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Ed Webb

Alia Awadallah on Twitter: "Victory for Jordan securing a five year MOU. Higher aid lev... - 0 views

  • Victory for Jordan securing a five year MOU. Higher aid levels than previous MOU & longer by 2 years. Plus follows Jordanian opposition to Jerusalem move. Was far fetched that the administration would withhold aid to Jordan, but with this president you never know.
Ed Webb

Syrian frontline town divides NATO allies Turkey and U.S. - 0 views

  • A dispute between Turkey and the United States over control of a north Syrian town has put the NATO allies on opposing sides of the conflict’s front line, deepening a diplomatic rift ahead of a visit to Turkey by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • Turkish and U.S. troops, deployed alongside local fighters, have carved out rival areas of influence on Syria’s northern border. To Ankara’s fury, Washington allied itself with a force led by the Kurdish YPG, a militia which Turkey says is commanded by the same leaders overseeing an insurgency in its southeast.
  • Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij, and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message
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  • the Syrian town of Manbij
  • also warned that Turkey’s air and ground offensive in Afrin risks exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Syria and disrupting one of the few corners of the country that had remained stable through seven years of civil war
  • As the grievances between Washington and Ankara have escalated, Turkey has built bridges with rival powers Russia and Iran - even though their support has put Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the ascendancy while Turkey still backs the weakened rebels seeking his downfall
  • Relations with the United States were “fragile and frustrating because pledges have been unfulfilled and there is a lack of coherence between the White House and the military”
  • a country where 83 percent of people view the United States unfavorably, according to a poll published on Monday.

  • “The U.S.-Turkey alliance can no longer be taken for granted,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which promotes transatlantic cooperation, wrote in a report published ahead of Tillerson’s trip.

    “That this relationship has endured several stress tests in the past is no guarantee that it will survive this one”.

Ed Webb

Oil World Turns Upside Down as U.S. Sells Oil in Middle East - Bloomberg - 1 views

  • in a trade that illustrates how the rise of the American shale industry is upending energy markets across the globe, the U.A.E. bought oil directly from the U.S. in December
  • The end of a ban on U.S. exports in 2015 coupled with the explosive growth of shale production, has changed the flow of petroleum around the world. Shipments from U.S. ports have increased from a little more than 100,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 1.53 million in November, traveling as far as China and the U.K.

  • U.A.E. crude production was 2.85 million barrels a day in January, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Output has declined from 3.07 million at the end of 2016 as OPEC and allies cut production to reduce a global glut and prop up prices.
Ed Webb

Military audit confirms US tanks ended up with Iran-backed militias - 0 views

  • As many as nine US tanks provided to Iraq’s military for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) have ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militants, a government audit revealed on Monday.

    The latest quarterly inspector general report for the US mission in Iraq and Syria confirms a string of on-the-ground reports that M1 Abrams battle tanks and other lethal equipment provided by the US government have ended up with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The news adds credence to recent reporting by Iraq’s Al-Ghad news agency that Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics has suspended maintenance support for 160 of its tanks amid allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke an agreement on their use.

  • In 2015, Iraqi Hezbollah brigades showed up in YouTube videos driving American-made M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and Canadian MRAP all-terrain vehicles, sparking concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz
  • The State Department gave Iraq’s military $3.8 billion from 2015 to 2017 as it cleared out IS strongholds such as Mosul, Tal Afar and Fallujah. Iraq’s military now possesses more than 250 battle tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers.

    But even as support to Iraq’s military increased to root out IS in urban centers, the Defense Department has had limited “direct insight” into how effective more than 120,000 US-trained troops in Iraq will be, according to the inspector general report. That’s “mainly because the US military relied on Iraqi information and self-reporting to determine the skill and readiness of ISF troops,” the report found.

