Only Iran is confronting ISIS, says commander of Quds Force

Reuters reports: The general in charge of Iran’s paramilitary activities in the Middle East said the United States and other powers were failing to confront Islamic State, and only Iran was committed to the task, a news agency on Monday reported.

Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force responsible for protecting the Islamic Republic’s interests abroad, has become a familiar face on the battlefields of Iraq, where he often outranks local commanders.

“Today, in the fight against this dangerous phenomenon, nobody is present except Iran,” the Tasnim news agency quoted Soleimani as saying on Sunday in reference to Islamic State.

Iran should help countries suffering at the hands of Islamic State, said Soleimani, whose force is part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Mehr news agency reported.

The Sunni militant group has taken key cities in Iraq and Syria in the past week, routing regular forces in both countries with apparent ease.

“Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront Daesh: doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it?” Mehr quoted Soleimani as saying, using a derogatory Arabic term for Islamic State.

“How is it that America claims to be protecting the Iraqi government, when a few kilometres away in Ramadi killings and war crimes are taking place and they are doing nothing?” [Continue reading…]

Christian Science Monitor adds: The comments have created a “Twilight Zone”-esque conversation in which former US military officers – whose troops were killed during the height of the Iraq War by the roadside bombs that Quds force advisers helped Iraqi insurgents make – say that Soleimani may have a point.

“Quite frankly, Soleimani is correct,” says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, who served as the executive officer for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

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Barack Obama still misunderestimates ISIS

J.M. Berger writes: The Obama administration’s misguided rhetoric on ISIL finally sped over the edge of a cliff over the last week. Officials stand now like Wile E. Coyote, still taking steps over thin air, bemused, in the moment before gravity takes hold.

With the fall of Ramadi, and continuing through the fall of Palmyra, officials up to and including President Barack Obama have sought to recast the Islamic State’s victories as “tactical” setbacks. Variations on this line were trotted out by the Pentagon and other officials first, and reiterated by the President in an interview published Thursday, in response to a question about the loss of Ramadi: “No, I don’t think we’re losing. There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.”

For those who do not speak Wonkese, making reference to an enemy’s “tactical” success is code for saying that the enemy is not “strategic.”

To be strategic, according to the dictionary definition, is to identify long-term goals and take action to accomplish them. In the Washington vernacular, the act of Being Strategic implies a near mystical quality of superior thinking possessed by some, and clearly lacking amongst the vulgarians of the world — heedless brutes such as ISIL. Tactics are short-term ploys, easy to dismiss. Strategy is for winners.

Perversely, the United States is itself sorely lacking in strategy, whether in its pedestrian or mythical definitions, with regard to the problem of ISIL. We have deployed a fairly limited collection of tactics, with an increasingly baseless confidence that these will “buy time” for improbable political resolutions in Iraq and Syria. Buying time is inherently tactical, or in this case, magical.

In contrast to the Mideast hopes and dreams we have tossed in a box labeled “strategy,” ISIL does in fact have a strategy, which it is pursuing aggressively. ISIL’s long-term goal is a transnational caliphate, and its strategy to achieve that has been clearly laid out if you take the time to understand it: [Continue reading…]

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Dahr Jamail: The Navy’s great Alaskan ‘war’

It isn’t the best of times for the American Arctic and let me explain why.

The world is in the midst of an oil glut.  In the last year, oil prices bottomed out before rising modestly.  A NASA study just offered the news that a massive ice shelf in Antarctica, half the size of Rhode Island, will disintegrate by 2020, and not so long ago Science magazine reported that the melting of that region’s ice sheets is proceeding far faster than expected.  SayonaraMiami Beach!  All of this, of course, is happening thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.  In March, the Obama administration responded to such a world by preparing the way for a rather familiar future.  It lifted a ban on drilling for oil and gas off the U.S. southern Atlantic coast, opening those waters and their untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas to future drilling.  Then, less than two weeks ago, the Interior Department green-lighted Shell Oil, a company with a memorably bleak record of exploration and disaster in the Arctic, to launch this country into a drill-baby-drill future in northern waters. 

