Archive for May, 2010

28
May
10

General Petraeus’s Secret Ops

by Robert Dreyfuss

This was taken from The Nation‘s website. Click here for the link.

A secret military directive signed last September 30 by General David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, authorizes a vast expansion of secret US military special ops from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia and “appears to authorize specific operations in Iran,” according to the New York Times.

Emphasizing the importance of a strong economy, education and innovation at home, Obama still maintains that America is “at war” with an amorphous network of terrorists.

If President Obama knew about this, authorized it and still supports it, then Obama has crossed a red line, and the president will stand revealed as an aggressive, militaristic liberal interventionist who bears a closer resemblance to the president he succeeded than to the ephemeral reformer that he pretended to be in 2008, when he ran for office. If he didn’t know, if he didn’t understand the order, and if he’s unwilling to cancel it now that it’s been publicized, then Obama is a feckless incompetent. Take your pick.

If Congress has any guts at all, it will convene immediate investigative hearings into a power grab by Petraeus, a politically ambitious general, and the Pentagon’s arrogant Special Operations team, led by Admiral Eric T. Olson, who collaborated with Petraeus. And Congress needs to ask the White House, What did you know, and when did you know it?

Drop what you’re doing and read the whole piece, by Mark Mazzetti, in the Times, which ran it on page 1 as the lead story in today’s paper. (Critics of the “mainstream media” take note: the Times broke this story fearlessly, even though it apparently redacted certain operational details at the behest of the administration.)

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: In September, Petraeus signed the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order providing for a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” in the region of Centcom’s responsibility, the Middle East and South Asia. Reports Mazzetti:

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.…

The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.

And:

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The Times story raises a million questions: Is this how the United States intends to carry out the order to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Yemen-based US citizen who is reportedly an Al Qaeda operative? Does the revelation of this order have anything to do with the abrupt resignation of Dennis Blair, the departed Director of National Intelligence? What sorts of “dissident groups” in Iran might the military connect with, and might they include paramilitary forces associated with rebellious Kurds in western Iran, several of whom were just put to death by Tehran, or the Pakistan-linked Baluchistan rebels in southeast Iran?

For decades, the military has tried to elbow the Central Intelligence Agency into a subordinate role. Even as the intelligence budget ballooned (since the 1990s) to enormous proportions, the Pentagon has gobbled up most of it and tried to force the civilian CIA into a subordinate role. (According to Mazzetti, the CIA supports the Petraeus directive, even though it is explicitly aimed at “break[ing] its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency,” but we’ll see.) The gung-ho Special Ops folks at the Pentagon have been pushing hard to become a kind of uniformed covert operations unit of the US government, even though military operations aren’t governed by the same sort of restrictive Congressional oversight that the CIA operates under. And, according to Mazzetti, the Petraeus order is intended to accomplish things that the CIA “will not” do:

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished“ by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

Petraeus, along with General McChrystal, should have been fired long ago by Obama, if for no other reason because of their insubordination in 2009 is trying to force Obama’s hand in pushing for a series of escalations of the Afghanistan war. Obama can still redeem himself by firing them now.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

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BONUS!

6 Ramificiations of Expanded Military Special Ops

by Max Fisher
President Obama has drastically expanded the authority and reach of U.S. military special operations throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Those operations, authorized in late 2009, can take place in nations with friendly governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as in hostile nations, such as Iran. This new power for military-led intelligence gathering and unconventional warfare is a drastic expansion of operations that began under the auspices of the Bush administration. It establishes the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force (JUWTF), the operations of which were previously codenamed Avocado. Here’s what the order does, what it’s meant in practice, and the policy’s ramifications.
  • What the Order Does The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports, “Its goals are to build networks that could ‘penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy’ Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to ‘prepare the environment’ for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. … General Petraeus’s order is meant for small teams of American troops to fill intelligence gaps about terror organizations and other threats in the Middle East and beyond, especially emerging groups plotting attacks against the United States.”
  • The Larger Mission The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder provides the big-picture. “Other ‘ex-ords’ signed by combatant commanders include provisions for secret American bases and operations,” he writes. “Political imperatives, the threat of terrorism, and the knowledge of what the U.S. military can accomplish if its strings are cut away has slowly changed the minds of some of Obama’s senior advisers. It is helpful that Congress has generally given the military a wide berth to conduct activities that intelligence agency paramilitaries would find objectionable. The authorization to write the orders allow combatant commanders to put together task forces for almost any purpose, and draw from almost any existing military unit.”
  • (1) The Military Risks From Mazzetti: “The authorized activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen — which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation — or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria. Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.”
  • (2) ‘Blurring The Line’ Between Military and Spies Liberal blogger Juan Cole worries, “the siren call of covert operations is steadily undermining the rule of law. Blurring the line between military action and spying makes it impossible to talk about the covert missions, since they are typically classiified. The same is true for predator drone strikes.” He adds, “That blurring could be bad for all troops. There is already a tendency in the ME for locals to see all Americans as CIA, and giving troops a lot of covert missions will reinforce these views.”
  • (3) Problem of What Constitutes Spying Conservative blogger Kenneth Anderson worries, “these clandestine activities do not require the regular covert action accountability mechanisms required of the CIA as a matter of law, although NSC is involved in anything significant. However, as these activities get closer to, well, ‘spying’ in the traditional sense, then the line between clandestine and covert risks becoming blurred. … as a matter of US policy, the divisions between the various services matter over the long run, and so there are important questions as to the proper division of roles.”
  • (4) Stepping In for CIA This grants the military powers that were typically limited to CIA. Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler notes, “Mazzetti makes it clear that he’s not covering this because CIA’s pissed about it (which sometimes appears to be the case for his reporting). … In fact, it appears DOD issued the directive because CIA wouldn’t do whatever JSOC is now doing.” Noting that the measure leads to reduced congressional oversight, she adds, “One would hope that Congress gets pissed about this, though.”
  • (5) Congress Should Investigate The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss insists, “If Congress has any guts at all, it will convene immediate investigative hearings into a power grab by Petraeus, a politically ambitious general, and the Pentagon’s arrogant Special Operations team, led by Admiral Eric T. Olson, who collaborated with Petraeus. And Congress needs to ask the White House: what did you know, and when did you know it?”
  • (6) Dangerous for Academics and Businessmen The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman warns that, because the military will now use businessmen and academics to gather intelligence in these countries, all such civilians will be “presumed” to be spies and thus “become targets.”