Ed Webb

Avalon Project - Truman Doctrine - 0 views

  • At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

    One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

    The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

    I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

    I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

    I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

Ed Webb

DoD Unprepared For The Global War On Terror's Next Front: Africa - 1 views

  • It appears that Africa will almost certainly become the next major front in the Global War on Terror. According to Congressional Research Service Africa analyst Lauren Ploch, the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria to their home countries in Africa will pose a huge problem for DoD. Tunisia has the highest recorded number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Iraq and Syria ever; Libya’s weak borders and milieu of non-state armed actors make it an appealing safe haven for ISIS escapees; in the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram has split into two factions aligned with ISIS and al Qaeda, respectively; Somalia remains fertile ground for al Shabaab terror recruits; even Egypt may reach the limit of its security capabilities in responding to cascading regional threats.
  • U.S. involvement in the Saudi military intervention in Yemen has plunged the Pentagon into two distinct engagements: one in support of the Saudis, and one against al Qaeda and ISIS. These tensions are most pronounced not in the Lake Chad Basin, according to Ploch, but the Horn of Africa and countries bordering the Red Sea that are subject to the overlapping geopolitical rivalries the Trump administration detailed in its National Defense Strategy.
  • “Waterfront property in the African countries along the Red Sea seems to be an increasingly hot commodity: The U.S. and France have had military facilities in Djibouti for over a decade, but the country is getting increasingly crowded. China just opened a base and Saudi Arabia is in talks for one.”
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  • “Fragile states, governments not in control of their territory …  People can set up camp and do whatever they want. Nothing will change in Libya or Somalia or parts of the Sahel like Mali or Niger. There are terror groups operations there that aren’t even connected to international terror … who we used to go in and target in places like the eastern Congo. We’re not doing those things. There’s no appetite for that.”
  • “In terms of AFRICOM’s ‘bread and butter’ activities — namely security cooperation — it is still somewhat unclear how DoD and the [Trump] administration will prioritize limited resources; AFRICOM’s security cooperation spending was down in 2017 from the previous few years.”
  • These training missions “are five guys deploying to a country they’ve never heard of and trying to professionalize military justice, or even just get troops to walk in a straight line,” she told Task & Purpose. “[AFRICOM] was given an impossible task and no money to do it, and they have to deal with lots of people who like to operate without oversight and take advantage of this. It is not their fault.”
  • ‘training and equipping’ — or more often ‘equipping and training’ — isn’t enough,”
Ed Webb

Spurned by Trump, Europeans ponder how to meet Iran ultimatum - 0 views

  • With Trump warning of a last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated”, Britain, France and Germany have begun talks on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

    It is hard to say what might mollify the Trump administration, which is split between those who would like to tear up the agreement and those who wish to preserve it and which has said inconsistent things about its demands to keep the accord, U.S. and European officials said.

    Under U.S. law, Trump must decide again whether to renew the U.S. sanctions relief every 120 days, giving Congress, as well as U.S. and European diplomats, until mid-May to see if there is a way to finesse the issue.

    But the Brussels meeting has left European powers wary that whatever they agree, it may not be enough.

  • A collapse of the nuclear deal could see a breakdown in the relations between the United States and Europe that have underpinned the West’s security since World War Two, European diplomats and the senior U.S. official said, and could confirm Europe’s fears that it can no longer count on U.S. leadership
  • Washington wants U.N. nuclear inspectors to be able to visit military sites as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s verification of the nuclear deal. The IAEA says it does not distinguish between military and non-military sites and has repeatedly said Iran is honoring its commitments under the deal.
Ed Webb

Erdogan vows to 'destroy all terror nests' in Syria - 0 views

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “destroy all terror nests” in Syria today, as he kept up his verbal attacks against the United States over its continuing support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

  • followed a night of shelling by Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army allies targeting Afrin, the Kurdish-majority enclave on the Turkish border that is under YPG control
  • Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Afrin and Manbij, an Arab-majority town that lies further east and is also under YPG control. But so far its actions have been limited to sporadic artillery strikes initiated from the Turkish side of the border and from within the Euphrates Shield zone run by Turkey and its rebel allies.
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  • Russian forces patrol the skies over the region and are present on the ground. Similarly, targeting Manbij could trigger a confrontation with hundreds of US special forces deployed in the YPG-controlled areas, which extend from Manbij all the way to Iraq
  • “The feeling, increasingly even within traditionally cautious Turkish Foreign Ministry circles, is that Turkey’s prestige is on the line. And that an operation is feasible.” Russia may well consent to a limited and clearly defined Turkish foray
  • Erdogan took direct aim at the United States. “Lower your flags over the terrorist [YPG] bases so that we are not forced to hand them over to you ourselves, so that we are not forced to bury those who stand by the terrorists in the ground,” he warned. “The Turkish Armed Forces will settle the Afrin and Manbij affairs in the shortest possible time. The offensive can begin any second.”
  • Turkey has so far swallowed the US partnership with the YPG — albeit kicking and screaming — on the assumption that it would end once IS was vanquished and that the United States would not embark on any form of nation-building that would cement the Kurds’ territorial and political gains. But recent statements from top US officials suggest the United States is reviewing its options
Ed Webb

Is war about to break out in the Horn of Africa? Will the West even notice? - Salon.com - 0 views