If Shell gets all its other permits in place, it will begin drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.  This will happen under what might be some of the worst weather conditions on the planet in an area “prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, [and] frigid temperatures.”  We’re talking, of course, about another four billion barrels of potentially exploitable oil just in that region, which is also a sanctuary for whales, polar bears, and other species that have no vote in this matter.  Subhankar Banerjee put the environmental problem in a nutshell (or perhaps an ice cube) at this site back in March in a piece aptly titled “Arctic Nightmares.” Of the dangers of letting Shell loose in those waters, he wrote, “Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.”  Keep in mind that this sort of far north drilling can only go on because the past drilling and burning of fossil fuels has helped melt Arctic sea ice and open up its potentially vast energy reserves to exploitation.  It’s a little like watching the proverbial snake eat its tail.

So, thanks to our environmental president, things look bad off Alaska. And as TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail reports, in June they’re about to get significantly worse.  The U.S. Navy is arriving in the Gulf of Alaska big time — and we’re not talking about the cavalry riding to the rescue here.  In waters that are starting to seem like Grand Central Station, that service is planning to launch massive war games with a new set of potentially deleterious effects on those seas and what lives in them.  But let Jamail explain.  Note that this is a joint project of TomDispatch and Truthout, the invaluable website where he now works.  Tom Engelhardt    

Destroying what remains
How the U.S. Navy plans to war game the Arctic
By Dahr Jamail

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.] 

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks.  It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the U.S. military.

[Read more…]

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Anyone telling you ISIS is in decline isn’t paying attention

Hassan Hassan writes: Once again, in less than a year, Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions en masse and fled in the face of advancing Islamic State forces. The fall of the city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, leaves no doubt about the jihadi group’s capabilities: Despite U.S. attempts to paint it as a gravely weakened organization, the Islamic State remains a powerful force that is on the offensive in several key fronts across Syria and Iraq.

Ramadi is far from the only front on which the Islamic State is advancing. The group last week launched an offensive, supported by multiple suicide operations, in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor against President Bashar al-Assad regime’s holdouts in the military air base. In the central city of Palmyra, it attacked a regime base near the ancient Roman ruins. It also recently clashed with Syrian rebels and the regime in the eastern countryside of Aleppo, the provinces of Homs and Hama, and the southern city of Quneitra, near the border with Israel.

Nor are the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq confined to Ramadi. The group has advanced deep into the Baiji oil refinery, the largest in the country. And it has since pushed on from Ramadi, attacking the nearby town of Khalidiya; if the group is successful, that might provide it with the territorial depth to advance on Baghdad.

The Islamic State’s recent advance did not take the world by surprise, as it did when the group captured Mosul and other areas across Iraq last year. This time, the United States said it conducted seven airstrikes in Ramadi, in an effort to prevent its fall, in the 24 hours before the city was lost. Local officials in Ramadi, meanwhile, had repeatedly warned that the city would be overrun if they did not receive urgent reinforcements. But the international and Iraqi support that arrived was simply insufficient to hold the city.

Therefore, the prevalent narrative that the Islamic State is destined to decline appears to be false. Rather than suffering from resource and manpower shortages, the group is only increasing its grip on the local populations in its strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa, Syria; it is also attracting a considerable number of recruits, especially among teenagers. [Continue reading…]

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Fall of Ramadi reflects failure of Iraq’s strategy against ISIS, analysts say

The Washington Post reports: As Islamic State militants repeatedly attacked ­Ramadi this year, police solicited cash from local families and businessmen to buy weapons, one officer recalled. The Iraqi government didn’t pay the police for months, he said.

“We begged and begged for more support from the government, but nothing,” said Col. Eissa al-Alwani, a senior police officer in the city.

