisy, snoring men than I ever did camping alone in the woods of New England.

Many soldiers will tell you that one of the hardest things about coming home is learning to sleep without the security of a group of heavily armed men around them. In that sense, being in a war zone with your platoon feels safer than being in an American suburb by yourself. I know a vet who felt so threatened at home that he would get up in the middle of the night to build fighting positions out of the living-room furniture. This is a radically different experience from what warriors in other societies go through, such as the Yanomami, of the Orinoco and Amazon Basins, who go to war with their entire age cohort and return to face, together, whatever the psychological consequences may be. As one anthropologist pointed out to me, trauma is usually a group experience, so trauma recovery should be a group experience as well. But in our society it’s not.

“Our whole approach to mental health has been hijacked by pharmaceutical logic,” I was told by Gary Barker, an anthropologist whose group, Promundo, is dedicated to understanding and preventing violence. “PTSD is a crisis of connection and disruption, not an illness that you carry within you.”

This individualizing of mental health is not just an American problem, or a veteran problem; it affects everybody. A British anthropologist named Bill West told me that the extreme poverty of the 1930s and the collective trauma of the Blitz served to unify an entire generation of English people. “I link the experience of the Blitz to voting in the Labour Party in 1945, and the establishing of the National Health Service and a strong welfare state,” he said. “Those policies were supported well into the 60s by all political parties. That kind of cultural cohesiveness, along with Christianity, was very helpful after the war. It’s an open question whether people’s problems are located in the individual. If enough people in society are sick, you have to wonder whether it isn’t actually society that’s sick.”

Ideally, we would compare hunter-gatherer society to post-industrial society to see which one copes better with PTSD. When the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho fighters returned to their camps after annihilating Custer and his regiment at Little Bighorn, for example, were they traumatized and alienated by the experience — or did they fit right back into society? There is no way to know for sure, but less direct comparisons can still illuminate how cohesiveness affects trauma. In experiments with lab rats, for example, a subject that is traumatized — but not injured — after an attack by a larger rat usually recovers within 48 hours unless it is kept in isolation, according to data published in 2005 in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. The ones that are kept apart from other rats are the only ones that develop long-term traumatic symptoms. And a study of risk factors for PTSD in humans closely mirrored those results. In a 2000 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, “lack of social support” was found to be around two times more reliable at predicting who got PTSD and who didn’t than the severity of the trauma itself. You could be mildly traumatized, in other words—on a par with, say, an ordinary rear-base deployment to Afghanistan — and experience long-term PTSD simply because of a lack of social support back home.

Anthropologist and psychiatrist Brandon Kohrt found a similar phenomenon in the villages of southern Nepal, where a civil war has been rumbling for years. Kohrt explained to me that there are two kinds of villages there: exclusively Hindu ones, which are extremely stratified, and mixed Buddhist/Hindu ones, which are far more open and cohesive. He said that child soldiers, both male and female, who go back to Hindu villages can remain traumatized for years, while those from mixed-religion villages tended to recover very quickly. “PTSD is a disorder of recovery, and if treatment only focuses on identifying symptoms, it pathologizes and alienates vets,” according to Kohrt. “But if the focus is on family and community, it puts them in a situation of collective healing.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. currently training just 100 Syrians to fight ISIS

The Associated Press reports: Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

On June 26, 2014, the White House said it was asking Congress for $500 million for a three-year train-and-equip program. It only got started in May, however.

That program, together with a more advanced but also troubled parallel effort to rebuild the Iraqi army, is central to the U.S.-led effort to create ground forces capable of fighting IS without involving U.S. ground combat troops. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

White supremacists in the U.S. military

Matt Kennard writes: After the horrific massacre at Charleston’s historic black church, Americans are slowly realizing the threat posed by white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements. But few know that their presence has grown within one of the most powerful institutions in America: the US military.

According to the FBI, there are hundreds of white supremacists in the US army or in the veteran community. Some analysts even estimate the number is in the thousands. In America, 203 white supremacist “extremist cases” investigated by the Bureau from 2001 to 2008 involved veterans. The problem hasn’t gone away. Neo-Nazi veteran Wade Michael Page attacked six worshippers at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.