  • Now an actual conflict over H2O may be boiling, but no one in Washington has put down Michael Wolff’s book long enough to notice. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia may come to blows — with the help of Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project
  • The Nile is so important that, setting aside terrorism and internal stability, Egypt’s most significant security concerns lay largely to the south and are directly related to the unimpeded flow of the river’s waters
  • When GERD is completed, it will reduce Egypt’s share of Nile water by 22 billion cubic meters per year, devastating Egyptian agriculture and hydroelectric production, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. This is obviously of critical concern to Egypt’s leaders, but they have not been able to reach a diplomatic solution to the problem. The country has been preoccupied with internal developments since the uprising in 2011 that pushed President Hosni Mubarak from power. In addition, the issue of the Ethiopian dam has been managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is not as influential as it once was, especially in comparison to the Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Directorate. There was an effort to resolve the problem in 2015, with Sudan acting as a broker between Egypt and Ethiopia, but that failed.
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  • The Sudanese recently welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Khartoum, where he signed a number of security-cooperation agreements, including a provision to allow the Turks to administer Suakin Island, located at a strategic point in the Red Sea between Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The island used to be home to an Ottoman naval base, and the Egyptians fear the Turks plan to renovate the island and establish a permanent military presence there.
  • Egyptians deployed a helicopter carrier in the Red Sea and sent troops to an Emirati base in Eritrea. This in turn angered the Ethiopians. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993 and the two countries fought a border war in the late 1990s that killed an estimated 80,000 people. In 2016 they briefly clashed again, killing hundreds more. In response to the presence of Egyptian troops in Eritrea, the Ethiopians not only rejected a Cairo proposal to cut Khartoum out of negotiations over GERD, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn hosted the Sudanese defense minister and vowed to speed up dam construction. All the while the Sudanese deployed thousands of troops to its border with Eritrea
  • tension between Cairo and Khartoum over the Hala’ib and Shalateen disputed zones, which are located on the border between Egypt and Sudan but administered by the Egyptians
  • Qatar also upgraded its security relations with Sudan
  • It is not hard to imagine how all this escalates into warfare. We are not dealing with the best militaries in the world, which reduces the margin for error and miscalculation. It is also a potential conflict that involves a number of important American allies against each other. Turkey, a NATO ally, and Qatar, which hosts the largest American military base outside the United States, have aligned themselves with Sudan and by extension with Ethiopia, another American ally. On the other side we have Egypt, a longtime partner of the United States in the Middle East, and Eritrea. The United Arab Emirates, a critical player in the Persian Gulf and beyond, would also likely be involved given its ties to Egypt and Eritrea.
Ed Webb

Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
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  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program.

    By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.

  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.”

    Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve?

    “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”

Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
    • Ed Webb
       
      A remarkable and alarming discrepancy. We must treat military claims with great skepticism, unfortunately.
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
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  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation.

    The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”

  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved.

    Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.

  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
Ed Webb

America's Forever Wars - The New York Times - 0 views

  • it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed
  • President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue.
  • “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”
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  • 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.
  • Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

    Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

Ed Webb

Somalia bombing may have been revenge for botched US-led operation | World news | The G... - 0 views

  • The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the centre of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said.

  • Following the raid, in which three children aged between six and 10 died, local tribal elders called for revenge against the Somali government and its allies.
  • The bigger truck bomb was detonated at a busy crossroads at least a kilometre from the Medina Gate when it reached a checkpoint where security guards became suspicious. The explosion ignited a fuel truck nearby which caused a massive fireball. It has been impossible to identify the type of truck from the wreckage.
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  • The US involvement in Somalia intensified in the later years of the Obama administration but has increased significantly since Donald Trump became president, with greater latitude given to local commanders to order airstrikes or take part in raids.

    Critics have argued this risks greater civilian casualties, which, in the tight-knit world of Somalia’s complex clan system, can prompt feuds and revenge attacks.

    The raid in August targeted the small town of Bariire, 30 miles (50km) west of Mogadishu, which is a stronghold of al-Shabaab.

    Investigators have established that both vehicles used in Saturday’s attack appear to have set out from Bariire, and the owner of the truck used for the bigger bomb was from the town or the surrounding region, officials say. He has been detained.

  • Bariire is known as an al-Shabaab stronghold which has been a lanchpad for several major attacks on Mogadishu.

    The group has been pushed out of major cities but retains control of swaths of countryside in the south and centre of Somalia.

  • In May a US Navy Seal was killed and two troops wounded in a raid on an al-Shabaab militant compound in Bariire, in what was the first US combat death in the African country since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” disaster.

  • “If you go out more aggressively in this kind of environment you risk scoring some serious own goals. The extremists really cranked everything they could out of the botched raid in August. They put out images of the bodies of the kids, published the testimony of supposed witnesses,” said one western counter-terrorist expert with long experience of working with Somali authorities.
  • A recent United Nations study found that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”.
  • Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.
Ed Webb

Making a Killing - OCCRP - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of war in Syria, weapons from Central and Eastern Europe have flooded the conflict zone through two distinct pipelines – one sponsored by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA, and the other funded and directed by the Pentagon.