The fall of Ramadi amounts to more than the loss of a major city in Iraq’s largest province, analysts say. It could undermine Sunni support for Iraq’s broader effort to drive back the Islamic State, vastly complicating the war effort.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday reiterated a government pledge to train and arm Sunni fighters to rout the extremists from the predominantly Sunni province. The government had announced a military campaign that envisioned taking back Anbar province in the coming months and then moving on for a climactic battle with the extremists in Mosul, Iraq’s ­second-largest city.

But the plan to form an effective Sunni fighting force was slow to take shape, hobbled by government concerns that some of the Sunnis might be close to the Islamic State, analysts say. [Continue reading…]

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The $25 million building in Afghanistan nobody needed

Megan McCloskey and Vince Dixon report: This is a story about how the U.S. military built a lavish headquarters in Afghanistan that wasn’t needed, wasn’t wanted and wasn’t ever used—at a cost to American taxpayers of at least $25 million.

From start to finish, this 64,000-square-foot mistake could easily have been avoided. Not one, not two, but three generals tried to kill it. And they were overruled, not because they were wrong, but seemingly because no one wanted to cancel a project Congress had already given them money to build.

In the process, the story of “64K” reveals a larger truth: Once wartime spending gets rolling there’s almost no stopping it. In Afghanistan, the reconstruction effort alone has cost $109 billion, with questionable results.

The 64K project was meant for troops due to flood the country during the temporary surge in 2010. But even under the most optimistic estimates, the project wouldn’t be completed until six months after those troops would start going home.

Along the way, the state-of-the-art building, plopped in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, nearly doubled in cost and became a running joke among Marines. The Pentagon could have halted construction at many points—64K made it through five military reviews over two years—but didn’t, saying it wanted the building just in case U.S. troops ended up staying. (They didn’t.) [Continue reading…]

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Climate change poses risk to U.S. military bases, says Obama

Reuters: Rising seas, thawing permafrost and longer wildfires caused by warmer global temperatures threaten US military bases and will change the way the US armed services defend the country, President Obama is set to say on Wednesday.

In his commencement address at the United States Coast Guard academy in New London, Connecticut, the White House said Obama will underscore the risks to national security posed by climate change, one of his top priorities for action in his remaining 19 months in office.

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Defense Intelligence Agency report in 2012 warned about rise of ISIS in Iraq

Fox News reports: Seventeen months before President Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a “JV team,” a Defense Intelligence Agency report predicted the rise of the terror group and likely establishment of a caliphate if its momentum was not reversed.

While the report was circulated to the CIA, State Department and senior military leaders, among others, it’s not known whether Obama was ever briefed on the document.

The DIA report, which was reviewed by Fox News, was obtained through a federal lawsuit by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch. Documents from the lawsuit also reveal a host of new details about events leading up to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack — and how the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria fueled the violence there. [Continue reading…]

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Experts: U.S. claims Ramadi a mere setback are ‘delusional’

McClatchy reports: The Obama administration Monday called the fall of the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province to the Islamic State a temporary setback that Iraqi forces would reverse with U.S. support. Experts dismissed that assessment as ludicrous.

“Delusional, really, is the better word,” Ali Khedery, a former U.S. official who served as an adviser to five U.S. ambassadors to Iraq and three heads of U.S. Central Command, said of the administration’s statement. “It’s unbelievable, frankly. I now know what it’s like to have lived through Vietnam, I guess.”

Experts called the loss a stunning blow to the Iraqi government and U.S. strategy.

It wasn’t clear why the administration clung to an upbeat message three days after the Islamic State overran most of Ramadi and a day after Iraq’s best special forces unit fled the city with other troops, local police and tribal fighters. The message was delivered in nearly identical verbiage by White House, State Department and Pentagon spokesmen and was reinforced by a statement from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Continue reading…]

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Nick Turse: One boy, one rifle, and one morning in Malakal

President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent.  Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”  Denouncing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and offering aid to Uganda and its neighbors in tracking Kony down, he said, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, and no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”  In support of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has lauded as “not only a great champion of democracy but a fierce advocate against the use of forced labor and child soldiers,” he’skept her country on a list of nations the U.S. sanctions for using child soldiers in its military.  And his ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has spoken movingly in condemnation of the use of child soldiers, which she’s termed a “scourge,” from Syria and the Central African Republic to South Sudan. 