I spent a number of years investigating how neo-Nazis and white supremacists had infiltrated the US military, with very little push back from the Pentagon, which was desperate to keep the supply of troops flowing for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of my research, I spoke to veterans who had become white supremacists before service and joined to gain access to weapons and training, as well as veterans who had been radicalized after returning from the war.

Charles Wilson, spokesman for the National Socialist Movement, one of the top neo-Nazi groups in America, was frank about his attempts to populate the US armed forces with extremists: “We do encourage [our members] to sign up for the military. We can use the training to secure the resistance to our government. Every one of them takes a pact of secrecy … Our military doesn’t agree with our political beliefs, they are not supposed to be in the military, but they’re there, in ever greater numbers.” He claimed to have 190 members serving. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Constructing a cyber superpower

DefenseNews reports: The site of an Army golf course named for US President Dwight Eisenhower, one long drive from the National Security Agency, is an active construction site, the future of US military cyber.

Where there were once bunkers, greens and tees is a large gray building due to become an NSA-run 600,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art server farm, a skeletal structure that will one day house US Cyber Command’s joint operations center, with plots reserved for individual Marine Corps and Navy cyber facilities.

The plans reflect the growth in ambition, manpower and resources for the five-year-old US Cyber Command. One measure of this rapid expansion is the command’s budget — $120 million at its inception in 2010 rising to $509 million for 2015.

Another measure is the $1.8 billion in construction at Fort Meade, much of it related to Cyber Command. Though Cyber Command’s service components and tactical teams are spread across the country, the headquarters for Cyber Command, the NSA and Defense Information Systems Agency make Fort Meade a growing hub for military cyber.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new cyber strategy that acknowledges in the strongest terms that the Pentagon may wage offensive cyber warfare. The strategy emphasizes deterrence and sets up a reliance on the commercial technology sector, hinging on a push to strengthen ties between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

How one U.S. soldier blew the whistle on a cold-blooded war crime in Iraq

William Langewiesche writes: Jess Cunningham was a staff sergeant in a mechanized unit of the U.S. Army—Alpha Company, First Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division—during the intensified fighting that accompanied the surge of American troops in Baghdad in 2007. This was his second tour in Iraq, and his first with Alpha Company. He had been a high-school football star in Bakersfield, California, before heading off to war. He had excelled in the army, rising rapidly through the ranks. Now 26, he was strong, alert, and accustomed to battle. He had a bright future.

But he also had a problem. Although Alpha Company appeared from the outside to be like any other infantry unit, neatly integrated into the larger American force structure, on the inside it revolved to an unusual degree around a single personality—that of an imposing first sergeant, a hard-charging 18-year veteran named John Hatley, who dominated the company. Hatley was a burly Texan who spoke with a drawl. He carried his 240 pounds on a six-foot frame, and at the age of 40 still achieved a perfect 300 on the army’s physical-fitness test. He had been the company’s first sergeant for three years and had delayed a promotion to sergeant major in order to return with his men to the fight. He reveled in his power. He made it clear that the rules of engagement that mattered were the ones he alone defined. Cunningham had never encountered such a sergeant before. He himself was a team player and not immune to Hatley’s leadership qualities, but over the first few months in Baghdad he began to struggle privately with doubts. The company called itself Wolf Pack and sometimes seemed to act like one. Cunningham did not question the war itself, but he wondered about the treatment of Iraqi detainees and the actions of certain gunners who seemed to be playing loose with their justifications for killing.

Alpha Company’s area of operations lay in southwest Baghdad, one of the most active battlefields in Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites were fighting over the neighborhoods, and insurgents from both groups were warring on American patrols. The U.S. mission was to promote stability. This boiled down to convoys of recent American high-school graduates lumbering around in Bradley troop carriers and armored Humvees from which they could barely see, struggling to distinguish combatants from civilians in an indecipherable city, and waiting to get attacked. Cunningham served as a squad leader in the company’s Second Platoon. They were based with Hatley’s headquarters platoon at a fortified combat outpost called Angry Dragon, which also housed the company’s Tactical Operations Center, an office and briefing room known as Wolf Den on the radios. Wolf Pack, Wolf Den, Angry Dragon—the bravura was probably useful, given the youth of the soldiers. The engagements were frequent and anything but child’s play. They resulted in uncounted numbers of Iraqi deaths. By contrast, the accounting of American losses was carefully done. During Alpha Company’s 14 months on the ground, six soldiers were killed and three were gravely wounded—a toll that amounted to a casualty rate of about 15 percent in Cunningham’s platoon alone. The first soldier died four months into the fight, on February 27, 2007. He was a tall, 22-year-old staff sergeant named Karl Soto-Pinedo, who was shot in the head by a sniper after he rose too high above the hatch of his Bradley. Three weeks later, on March 17, 2007, a 30-year-old specialist named Marieo Guerrero was lost to a jerry-rigged land mine, an I.E.D. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The VA’s broken promise to thousands of vets intentionally exposed to mustard gas