The Debate

Max Fisher is an associate editor for The Atlantic Wire. He writes primarily about foreign affairs and national security. He is the former producer of The Atlantic‘s Food Channel and has also written for The New Republic and Conde Nast Traveler.

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12
May
10

Doomed Missions of Revenge

The Vicious War That Sent Shahzad to Times Square

by Patrick Cockburn

This article was taken from CounterPunch. Click here for the link.

It has been a hidden war ignored by the outside world. Up to last week nobody paid much attention to the fighting in north-west Pakistan, though more soldiers and civilians have probably been dying there over the last year than in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In reality this corner of Pakistan along the Afghan border is the latest in a series of wars originally generated by the US response to 9/11. The first was the war in Afghanistan when the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, the second in Iraq after the invasion of 2003 and the third the renewed war in Afghanistan from about 2006. The fourth conflict is the present one in Pakistan and is as vicious as any of its predecessors, though so far the intensity of the violence has not been appreciated by the outside world.

Western governments and media for long looked at the fighting in the tribal areas along Pakistan’s frontier with Afghanistan as a sideshow to the Afghan war. Washington congratulated itself on using pilotless drones to kill Taliban leaders, a tactic which meant that there were no American casualties and apparently no political fall out in the US.

This has now all changed since Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a bomb in Times Square in New York last week. Within days the US press and television was camped outside the locked gate of his family’s compound in Peshawar, the effective capital of the north-west frontier region, and were trying to interview his relatives in the streets of his ancestral village of Mohib Banda outside the city.

The Pakistan Taliban had been saying that it would seek revenge for the drone attacks by striking directly at the US but nobody took them seriously. Their first claim that they were behind the Times Square bomb was disbelieved as being beyond their capabilities. It is difficult to see why the idea of their involvement should have been treated with derision since suicide bombers from the Pakistan Taliban are blowing themselves up every few days along the north-west frontier.

Shahzad told his interrogators that he received training in Waziristan, though it cannot have been very serious given the amateurism of his subsequent efforts. But a high degree of technical expertise is not necessary since even the most botched and ineffective bomb attack has a powerful political impact so long as it happens in the US, as was demonstrated by the Nigerian student who tried and failed to blow up a plane over Detroit at Christmas by detonating explosives in his underpants.

One outcome of the abortive Times Square attack is that it has drawn the attention of the world to the seriousness of the fighting in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan which stretch along the Afghan border. Last year the violence there and in other parts of the North West frontier Province was enough to send 3.1 million refugees running for their lives. Many of these, particularly from the Swat valley, have now gone home, but hundreds of thousands of others are now taking flight because of army assaults on Pakistan Taliban strongholds elsewhere in FATA. These mass movements of people in obscure places like Orakzai or Kurram are hardly noticed even within Pakistan where they are reported without much detail on the inside pages of the newspapers.

The Pakistani foreign minister Makhdoom Qureyshi believes  that what happened in New York was “blowback” for the US drone strikes in Pakistan which he says killed 700 Pakistani civilians last year. This may be true but it is also hypocritical since the drones are launched from inside Pakistan and senior Pakistani security officials confirm that the information on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders, enabling the drones to target them, comes from Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) agents on the ground. Without the ISI involvement the drones would be ineffective.

The attacks of the Predator drones are highly publicized and  Shahzad told his interrogators that they were one reason why he made his abortive attack on Times Square. But the drones only cause a limited number of casualties and most of the destruction in what until recently was called the North West Frontier Province are the result of heavy fighting between the Pakistan army and the local Taliban. Villages are destroyed and whole districts emptied of their inhabitants as the army imposes government authority in the seven agencies of FATA where the Taliban had its strongholds. The army is winning but the Taliban is not retreating without a fight. Suicide bombings have become as frequent and as devastating as in Kandahar or Baghdad.