Only one small problem, as Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, points out in his latest reportage: the young, desperately divided nation of South Sudan is something of an American-sponsored creation, its military heavily supported by Washington, and so its child soldiers — and it has plenty of them — turn out not to be quite the same sort of scourge they are in Burma, Syria, or elsewhere.  Somehow, they’ve proved to be in the American “national interest” and so, shockingly enough, as Turse reveals today, were the subjects of a presidential “waiver” that sets aside Congress’s 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.  The willingness of a president to sideline a subject he’s otherwise denounced in no uncertain terms is worthy of a riddle that might go something like: when is slavery not slavery?  And the answer would be, when it gets in the way of U.S. policy.  With that in mind, let Turse take you deep into South Sudan, where children tote AK-47s and the sky is not cloudy all day.  Tom Engelhardt

The kids aren’t all right
Presidential waivers, child soldiers, and an American-made army in Africa
By Nick Turse

MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me.  There was no anger in his eyes.  His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger.  He didn’t draw a bead on me.  Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction. 

It was unnerving.

I don’t know how old he was.  I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19.  But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.

When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie.  It was mandatory for me to be in school.  The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators.  No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands.  But someone thought it was acceptable for them.  A lot of someones actually.  Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so.  And so did mine, the government of the United States. 

[Read more…]

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Why does the U.S. have 800 military bases around the world?

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U.S. ground forces in Syria — the first in a series of such missions?

The New York Times reports: American Special Operations forces mounted a rare raid into eastern Syria early Saturday, killing a leader of the Islamic State and about a dozen militant fighters, as well as capturing his wife and freeing an 18-year-old Yazidi woman whom Pentagon officials said had been held as a slave.

In the first successful raid by American ground troops since the military campaign against the Islamic State began last year, two dozen Delta Force commandos entered Syria aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Ospreys and killed the leader, a man known as Abu Sayyaf. One American military official described him as the Islamic State’s “emir of oil and gas.”

Even so, Abu Sayyaf is a midlevel leader in the organization — one terrorism analyst compared him to Al Capone’s accountant — and likely is replaceable in fairly short order. And the operation, while successful, comes as the Islamic State has been advancing in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, demonstrating that the fight against the Sunni militant group in both Iraq and Syria remains very fluid.

Yet the Pentagon’s description of a nighttime raid that found its intended target deep inside Syria without any American troops being wounded or killed illustrates not only the effectiveness of the Delta Force, but of improving American intelligence on shadowy Islamic State leaders. [Continue reading…]

Foreign Policy adds: the fact that the White House gave the green light for an operation into Syria, combined with reports that the Delta operators removed a substantial trove of intelligence material from the site, might indicate that the raid could be the first in a series of such missions.

Delta has had a task force in Iraqi Kurdistan since at least last year with a mission of trying to find Islamic State leaders to kill or capture. During the war against the Islamic State’s predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, Delta and the other components of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command developed a system called “F3EAD” — for Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate — in which strike forces would raid objectives such as militant safe houses not only to kill or capture the militants but to gain as much material of intelligence value as possible. By sucking information out of hard drives and cell phones, as well as quickly interrogating anyone taken prisoner, Delta and other JSOC forces were able to launch several missions a night, each based on intelligence gained in the previous raid. That dynamic could repeat itself here. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. rushing new weapons to Iraq as ISIS takes control of Ramadi

McClatchy reports: The Islamic State on Friday took control of the provincial government center of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province, and appeared to be in control of most of the city in a major defeat for the Iraqi government.