NPR reports: In secret chemical weapons experiments conducted during World War II, the U.S. military exposed thousands of American troops to mustard gas.

When those experiments were formally declassified in the 1990s, the Department of Veterans Affairs made two promises: to locate about 4,000 men who were used in the most extreme tests, and to compensate those who had permanent injuries.
Charlie Cavell at his home in Virginia. He is one of 60,000 World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas as part of secret experiments by the U.S. military.

But the VA didn’t uphold those promises, an NPR investigation has found.

NPR interviewed more than 40 living test subjects and family members, and they describe an unending cycle of appeals and denials as they struggled to get government benefits for mustard gas exposure. Some gave up out of frustration.

In more than 20 years, the VA attempted to reach just 610 of the men, with a single letter sent in the mail. Brad Flohr, a VA senior adviser for benefits, says the agency couldn’t find the rest, because military records of the experiments were incomplete.

“There was no identifying information,” he says. “No Social Security numbers, no addresses, no … way of identifying them. Although, we tried.”

Yet in just two months, an NPR research librarian located more than 1,200 of them, using the VA’s own list of test subjects and public records. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Arming Iraq’s Sunni militias to fight ISIS might only add fuel to the fire

Benjamin Bahney, Patrick B. Johnston, and Patrick Ryan write: In the weeks since the Islamic State captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a loud and diverse chorus of voices, including the New York Times editorial board, has called for the Iraqi government and the United States to arm Sunni militias to fight the extremist group’s advance. The administration increased the number of U.S. trainers last week, adding an additional 450 as early as this summer to the 3,100 American troops already in Iraq. Regardless, current political and military dynamics on the ground may merit giving arms to Sunni fighters if the Islamic State can’t be pushed back soon.

But the decision to hand weapons over to the Sunni militias also poses risks. Before directly arming more ethnic- or sectarian-aligned militias, both U.S. policymakers and the public should have a deeper understanding of our potential allies’ past and their possible future interests. And what the unintended consequences of arming these Sunni militias might be.

Newly declassified documents from the Islamic State’s predecessor, captured during a U.S.-Iraqi raid in 2010 and published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, suggest that some of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni politicians collaborated with the Islamic State’s predecessor in 2009, when the group faced its darkest hour. Some of these senior figures may have worked with the Islamic State to benefit themselves, some to benefit the Sunnis, and some to weaken the hand of the Kurds in Iraq’s ethnically mixed areas in the country’s north. While the threat of the Islamic State has moved these dynamics to the back burner today, they will likely reemerge if and when the security environment improves. And now some of these same politicians are lobbying the United States to send money and weapons to the militias from their territories.

While most of the U.S. public hadn’t heard of the Islamic State before its breakout last summer, the group declared an “Islamic State of Iraq” back in 2006 and maintained a presence in the northern city of Mosul through the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2011. Conventional wisdom says that the Islamic State’s place in Iraq’s sectarian political strife rose out of the disarray that followed the U.S. withdrawal. It was at that moment that Iraq’s Sunnis were left to fend for themselves against the domineering, Shiite-oriented central government. The Islamic State’s resurgence in Iraq in 2013 and 2014 came at a time when the country’s Sunni minority was ripe to accept the group as a bulwark against political marginalization and crackdowns at the hands of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

In this telling, which has dominated U.S. media and policy circles, Maliki and his Shiite allies in the Iraqi government bear the brunt of the blame for inciting the renewed sectarian tensions that enabled the Islamic State to reemerge and unleash the brutal campaign that has arrested the world’s attention.

The new documents published by the CTC suggest the need to approach this conventional wisdom with caution. They have important implications for understanding Iraq’s sectarian schism and for informing the ongoing policy debate on how to stabilize the war-torn country.