    A series of investigations by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have brought to light these multi-billion-dollar weapons deliveries -- exposing the misleading and potentially illegal documents on which they rely, the shady dealers at its heart of the trade, and the governments that have profited from the war.

  •  
    Detailed reports on arms pipelines into Syria
Ed Webb

U.S. military apologizes for 'highly offensive' leaflets it distributed in Afghanistan ... - 0 views

  • The image shows a lion chasing a white dog that is meant to represent the flag of Taliban insurgents, which is white with the Shahada printed at the center. The Times obtained a copy of the leaflet from an Afghan official in Parwan.

    The Shahada, the most common recitation of faith for Muslims, states, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

    Local officials in Parwan complained Tuesday night to the provincial governor, prompting a phone call to U.S. military officials in Kabul and at Bagram air base in Parwan.

    “It’s an insult to Islam,” said Waheeda Shakhar, spokeswoman for the Parwan governor. “It’s very sensitive that the Shahada is written on a dog, so it must be investigated.”

  • U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, yet still find themselves tripping over cultural sensitivities
  • “The foreign forces don’t have any idea of what are the values of the Afghan people,” Shaheer said. “They’ve hired some interpreters and advisors who only know how to speak English, make money and gain trust, but really are strangers to the real values of the local people.”
Ed Webb

This bombast from Trumpland was a gift to the Iranian government | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Rouhani has maintained one of the most diverse political coalitions in the history of the Islamic Republic – over the duration of two election campaigns and four years in office. Now the hostile deceit from Haley and her fellow Trump administration foreign policy hawks is incentivising Iran’s disparate political factions to further strengthen ties around the shared goal of resisting and surviving American aggression
  • Haley’s screed is yet another example of bombast from Trumpland that Iranian officials can use to deflect domestic political pressure by shifting the onus of US-Iran conflict onto Washington. To that end, the growing unity amongst political elites on the issue of American aggression is also matched by increasing cohesion between state and society.
  • If Washington kills the deal, Iranians will not blame their leaders because they can correctly accuse the Trump administration for reigniting a nuclear conflict that was resolved two years ago.
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  • Political unity intact, state-society relations improved, blame shifted to the United States, rally-around-the-flag nationalism on the rise – and the Iranian government did not have to lift a finger to produce this favourable outcome. Decision-makers in Tehran may not be strategic masters, but they are masterful at taking advantage of America’s self-inflicted wounds.
  • America killing the deal will likely reduce nuclear, financial and geopolitical constraints on Iran at little cost to its political elite. If Trump’s team wants to allow Tehran to have its cake and eat it too, Iranian officials will gladly oblige.
Ed Webb

A Funeral of 2 Friends: C.I.A. Deaths Rise in Secret Afghan War - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • there are at least 18 stars on that wall representing the number of C.I.A. personnel killed in Afghanistan — a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of C.I.A. operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half century ago
  • Since 2001, as thousands of C.I.A. officers and contractors have cycled in and out of Afghanistan targeting terrorists and running sources, operatives from the Special Activities Division have been part of some of the most dangerous missions. Overall, the division numbers in the low hundreds and also operates in Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines and other areas of conflict.

    C.I.A. paramilitary officers from the division were the first Americans in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they later spirited Hamid Karzai, the future president, into the country. Greg Vogle, an agency operative who took Mr. Karzai into Afghanistan, went on to run the paramilitary division and became the top spy at the C.I.A.

    The first American killed in the country, Johnny Micheal Spann, was a C.I.A. officer assigned to the Special Activities Division. He died in November 2001 during a prison uprising.

  • the C.I.A. helped build the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, which has long faced accusations of torturing suspected militants.
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  • paramilitary officers from the Special Activities Division have trained and advised a small army of Afghan militias known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. The militias took on greater importance under President Barack Obama, who embraced covert operations because of their small footprint and deniability.
  • The C.I.A. also spent more than a decade financing a slush fund for Mr. Karzai. Every month, agency officers would drop off cash in suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags. Mr. Karzai’s aides would use the cash to run a vast patronage network, paying off warlords, lawmakers and others they wanted to keep on their side.

    The slush fund, which was exposed in 2013, was seen by many American diplomats and other officials and experts as fueling the rampant corruption that has undermined the American effort to build a functioning democracy in Afghanistan.

  • The ranks of C.I.A. operatives aren’t easily replaced, said Mr. Stiles, the former counterterrorism analyst.

    “That’s going to be one of the challenges for the government,’’ he said. “How do we maintain the level of experience and expertise in a war that is going to last for another 20 or 30 years or longer?”

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