Islamic State forces also appeared to be closing in on government positions in two other key locations in Anbar province, the towns of Baghdadi and Karmah, in a broad offensive that if successful would end the government presence in all of the province’s major population centers. The capture of Baghdadi also would cut the supply lines to the Iraqi garrison protecting the strategic Haditha Dam.

U.S. officials offered conflicting views of the events, with the State Department and the Pentagon at first downplaying the significance of what had taken place. But a later statement from the White House made clear that the situation was urgent and that the United States was rushing shipments of heavy weapons, ammunition and supplies to Iraq to deal with the Islamic State advance.

The new weapons shipments will include an unspecified number of shoulder-fired rockets especially useful in blasting car bombs, which the Islamic State used particularly effectively in its Ramadi offensive.

The new weapons shipments came after Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, according to the statement, which said Biden thanked Abadi for “his steadfast leadership . . . at a time of significant security challenges, including today’s ISIL attack on Ramadi.”

“The vice president assured the prime minister of continued and expedited U.S. security assistance to confront ISIL,” the statement said, using the government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

At Ramadi, government troops reportedly were still fighting in some isolated areas. But the city was essentially under the control of the Islamic State after a fierce assault that began with a series of car bombs on Iraqi government security facilities overnight. By late afternoon, security forces appeared to be in full flight as militants consolidated control over the area and prevented anyone from leaving. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf, killed in Syria by U.S. special forces

Reuters reports: American special operations forces killed a senior Islamic State leader who helped direct the group’s oil, gas and financial operations during a raid in eastern Syria, U.S. officials said on Saturday.

The White House said President Barack Obama ordered the overnight raid that killed the man identified as Abu Sayyaf. U.S. officials said his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured in the raid and was being held in Iraq.

This was the first known U.S. special forces operation inside Syria apart from a failed secret effort to rescue a number of U.S. and other foreign hostages held by Islamic State in northeastern Syria last year.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement that U.S. personnel based out of Iraq conducted the operation in al-Amr in eastern Syria.

“During the course of the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged U.S. forces,” Meehan said.

“The president authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations,” Meehan said.

Meehan said the operation was conducted “with the full consent of Iraqi authorities” and “consistent with domestic and international law.”

The White House said the U.S. did not inform Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in advance of the raid, or coordinate with Damascus. Shortly before the U.S. announcement, Syrian state television said the Syrian army killed an Islamic State leader responsible for oil-related affairs, identifying him as Abu al-Taym al-Saudi. [Continue reading…]

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12 years later, a mystery of chemical exposure in Iraq clears slightly

C.J. Chivers reports: The toxic vapors acted quickly against the Second Platoon of the 811th Ordnance Company, whose soldiers were moving abandoned barrels out of an Iraqi Republican Guard warehouse in 2003. The building, one soldier said, was littered with dead birds.

As the soldiers pushed the barrels over and began rolling them, some of the contents leaked, they said, filling the air with a bitter, penetrating smell. Soon, many were dizzy and suffering from running noses and tearing eyes. A few were vomiting, disoriented, tingling or numb.

After the soldiers staggered outside for air, multiple detection tests indicated the presence of nerve agent. Others suggested blister agent, too. The results seemed to confirm the victims’ fear that they had stumbled upon unused stocks of Iraq’s chemical weapons.

From Camp Taji, where the barrels had been found, more than 20 exposed soldiers were evacuated in helicopters to a military hospital in Balad, where they were met by soldiers wearing gas masks and ordered to undress before being allowed inside for medical care.

“They drew a box in the sand and had armed guards and were like: ‘Do not get out of that box. Do not get out of that box,’ ” said Nathan Willie, a private first class at the time. “I was kind of freaked out.”

Since last fall, the United States military has acknowledged that American soldiers found thousands of abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq, and that hundreds of troops notified the military medical system that they believed they had been exposed to them. The military acknowledged the exposures after years of secrecy — and of denying medical tracking and official recognition to victims — only after an investigation by The New York Times.

Even then, the affliction of the 811th Ordnance Company had quietly remained one of the unsolved mysteries of the Iraq war, and a parable of what several of the victims describe as the corrosive effects of the government’s secrecy on troop welfare and public trust. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military personnel have been convicted of $50 million worth of crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

Center for Public Integrity: U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau sat at the center of a complex trucking network in Forward Operating Base Fenty, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, that daily distributed tens of thousands of gallons of what soldiers called “liquid gold”: the refined petroleum that fueled the international coalition’s thirsty vehicles, planes, and generators.

A prominent sign in the base read: “The Army Won’t Go If The Fuel Don’t Flow.” But Charboneau, 31, a mother of two from Washington state, felt alienated after a supervisor’s harsh rebuke. Her work was a dreary routine of recording fuel deliveries in a computer and escorting trucks past a gate. But it was soon to take a dark turn into high-value crime.

She began an affair with a civilian, Jonathan Hightower, who worked for a Pentagon contractor that distributed fuel from Fenty, and one day in March 2010, he told her about “this thing going on” at other U.S. military bases around Afghanistan, she recalled in a recent telephone interview.

Soldiers were selling the U.S. military’s fuel to Afghan locals on the side, and pocketing the proceeds. When Hightower suggested they start doing the same, Charboneau said, she agreed.

In so doing, Charboneau contributed to thefts by U.S. military personnel of at least $15 million worth of fuel since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And eventually she became one of at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a comprehensive tally of court records by the Center for Public Integrity. [Continue reading…]

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After nine months of bombing ISIS targets, Pentagon admits killing two civilians

The Daily Beast reports: An internal military investigation has concluded that two civilians were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, two defense officials confirmed to The Daily Beast, marking the first time the U.S. military has acknowledged killing a civilian since the air campaign began nine months ago.

In that time, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 3,500 strikes and either destroyed or damaged more than 6,000 targets, according to the Defense Department. Previously, the U.S. military had said it had no evidence that a civilian had ever been killed in the air campaign against ISIS, a claim that even military officials privately acknowledged was hard to believe, given the high odds of unintended mistakes.

Indeed, with no U.S. soldiers on the ground to assess the damage inflicted by airstrikes, the coalition’s air campaign is built on U.S. intelligence collected from drones, satellites, and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as information from local troops.

The findings of two civilian deaths come as one human rights group has alleged that coalition airstrikes on April 30 in the Syrian village of Bir Mahli killed as many as 64 civilians. Bir Mahli sits in Aleppo Province, east of the Euphrates River, and about 30 miles south of the northern city of Kobani. The allegation, which the U.S. military said it has no evidence to corroborate, is the highest civilian death toll accusation leveled at the coalition.

The U.S. military’s claim of no civilian casualties in its campaign against ISIS, coupled with the lack of detailed accounting of what effect the strikes are having, has only underscored the opaque nature of the battle, fought largely from the air with uncertain outcomes. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. officials say key Iraqi refinery isn’t actually all that key

Foreign Policy reports: Despite the recent focus by Iraqi and American officials on the importance of defending and holding the Iraqi oil refinery at Baiji, the Defense Department made a sharp reversal on Wednesday, claiming that the site doesn’t actually matter as they used to say.

The refinery is “not strategically any more significant than any other piece of ground” in Iraq, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

In recent days, Islamic State fighters have breached the perimeter of the facility and established a foothold inside the refinery, though Warren declined to estimate how much ground they now hold or if the Iraqi forces inside were being reinforced or resupplied in any way.

“At this point it’s impossible to predict how this is going to turn out,” Warren said. “It’s been a tough, fluid fight [and] right now it’s flowing in the wrong direction.”

His comments represent a stark change in attitude over the fate of the facility than had been put forth by top U.S. and Iraqi officials as recently as mid-April, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Washington.

Speaking to reporters on April 16, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called Baiji “a more strategic target” than places like Ramadi because of the centrality of oil to the Iraqi economy. “That’s why the focus right now is in fact on Baiji,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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