A key document sent to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who preceded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s leader, suggests that the Islamic State established cooperative relationships with key Sunni politicians by 2009 that gave it access to extortion opportunities, kickbacks, and other revenue-generating activities in and around Mosul. Assuming the document is authentic — for the moment, there is no evidence to suggest it is not — these revelations should give pause to those recommending that the Iraqis train and equip local Sunni forces under the auspices of the provincial governments in Nineveh and Anbar. Reporting from Mosul indicates that similar ties between Sunni government officials and the Islamic State likely continued after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, and Maliki’s government began to intensify its repression of Sunni political leaders.

It is impossible to know the specific motivations of these officials — Sunni politicians may simply have been buying themselves protection in an environment where no other party was able or willing to provide it. But what is clear is this: For the Islamic State, these relationships enabled the group to access tens of millions of dollars to finance its operations in 2009 and after, some of which may have been diverted from Western reconstruction aid through political favors and phony contracts. The Islamic State likely used these funds to expand its extortion and intimidation networks in Mosul even prior to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal. This would go far in explaining how it had become so rich, even before it seized over $400 million from Mosul’s bank vaults last June. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. military struggles to hide corruption among top officials

The Washington Post reports: A key Army commander in the U.S. war against the Islamic State has been reprimanded by the Pentagon for steering a defense contract to a firm run by two of his former classmates at West Point, becoming the latest high-ranking officer to land in trouble for personal misconduct.

Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, who as the Army’s deputy commander for operations in the Middle East oversaw the training of Iraqi forces, was formally reprimanded in February after a three-year investigation by the Army’s inspector general, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

An Army review board is considering whether to strip him of his rank as a two-star general before he is allowed to retire this year.

Pittard, long considered a rising star in the Army, returned to the United States in April from his headquarters in Kuwait. The Army has not previously disclosed Pittard’s departure, and an official Army Web site still lists him as its deputy commander in the Middle East. An Army spokeswoman said that he completed his assignment and that his return was not related to his misconduct.

The U.S. military has been tarred by a series of ethical breaches committed by generals and admirals in recent years. Although Pentagon officials have vowed to crack down, the armed forces often seek to keep such cases out of the limelight to protect the reputations of their top brass.

Last year, for example, military officials said the commander of Special Operations forces in Central and South America had retired for “health and personal reasons.” In fact, it was uncovered in June after a review of documents that the commander, Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, had been disciplined for repeatedly becoming intoxicated in public and getting into altercations.

Similarly, the Navy has withheld details of misconduct committed by admirals in a corruption and bribery scandal involving an Asian defense contractor. In February, the Navy announced that it had censured three admirals, but it has refused to release public records documenting their actions or to identify other officers who have been subjected to administrative action. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

A rebuke to military tribunals

An editorial in the New York Times says: In 2008, Ali al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al Qaeda who has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, was convicted by the military tribunal there and sentenced to life in prison. But officials had no evidence that Mr. Bahlul was involved in any war crimes, so they charged him instead with domestic crimes, including conspiracy and material support of terrorism.

Last Friday, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Mr. Bahlul’s conspiracy conviction because, it said, the Constitution only permits military tribunals to handle prosecutions of war crimes, like intentionally targeting civilians. (The court previously threw out the other charges on narrower grounds.)

The 2-1 decision, by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, was a major rebuke to the government’s persistent and misguided reliance on the tribunals, which operate in a legal no man’s land, unconstrained by standard constitutional guarantees and rules of evidence that define the functioning of the nation’s civilian courts. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

As stress drives off drone operators, Air Force must cut flights

The New York Times reports: After a decade of waging long-distance war through their video screens, America’s drone operators are burning out, and the Air Force is being forced to cut back on the flights even as military and intelligence officials are demanding more of them over intensifying combat zones in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The Air Force plans to trim the flights by the armed surveillance drones to 60 a day by October from a recent peak of 65 as it deals with the first serious exodus of the crew members who helped usher in the era of war by remote control.