I recently visited Bajaur, a well-watered and heavily populated hilly agency on the Afghan border north of Peshawar from which the army has driven the Taliban over the last two years. Colonel Nauman Saeed, the commander of  the Bajaur Scouts, a 3,500-strong force made up of tribal levies, says that Taliban have been defeated and driven out of Bajaur and into Afghanistan and will never be able to return. The area looks as if it is wholly under military occupation with checkpoints every few hundred yards, little traffic on the roads and many shops closed in the villages. Col Saeed says that twelve villages have been completely destroyed.

It is the same story south of Peshawar. I drove down the main road running to Lakki Marwat just east of Waziristan where there continues to be frequent suicide bombings. One had demolished part of a village police station a few hours before we passed through, killing seven people. People are wary and there is an atmosphere of subdued menace. I was glad to be riding in a well-armoured civilian vehicle with bullet proof glass protected by the bodyguards of a powerful tribal leader, businessman and senator. “I tell people that this vehicle will only stop pistol bullets,” explained a former army colonel who was head of his security. “In this area if you tell them that your vehicle can stop an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] round then they will fire something even heavier at you.”

The Taliban had gone but nobody believes that they had gone very far. “People don’t want to cooperate with the army because they think the Taliban will find out and take revenge,” said one man from a nearby village. Probably they will never come back in full force, but they show on a daily basis that they are still a force to be to be feared. When one village called Shah Hassan asked the local Taliban to leave they retaliated by sending a suicide bomber into a crowd of young men playing volley ball where he detonated his explosives and killed one hundred people.

Civilians are being squeezed between two implacable forces. The army’s tactic is to order the civilian population out of whatever district it is trying to clear of Taliban and then freely use its artillery and air power on the assumption that all who remain are Taliban supporters.

It is a policy heavy on destruction which would be widely reported by the media if it occurred in Iraq or Afghanistan. In Pakistan it does not attract much criticism because places like Waziristan are almost impossible for Pakistani or foreign journalists to reach because they are too dangerous except under the protection of the army. But travellers who do go there are aghast at the extent of the devastation. “What I saw was stuff nightmares are made of,” writes Azyaz Wazir, a former Pakistani ambassador who travelled on a bus through South Waziristan. “Houses, shops, madressahs and even official buildings on the roadside stood in ruins or demolished. There was no sign of any human or animal life, except for a few cows wondering about in the deserted villages.”

As the army marched in, some quarter of a million refugees have come flooding out of South Waziristan according to the UN. The army is keen for them to return home but most are refusing to do so because they say it is not safe and they are almost certainly right. “The army has control only of the roads, and we are present in the forests,” one Pakistan Taliban commander was quoted as saying. A further reason is that the Pakistani army may be expert at blowing things up but the civilian government is not good at rebuilding them. Where ever I went along the frontier people complained of the absence of any help from officials sent by the central government. They complain that no representative of the government dared attend the funeral of the 100 young men playing volleyball killed by a bomber at Shah Hassan village.

The Pakistani army defends itself by saying it has the legitimacy and popular support to use maximum force against the Pakistan Taliban. Officers point to the movement’s cruelty and bigotry with girls schools being blown up and Taliban fighters at checkpoints ripping out CD players from cars if they hear music being played. In the Swat Valley film of the Taliban flogging a girl turned opinion against them across Pakistan. It is also true that in the long run the government in Islamabad could not tolerate the Taliban running a state within a state.

The army is successful militarily but civilian rule has not returned to FATA. Local people suspect that if the soldiers relaxed their grip the Taliban would return. They also fear that the crisis facing them is about to get worse as the US demands that the army to invade North Waziristan, a district which is a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban. Officials say this is going to happen and construction companies are hard at work widening and improving the main military supply route leading to Waziristan.

The US has long believed that closing down the Afghan Taliban’s safe enclaves in Pakistan might be the trump card in winning the war there. No doubt the loss of the enclaves would be a blow to the insurgency but the Pakistan-Afghan border is 2,600 kilometers long and officials repeatedly stress it cannot be sealed.

Senior officers also give the impression that moving against the Afghan Taliban is something they would only do with reluctance. They refer to the Pakistan Taliban as “miscreants” who lack the legitimacy and popular support of the Taliban in Afghanistan whom they see as a resistance movement defending the Pashtun community.

The US will almost certainly succeed in persuading the Pakistan military to invade North Waziristan and this pressure can only grow since  Shahzad claims to have been trained there. But invasion and military occupation will not end the conflict in north-west Pakistan which will continue to fester, America being blamed by Pakistanis for both the drones and the actions of the Pakistani army. This will probably be enough to motivate young men like  Shahzad to give up their careers and go on their doomed missions of revenge.

Patrick Cockburn is the Ihe author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.”