Air Force officials said that this year they would lose more drone pilots, who are worn down by the unique stresses of their work, than they can train. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Russia urges U.S. not to deploy weapons to border areas

The New York Times reports: Moscow issued muted warnings on Monday in response to the Pentagon’s possible stationing of battle tanks and other heavy weapons to speed the deployment of American troops if needed in NATO states bordering Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying it hoped that Washington would ultimately decide not to deploy the weaponry, while other senior officials and analysts suggested that the deployment would provoke the placement of a more potent Russian arsenal near the frontier or even herald the start of a competitive arms buildup.

“We hope that reason will prevail and the situation in Europe will be prevented from sliding into a new military confrontation which may have dangerous consequences,” the Foreign Ministry said in the statement. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

David Vine: The forgotten costs of war in the Middle East

I’m sure that you’ve heard about the three bare-bones “staging outposts” or, in the lingo of the trade, “cooperative security locations” that the U.S. Marines have established in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon. We’re talking about personnel from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, a unit at present garrisoned at Morón, Spain.  It would, however, like to have some bases — though that’s not a word in use at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees all such expansion — ready to receive them in a future in which anything might happen in an Africa exploding with new or expanding terror outfits.

Really? You haven’t noticed anything on the subject? Admittedly, the story wasn’t on the nightly news, nor did it make the front page of your local paper, or undoubtedly its inside pages either, but honestly it was right there in plain sight in Military Times! Of course, three largely unoccupied cooperative security locations in countries that aren’t exactly on the tip of the American tongue would be easy enough to miss under the best of circumstances, but what about the other eight “staging facilities” that AFRICOM now admits to having established across Africa. The command had previously denied that it had any “bases” on the continent other than the ever-expanding one it established in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the horn of Africa and into which it has already sunk three-quarters of a billion dollars with at least $1.2 billion in upgrades still to go. However, AFRICOM’S commander, General David Rodriguez, now proudly insists that the 11 bare-bones outposts will leave U.S. forces “within four hours of all the high-risk, high-threat [diplomatic] posts” on the continent.

Really, you didn’t hear a peep about those bases either, even though Stars and Stripes had the story front and center?

Hmmm, that might be truly strange if anyone in this country (outside the Pentagon) paid the slightest attention to the issue of U.S. global garrisons. Of course they don’t.  They never have, which should qualify as one of the great mysteries of American life and yet somehow doesn’t. U.S. bases abroad are just about never in the news. Few are the journalists who write stories about them, though they often spend time on them. Pundits rarely discuss them. Candidates don’t debate them. Editorialists don’t write about them. These days, who even remembers the 505 (!) bases, ranging from tiny combat outposts to small American towns (with most of the amenities of home), that the U.S. built, maintained, and then abandoned in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 to the tune of tens of billions of dollars — before, that is, American trainers and other personnel were sent back to a few of them in 2014-2015 for Iraq War 3.0? Almost no one, including a Congress generally eager to cut funds on just about anything, discusses the costs of preserving the hundreds and hundreds of bases of every size and shape that the Pentagon maintains globally in a fashion that is historically unprecedented.  Back in 2012, TomDispatch regular David Vine estimated that those costs ran to about $170 billion a year, conservatively speaking, and since 9/11 had added up to a total of perhaps a couple of trillion dollars.

If you don’t get the way this country has garrisoned the planet, if you never notice its empire of bases, there is no way to grasp its imperial nature, which perhaps is the point. And of course, if you haven’t taken any of this in, as is likely if you’re a red-blooded American, then you probably have no idea that this country has sunk billions of dollars into a single base on a single island, Diego Garcia, lost in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean but crucial to America’s Middle Eastern conflicts. This also means you don’t know that the Pentagon, in an act of cruelty of the first order, demanded that a whole people be exiled from their country, their lives, everything that mattered to them, everything that rootedness means in this world, so that the base could be built, staffed, and used in America’s endless wars in the Greater Middle East without any onlookers whatsoever.

It’s a grim tale you probably won’t have heard (even if you read Military Times or Stars and Stripes). David Vine is that rarest of Americans who has found himself riveted by what Chalmers Johnson once called America’s Baseworld. He’s written about it vividly in Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, a book Andrew Bacevich has termed “a devastating critique” and that’s due out this August. No one knows more about Diego Garcia and the fate of its people than Vine does. (He wrote a previous book on the subject, Island of Shame.) So take a moment to cast your eyes to the distant edge of America’s empire of bases and briefly consider some of the other costs of this country’s mania for garrisoning the world. Tom Engelhardt

The truth about Diego Garcia
And 50 years of fiction about an American military base
By David Vine

First, they tried to shoot the dogs. Next, they tried to poison them with strychnine. When both failed as efficient killing methods, British government agents and U.S. Navy personnel used raw meat to lure the pets into a sealed shed. Locking them inside, they gassed the howling animals with exhaust piped in from U.S. military vehicles. Then, setting coconut husks ablaze, they burned the dogs’ carcasses as their owners were left to watch and ponder their own fate.

The truth about the U.S. military base on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is often hard to believe. It would be easy enough to confuse the real story with fictional accounts of the island found in the Transformers movies, on the television series 24, and in Internet conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. is poised to put heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe

The New York Times reports: In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.

The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.

It would be the most prominent of a series of moves the United States and NATO have taken to bolster forces in the region and send a clear message of resolve to allies and to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States would defend the alliance’s members closest to the Russian frontier. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

In White House’s Iraq debate, military brass pushed for doing less

The Washington Post reports: As President Obama was weighing how to halt Islamic State advances in Iraq, some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances.

Top military officials, who have typically argued for more combat power to overcome battlefield setbacks over the past decade, emerged in recent White House debates as consistent voices of caution in Iraq. Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight.

“After the past 12 years in the Middle East, there is a real focus by senior military leaders on understanding what the endgame is,” said a military official, “and asking the question, ‘To what end are we doing this?’ ” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Obama’s new plan to save Iraq: Tear it apart

Nancy A. Youssef writes: President Obama’s decision to send an additional 450 troops to Iraq is the latest example of a strategy mired in double paradox. The U.S. wants to save a unified Iraq—by strengthening the ethnic and religious militias that could tear the country apart. And to pull it off, Washington is counting on the cooperation of groups divided by a chasm of suspicion.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Obama administration said the additional American troops are supposed to help more Sunnis come forward and eventually receive U.S. military training. The goal is for those Sunnis to align with the largely Shiite government in Baghdad to drive out the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Sunni-dominated terror army that controls the region where they live.

But there’s a major catch. Several, actually. For these Sunni fighters, fighting ISIS not only means going to war against their fellow Sunnis. It also means teaming up with the central government in Baghdad—a government dominated by their Shiite rivals with a long history of mistreating Sunnis. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The United States is considering establishing additional military bases in Iraq to combat the Islamic State, the top American general said on Thursday, a move that would require at least hundreds more American military advisers to help Iraqi forces retake cities lost to the militant Sunni extremist group.

President Obama’s decision this week to send 450 trainers to establish a new military base to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, could signal the beginning of similar efforts in other parts of the country, said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Speaking to reporters aboard his plane to Naples, Italy, General Dempsey described a possible future campaign that entailed the establishment of what he called “lily pads” — American military bases around the country from which trainers would work with Iraqi security forces and local tribesmen in the fight against the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. embracing a new approach on battling ISIS in Iraq

The New York Times reports: In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province, Iraq, and to send up to 450 more American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.

The White House on Wednesday is expected to announce a plan that follows months of behind-the-scenes debate about how prominently plans to retake Mosul, another Iraqi city that fell to the Islamic State last year, should figure in the early phase of the military campaign against the group.

The fall of Ramadi last month effectively settled the administration debate, at least for the time being. American officials said Ramadi was now expected to become the focus of a lengthy campaign to regain Mosul at a later stage, possibly not until 2016.

The additional American troops will arrive as early as this summer, a United States official said, and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. The official called the coming announcement “an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

A raid on ISIS yields a trove of intelligence

The New York Times reports: American intelligence agencies have extracted valuable information about the Islamic State’s leadership structure, financial operations and security measures by analyzing materials seized during a Delta Force commando raid last month that killed a leader of the terrorist group in eastern Syria, according to United States officials.

The information harvested from the laptops, cellphones and other materials recovered from the raid on May 16 has already helped the United States identify, locate and carry out an airstrike against another Islamic State leader in eastern Syria, on May 31. American officials expressed confidence that an influential lieutenant, Abu Hamid, was killed in the attack, but the Islamic State, which remains resilient, has not yet confirmed his death.

New insights yielded by the seized trove — four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official — include how the organization’s shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail