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Ed Webb

Chinese drones: Cheap, lethal and flying in the Middle East | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • China’s new hit product: the CH-4 Caihong, or "Rainbow", drone.
  • The Middle East is no stranger to drones flown by the US, which have killed thousands of people over the last decade.But more nations are entering the game thanks to a new player in the market: Chinese manufacturers offering cheap hardware with a no-questions-asked sales policy.China has been aggressively marketing the CH-4, which bears a striking resemblance to the US MQ-9 Reaper and has similar capabilities.
  • Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are now believed to operate variants of Chinese armed drones
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  • China has not signed the international Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT, meaning it has fewer restrictions on the sale of drone technology
  • “Countries with less-than-ideal human rights records tend to use their weapons in less-than-ideal human rights manners, whether it’s a drone or a water cannon."
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE are believed to have used the drones in their war in Yemen. While there are not verified reports of drone attacks, evidence of their use includes satellite photographs, as well as images of a drone resembling a CH-4 shot down by Houthi fighters.Saudi Arabia has been condemned by a host of bodies including the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Parliament for apparent indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Yemen.
  • while drones offer safety for operators, leaked reports from the US drone programme suggest that up to 90 percent of those killed in drone strikes may be unintended targets, or "collateral damage". 
Ed Webb

The Libyan Civil War Is About to Get Worse - 0 views

  • Yet another clash between the two main Libya camps is now brewing, and events in recent weeks suggest that the fighting will be more devastating than at any time before—and still may not produce a definitive victory for either side.
  • Facing stiff resistance from disparate militias nominally aligned with the government, the LNA has failed to breach downtown Tripoli. On top of this, the marshal’s campaign, while destructive, has been hampered by gross strategic and tactical inefficiency. The resulting war of attrition and slower pace of combat revealed yet another flaw in his coalition: Few eastern Libyan fighters wish to risk their lives for Haftar 600 miles away from home.
  • the UAE carried out more than 900 air strikes in the greater Tripoli area last year using Chinese combat drones and, occasionally, French-made fighter jets. The Emirati military intervention helped contain the GNA’s forces but did not push Haftar’s objectives forward. Instead, it had an adverse effect by provoking other regional powers. Turkey responded to the UAE by deploying Bayraktar TB2 drones and several dozen Turkish officers to carry out roughly 250 strikes in an effort to help the GNA resist Haftar’s onslaught. The stalemate also inspired Russia to increase its own involvement in Libya.
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  • In September 2019, a few hundred Russian mercenaries joined the front-line effort near Tripoli in support of Haftar’s forces
  • forced a desperate GNA to sign a controversial maritime accord that granted Ankara notional gas-drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean in return for Turkey launching a full-blown military intervention in support of the anti-Haftar camp
  • According to open-source data analyzed by aircraft-tracking specialist Gerjon, the Emiratis, since mid-January, have flown more than 100 cargo planes to Libya (or western Egypt, near the Libyan border). These planes likely carried with them thousands of tons of military hardware. Other clues suggest that the number of Emirati personnel on Libyan soil has also increased. All of this indicates that Haftar’s coalition and its allies are going to try, once again, to achieve total victory by force.
  • Few international actors are willing to contradict the UAE, and while the GNA’s isolation grows, no Western government wants to exert any meaningful pressure on Haftar
  • During January and February, at least three cargo ships from Turkey delivered about 3,500 tons’ worth of equipment and ammunition each. The Turkish presence on Libyan soil currently comprises several hundred men. They train Libyan fighters on urban warfare with an emphasis on tactics to fend off armored vehicles. Against attacks from the sky, Ankara relies on electronic-warfare technology and a combination of U.S.– and indigenously developed air defense systems. Similar protection has been set up at the air base of Misrata, a powerful anti-Haftar city to the west of Sirte, which the LNA took on Jan. 6.
  • Notwithstanding its attempt to tap underwater hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean, Ankara has no intention of renouncing its commercial interests in Libya or its wider geopolitical aspirations in the rest of Africa.
  • To counter Turkey’s new intervention, the pro-Haftar government in eastern Libya formalized its alignment with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, allowing the LNA to purchase technical advice from Damascus using material and diplomatic rewards. A few hundred Syrian contractors hired from pro-Assad militias are now reportedly in Libya, on Haftar’s side
  • Because Turkey’s presence and its arsenal have made it difficult for the UAE to fly its combat drones anymore, the LNA and its allies have begun a relentless shelling campaign using Grad rockets and other projectiles. Such salvos on Tripoli don’t just hit legitimate military targets—they also hit civilians. Unguided rockets are inherently indiscriminate, and the pro-GNA camp can do almost nothing to prevent this kind of attack
  • a philosophy of collective punishment
  • the pro-Haftar camp has been imposing a $1.5 billion-a-month oil blockade on Libya since mid-January. Fuel shortages may soon become more widespread as a result. Suppression of the nation’s only dollar-generating activity is also a means of cutting off the internationally recognized Central Bank in Tripoli and potentially supplanting it with an LNA-friendly alternative where all oil-export proceeds would be captured going forward
  • Moscow’s intervention in Libya is far more mercurial. In the last three months of 2019, Kremlin-linked paramilitary company Wagner shifted the balance of the conflict by joining the fight alongside Haftar. Then, in early January, several days before President Vladimir Putin took part in a request for a Libyan ceasefire, the Russian contingent on the Tripoli front line suddenly became less active.
  • The dynamic between Ankara and Moscow is as much rooted in their common disdain for Europe as it is in mutual animosity. That means Russia could tolerate Turkey a while longer if it feels its interests would be better served by doing so. Such an ebb-and-flow approach amplifies Moscow’s influence and could eventually push the Europeans out of the Libyan theater altogether. Russia may just as easily change its mind and invest into helping the LNA deliver a resounding defeat to Erdogan
  • since late December, more than 4,000 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have arrived in Tripoli and its surrounding area. Most of them are battle-hardened Islamist fighters who belong to three large anti-government militias. Turkey is also busy upgrading its fleet of combat drones scattered across northwest Libya
  • the UAE has sought to bring about the emergence in Tripoli of a government that is void of any influence from political Islam writ large. Because of this, Abu Dhabi will not accept a negotiated settlement with Erdogan’s Islamist government. Making matters worse, neither the United States nor any EU country is willing to use its own regional clout to stand in the Emiratis’ way. Therefore, regardless of whether that endangers a great number of civilian lives, the Libyan war is likely to continue escalating before any political resolution is seriously explored.
Ed Webb

Increasing numbers of Yemenis killed by America's drone strikes - 0 views

  • In America, drones are a fascinating technology in a videogame war where US soldiers neither put themselves at risk nor feel the blood on their hands of those they kill. This has made American policy makers arrogant and overbearing when it comes to even discussing drones, an attitude that history will not treat kindly. Like the McNamara policy in Vietnam of counting enemy corpses as a metric of success, the US drone policy in Yemen will embody America’s moral erosion in our times.
  • President Hadi’s support for the drones has made him a darling of the US — the American ambassador said in a press conference that the US’ relationship with Hadi was even stronger than it was with Saleh and that America would be happy if he ran in the presidential elections again in 2014 — but to the average Yemeni, it makes their first freely elected president in decades look like an American puppet. Remember, a main catalyst for the uprising that overthrew Saleh was that he was accountable to Washington rather than his own people. Local opponents to Hadi are thus amassing a political, legal and moral war chest against the president.
  • neither the Yemeni nor the American government has paid any type of compensation to the innocent victims of drone strikes, while AQAP has an extensive record of compensating the families of civilians inadvertently harmed during its operations. Indeed, AQAP has become an outlet for Yemenis bent on revenge after losing relatives to American missiles, making the drone program a crucial tool of AQAP’s recent recruitment drive
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  • In America, drones are a fascinating technology in a videogame war where US soldiers neither put themselves at risk nor feel the blood on their hands of those they kill. This has made American policy makers arrogant and overbearing when it comes to even discussing drones, an attitude that history will not treat kindly. Like the McNamara policy in Vietnam of counting enemy corpses as a metric of success, the US drone policy in Yemen will embody America’s moral erosion in our times.
Ed Webb

Trump Administration Is Bypassing Arms Control Pact to Sell Large Armed Drones - The Ne... - 0 views

  • The Trump administration announced on Friday that it would allow the sale of advanced armed drones to other nations and bypass part of an international weapons export control agreement that the United States helped forge more than three decades ago.
  • Missile Technology Control Regime
  • circumventing one part of the pact could undermine the agreement in general and encourage other nations to selectively ignore or reinterpret clauses that they find inconvenient
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  • United States has relied on the agreement to help constrain global exports of missile technology to nations it views as security threats because of their nuclear programs, notably North Korea and Iran
  • Several Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are eager to buy drones capable of carrying large payloads. Both those countries have waged a devastating air war in Yemen that has led to thousands of civilian deaths.
  • “This reckless decision once again makes it more likely that we will export some of our most deadly weaponry to human rights abusers across the world,” he said. “This is yet another reckless move by an administration fixated with eliminating the international cooperation that has made the United States and other countries safer for decades.”
  • A Chinese company, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, has developed a drone, the Wing Loong II, that has the same abilities as the MQ-9 Reaper, made by General Atomics, based in San Diego.This year, General Atomics stepped up its lobbying efforts to persuade the government to allow sales of the Reaper, whose export is effectively banned by the requirement of a “strong presumption of denial” in the pact, a congressional aide said.
  • Trump administration, though, has shown disdain for the concept of international agreements and has withdrawn from several major ones
  • In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bypassed a congressional freeze on sales of $8.1 billion of arms to the two countries with an emergency declaration that whose legality is in question.
  • Arms exports, particularly to Gulf Arab nations, have led to some of the biggest clashes between the Trump administration and Congress
  • Officials in the State Department and Pentagon who work on nonproliferation issues have pushed back internally on efforts by other officials to bypass the ban in the agreement, which covers drones capable of carrying at least 500 kilograms, or over 1,100 pounds, of weapons over 300 kilometers, about 186 miles. Those officials and some lawmakers argue that other countries or companies can copy the technology once they are in possession of the drones and start making their own.
  • Besides countries in the Middle East, ones in East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe are likely to ask to buy the drones. Reuters reported last month that the United States was considering bypassing the agreement to sell larger drones.
  • Missile Technology Control Regime was established in 1987 by the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Britain to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The pact, which now includes 35 member nations, restricts the exports of missiles and their components. It has been credited with slowing down missile development programs in countries like Egypt and Iraq.
Ed Webb

Drone warfare's deadly civilian toll: a very personal view | James Jeffrey | Comment is... - 0 views

  • Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the west as a result of President Obama's increased reliance on drones. When surveying the poisoned legacy left to the Iraqi people, and what will be left to the Afghan people, it's beyond depressing to hear of the hawks circling around other theatres like Pakistan and Yemen, stoking the flames of interventionism.I fear the folly in which I took part will never end, and society will be irreversibly enmeshed in what George Orwell's 1984 warned of: constant wars against the Other, in order to forge false unity and fealty to the state.
  • in Afghanistan, the linguistic corruption that always attends war meant we'd refer to "hot spots", "multiple pax on the ground" and "prosecuting a target", or "maximising the kill chain".
  • encroachment of drones into the civilian realm is also gaining momentum. President Obama signed a federal law on 14 February 2012, allowing drones for a variety of commercial uses and for police law enforcement. The skies above may never be the same. As with most of America's darker elements, such as its gun culture, there's profit to be made – the market for drones is already valued at $5.9bn and is expected to double in 10 years.
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  • Technological advancements in warfare don't have a good track record in terms of unintended consequences
Ed Webb

The U.S. Army Is Using the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to Study Drone Warfare - 1 views

  • When Azerbaijan took over the skies in its fight with Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last fall, winning the air war with commercial Turkish and kamikaze drones, one thing started to become clear to U.S. Army strategists: It’s becoming easier to hunt and kill troops than ever before—and to do so on the cheap. With inexpensive, combat-ready drones proliferating on battlefields all over the world, in the not-too-distant future unsuspecting soldiers might get killed just by getting out of their positions for a moment to go to the bathroom.
  • poorer nations can buy themselves a respectable air force mostly off the shelf
  • Azerbaijan deployed Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones and loitering munitions, many of them Israeli-made, to shrink the battlefield and chip away at Armenia’s armored forces as well as the logistical tail that hadn’t even reached the front lines.
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  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev even touted a laundry list of Armenian equipment purportedly destroyed or captured, including nearly 250 tanks, 50 infantry fighting vehicles, and four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems, as well as 198 trucks and 17 self-propelled artillery units. In mid-October, Aliyev credited Turkish drones with helping his military to destroy more than $1 billion worth of Armenian equipment.
  • the tremendous amount of disinformation flying around on open-source networks made it difficult to figure out everything that happened in real time.
  • Automation is likely to move beyond the skies, too. Shaw, an infantry officer by training, sees weaker militaries following the U.S. lead by deploying unmanned ground and sea vehicles
  • unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming more lethal
  • Even communication over FM radio, which was standard operating procedure for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, will need to be rethought as countries like Russia are getting much more skilled at locating—and striking—units that are careless about staying unmasked on the electromagnetic spectrum
  • The Army, which has long enjoyed a firepower advantage in static positions, will have to think about reinventing the wheel to be a constantly mobile force, avoiding detection and incoming fire. “If survivability moves are constant, that increases your rate of consumption for food, water, fuel. People have to sleep,” Shaw said. “We’re going to have to have leaders who are comfortable operating under the uncomfortable.”
Ed Webb

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, by Tom Junod - Esquire - 0 views

  • "President Bush would never have been able to scale this up the way President Obama has because he wouldn't have had the trust of the public and the Congress and the international community," says the former administration official familiar with the targeting process. "That trust has been enabling."
  • It is only human to have faith in the "human intelligence" generated by the agents, operatives, and assets of the CIA. But that's the point: What's human is always only human, and often wrong. America invaded Iraq on the pretext of intelligence that was fallacious if not dishonest. It confidently asserted that the detainees in Guantánamo were the "worst of the worst" and left them to the devices of CIA interrogators before admitting that hundreds were hapless victims of circumstance and letting them go. You, Mr. President, do not have a Guantánamo. But you are making the same characterization of those you target that the Bush administration made of those it detained, based on the same sources. The difference is that all your sentences are final, and you will never let anybody go. To put it as simply as possible: Six hundred men have been released uncharged from Guantánamo since its inception, which amounts to an admission of a terrible mistake. What if they had never even been detained? What if, under the precepts of the Lethal Presidency, they had simply been killed?
  • Collateral damage used to be anyone killed who was not targeted. Now the term "collateral damage" applies only to women and children. "My understanding is that able-bodied males of military age are considered fair game," says the former administration official, "if they're in the proximity of a known militant."
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  • This is what Senator Carl Levin, who receives regular briefings on "clandestine activities" as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: "My understanding is that there was adequate justification." How? "It was justified by the presence of a high-value target."This is what his aunt says about his death in an e-mail: "We were all afraid that Abdulrahman would get caught up in the turmoil in Yemen. However, none of us thought that Abdulrahman will face a danger from the sky. We thought that the American administration, the world leader and superpower will be far and wide from such cruelty. Some may say Abdulrahman was collateral damage; some said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We say that Abdulrahman was in his father's land and was dining under the moon light, it looked to him, us and the rest of the world to be the right time and place. He was not in a cave in Waziristan or Tora Bora, he was simply a kid enjoying his time in the country side. The ones that were in the wrong place and time were the American drones, nothing else."
  • You have been free to keep the American people safe by expanding the Lethal Presidency — by approving the expanded use of signature strikes in Yemen and by defying an edict of the Pakistani parliament and continuing drone strikes in Pakistan. You have even begun thinking of using the Lethal Presidency as an example for other countries that want Lethal Presidencies of their own.
  • the danger of the Lethal Presidency is that the precedent you establish is hardly ever the precedent you think you are establishing, and whenever you seem to be describing a program that is limited and temporary, you are really describing a program that is expansive and permanent. You are a very controlled man, and as Lethal President, it's natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidency. It's even natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidencies of other countries, simply by the power of your example. But the Lethal Presidency incorporates not just drone technology but a way of thinking about drone technology, and this way of thinking will be your ultimate export. You have anticipated the problem of proliferation. But an arms race involving drones would be very different from an arms race involving nuclear arms, because the message that spread with nuclear arms was that these weapons must never be used. The message that you are spreading with drones is that they must be — that using them amounts to nothing less than our moral duty.
Ed Webb

U.S. Refuses to Help Wounded Survivor of Drone Bombing - 0 views

  • Al Manthari has paid the price for America’s shoot-first-ask-no-questions-later system of remote warfare. The irreparable damage to his body left Al Manthari unable to walk or work, robbing him of dignity and causing his daughters — ages 8 and 14 at the time of the strike — to drop out of school to help care for him. The psychological impact of the strike has been profound, leaving Al Manthari traumatized and in need of treatment. And the financial impact has been ruinous.
  • While the U.S. has millions of dollars in funds earmarked for civilian victims of U.S. attacks, the military ignored pleas on Al Manthari’s behalf, leaving the 56-year-old to rely on a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year to save his life
  • “It is appalling that innocent people, civilians who have no connection to armed groups, are left to fend for themselves,” said Aisha Dennis, project manager on extrajudicial executions at Reprieve. “It is heartening that ordinary people, particularly Americans, have stepped in to support Mr. Al Manthari where their government has failed. But it is not — it must not be — their job to do this. It is the duty of the people dropping the bombs, in this case the U.S. government, to face the wreckage they are causing to families and communities and address it with humanity.”
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  • Basim Razzo, who survived a 2015 airstrike in Iraq that killed his wife, daughter, and two other family members and destroyed two homes he valued at $500,000, was offered a “condolence payment” of $15,000, which an Army attorney said was the capped limit. Razzo rejected it as “an insult.” But after Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto was killed by a U.S. drone strike that same year while being held hostage by Al Qaeda, the U.S. paid his family $1.3 million as a “donation in the memory” of their son.
  • Between 2003 and 2006, the Defense Department paid out more than $30 million in solatia and condolence payments to “Iraqi and Afghan civilians who are killed, injured, or incur property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces’ actions during combat,” according to the Government Accountability Office. But in more recent years, the sums paid out have plummeted. From 2015 to 2019, for example, the U.S. paid just $2 million to civilians in Afghanistan.
  • Since at least World War I, the U.S. military has been paying compensation for harm to civilians. During the Vietnam War, solatia payments, as they are called, were a means for the military to make reparations for civilian injuries or deaths without having to admit guilt. In 1968, for example, the going rate for adult lives was $33. Children merited half that.
  • In March, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to open a new investigation into the airstrike that disabled Al Manthari, as well as 11 other U.S. attacks in Yemen. The Pentagon did not respond to repeated requests for comment on what actions, if any, Austin has taken in response to the request. In a letter to Murphy and Warren shared with The Intercept, Colin H. Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official, did not even address the issue of new investigations.
  • The total cost exceeded $21,000. The average per capita income in Yemen is around $2,200.
  • The U.S. has conducted more than 91,000 airstrikes across seven major conflict zones and killed as many as 48,308 civilians, according to a 2021 analysis by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. But only a tiny fraction have received any type of reparations. In 2020, Congress began providing the Defense Department $3 million each year to pay for deaths, injuries, or damages resulting from U.S. or allied military actions, but in the time since, the U.S. has not announced a single ex gratia payment, leaving victims like Al Manthari to fend for themselves.
  • “Payments would be a drop in the bucket for the U.S. military, but there is clearly no system to help people. It’s even unclear that allocated funding, like the USAID Marla Fund, is currently being used for that purpose.”
  • “If we, as a U.S. legal action charity, cannot get a substantive response from CENTCOM, what hope do civilians harmed by U.S. drone strikes living in Somalia, Syria, or Afghanistan have to access accountability?”
  • “When I spoke with a CENTCOM lawyer, he was very clear that they did not want the public to have the perception that there is an official process. They also shy away from using the word ‘claims’ because, I think, they are concerned that it suggests some sort of a legal application.”
  • Asked if the fact that the U.S. military has taken no further action against a man previously deemed too dangerous to live was a tacit admission that Al Manthari is — as two independent investigations found — innocent of any terrorist ties, a U.S. military spokesperson demurred. “I’ll follow up with policy,” he said on June 6. “I’ll get back to you.” He never did.
  • “Far too many cases have been erroneously dismissed despite painstaking research from human rights groups and journalists. And even when the U.S. government confirms it caused civilian casualties, it has rarely made ex gratia payments or other amends. … The result is that civil society groups and journalists have had to fill this gap, from conducting rigorous investigations the government should be doing, to setting up crowdfunding campaigns to support victims. That’s just not how accountability is supposed to work.”
Sana Usman

US Drone Strike destroys another 8 in North Waziristan Agency - 0 views

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    A Drone fired a shower of missiles into a compound very near to the Pak-Afghan border on Saturday, slaughter eight assumed militants and demonstrating U.S. determine to keep on with the attacks even with renewed Pakistani opposition, officials said.
Ed Webb

Russia Confirms Its Uran-9 Robot Tank Is On The Ground In Syria - 1 views

  • Russia has been on the forefront of building unmanned ground vehicles and last week the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that their armed drone tank Uran-9 was tested in Syria.
  • While the deployment of the Uran-6, a minesweeping drone, in Syria has been widely reported on, little has been said publicly about the Uran-9, and military observers and analysts have yet to see it in Syria.
  • the resurgent Russian military has battle tested an arsenal of new weapons including the Su-57 stealth fighter jet, the T-90 battle tank, ship-launched cruise missiles and air defense systems
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  • It remains unclear if the Uran-9 saw combat and where in Syria it was deployed, but the area has served as a proving ground for advanced Russian weapons.
  • “As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” said Vladimir Shamanov, the head of Russian parliament’s Defense Committee and a retired military officer.
  • it is unclear how these systems will perform in hotly contested areas with heavy electronic warfare that could jam or hijack a controller’s system. In Syria, reports have emerged that Russian jamming has affected the GPS systems of small U.S. surveillance drones, disrupting their operations
Ed Webb

Suspected drone attack in Abu Dhabi kills 3, wounds 6 | AP News - 0 views

  • A possible drone attack may have sparked an explosion that struck three oil tankers in Abu Dhabi and another fire at an extension of Abu Dhabi International Airport on Monday that killed three people and wounded six
  • Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for an attack targeting the United Arab Emirates, without elaborating
  • Abu Dhabi largely has withdrawn its national forces from the conflict tearing apart the Arab world’s poorest nation while still supporting local militias there
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  • Police described the airport fire as “minor” and said it took place at an extension of the international airport that is still under construction
  • Police said the other blast struck three petroleum transport tankers near a storage facility for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. in the Musaffah area. The neighborhood, 22 kilometers (13 miles) from the center of Abu Dhabi city, also has an oil pipeline network and 36 storage tanks, from which transport trucks carry fuel nationwide.
  • Yemen’s government-aligned forces, aided by the UAE-backed Giants Brigades and with help from Saudi airstrikes, reclaimed the entire southern province of Shabwa from the Houthis earlier this month and made advances in nearby Marib province.
  • South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in visits the UAE. During the president’s meeting with Emirati Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Sunday, the two countries reportedly reached a preliminary deal valued at some $3.5 billion sell mid-range South Korean surface-to-air missiles to the UAE.
  • The Houthis have used bomb-laden drones to launch crude and imprecise attacks aimed at Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the course of the war. The group has also launched missiles at Saudi airports, oil facilities and pipelines, as well as used booby-trapped boats for attacks in key shipping routes.
  • The war has killed 130,000 people in Yemen - both civilians and fighters - and has exacerbated hunger and famine across the impoverished country
  • while suspicion likely would fall on the Houthis, Iraqi-based militias also have threatened the Emiratis with attacks
  • “The attack is another reminder of the highly complex missile and drone threat faced by the UAE and the region’s other main oil producers,”
Ed Webb

Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still - www.nytimes.com - Readability - 0 views

  • “I was struck by how afraid people are of the constant presence of drones,” said Ms. Knuckey, a co-author of a recent Stanford/N.Y.U. report20 on the drone campaign’s impact on Pakistanis. “They had the sense that they could be struck as collateral damage at any time.”
  • “The U.S. is creating a precedent by carrying out strikes in secrecy without accountability to anyone,” Ms. Knuckey said. “What if all countries did what the U.S. is doing?”
Ed Webb

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This C... - 0 views

  • “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
  • The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE
  • The UAE, with vast wealth but only about 1 million citizens, relies on migrant workers from all over the world to do everything from cleaning its toilets to teaching its university students. Its military is no different, paying lavish sums to eager US defense companies and former generals. The US Department of Defense has approved at least $27 billion in arms sales and defense services to the UAE since 2009.
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  • Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.
  • militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters
  • “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”
  • US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country
  • with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.
  • The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office
  • Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable
  • Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?
  • Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
  • the country embeds foreigners in its military and gave the rank of major general to an American lieutenant colonel, Stephen Toumajan, placing him in command of a branch of its armed forces.
  • The US draws the line at combat; it does not hire mercenaries to carry out attacks or engage directly in warfare. But that line can get blurry. Private firms provide heavily armed security details to protect diplomats in war zones or intelligence officers in the field. Such contractors can engage in firefights, as they did in Benghazi, Libya, when two contractors died in 2012 defending a CIA post. But, officially, the mission was protection, not warfare
  • The people Spear did target, he and Gilmore said, were legitimate because they were selected by the government of the UAE, an ally of the United States that was engaged in a military action supported by the US. Gilmore said that he and Golan told the UAE they would never act against US interests. And Golan claimed that, based on his military experience, he could tell if a target was a terrorist after just a week or two of surveillance.
  • A little-known consequence of the war on terror, and in particular the 17 combined years of US warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. Some special operations reservists are known to engage in for-profit soldiering, said a high-level SEAL officer who asked not to be named. “I know a number of them who do this sort of thing,” he said. If the soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing.
  • Gilmore said some were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics, and some were out-and-out terrorists — but he conceded he couldn’t be sure.BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the target cards. On it is a man’s name, photograph, telephone number, and other information. At the top right is the insignia of the UAE Presidential Guard.
  • During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Later in the Vietnam War, the US launched the Phoenix program, in which the CIA often teamed up with US military units to “neutralize” — or, critics say, assassinate — Viet Cong leaders. Even so, targeted killings were not a central pillar of US military strategy in Vietnam. And after Congress exposed CIA activities in the 1970s, the US banned assassinations of foreign leaders.
  • Under President George W. Bush, the CIA and the military used drones to kill terrorists, and the CIA developed covert assassination capabilities. President Barack Obama halted the agency’s secret assassination program but drastically ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Soon the CIA and the military were using the aircraft — piloted remotely using video monitors — to kill people whose names the US didn’t even know, through “signature strikes” based solely on a target’s associations and activities. President Donald Trump has further loosened the rules for drone strikes.
  • Only a uniformed officer can push the button that fires the drone’s missile and kills the target
  • Elisabeth Kendall, an expert on Yemen at the University of Oxford, points out that unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, which try to seize power through violence, Al-Islah participates in the political process. But, she said, the US rationale for drone strikes has legitimized other countries’ pursuit of their own assassinations: “The whole very watery, vague notion of a war on terror has left the door wide open to any regime saying, ‘This is all a war on terror.’ ”
  • Golan said he models his assassination business on Israel’s targeted killing program, which has been underway since the country was founded, and which, despite some high-profile errors and embarrassments, he claims is done properly. He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution.
  • Golan and Gilmore had another condition: They wanted to be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces. And they wanted their weapons — and their target list — to come from uniformed military officers. That was “for juridical reasons,” Golan said. “Because if the shit hits the fan,” he explained, the UAE uniform and dog tags would mark “the difference between a mercenary and a military man.”
  • Gilmore acknowledged that some of the targets may have been people who merely fell out of favor with the ruling family. Referring to the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Gilmore said, “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
  • Even though it failed to kill Mayo, the mercenaries’ bomb attack seems to have ushered in a new phase in the UAE’s war against Al-Islah. “It was the exclamation point that set the tone that Al-Islah was now going to be targeted,”
  • As 2016 progressed, those watching the deteriorating situation in Yemen began to notice that members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden, were dropping dead at an alarming pace. “It does appear to be a targeted campaign,” said Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation, who in 2016 served on a UN panel investigating the Yemen war. “There have been 25 to 30 assassinations,” he said, though a few appear to be the work of ISIS.
  • One new member of the team, hired in early 2016, was the veteran of SEAL Team 6, Daniel Corbett, according to three sources and confirmed by photos. Corbett was a superb soldier, say those who know him, and had served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was still in the reserves, so the US military could deploy him at any moment; he collected a government salary; and he was supposed to report for monthly drills. And yet he was in Yemen on a private contract to work for a foreign military. It is unclear if he himself was involved in missions to assassinate anyone.
  • In a mysterious development, Corbett is currently in jail in Serbia, where he is being investigated for illegal handgun possession. The American veteran has been held there since February 2018.
  • “some variety of the future of warfare.”
Ed Webb

Border Patrol, Israel's Elbit Put Reservation Under Surveillance - 0 views

  • The vehicle is parked where U.S. Customs and Border Protection will soon construct a 160-foot surveillance tower capable of continuously monitoring every person and vehicle within a radius of up to 7.5 miles. The tower will be outfitted with high-definition cameras with night vision, thermal sensors, and ground-sweeping radar, all of which will feed real-time data to Border Patrol agents at a central operating station in Ajo, Arizona. The system will store an archive with the ability to rewind and track individuals’ movements across time — an ability known as “wide-area persistent surveillance.” CBP plans 10 of these towers across the Tohono O’odham reservation, which spans an area roughly the size of Connecticut. Two will be located near residential areas, including Rivas’s neighborhood, which is home to about 50 people. To build them, CBP has entered a $26 million contract with the U.S. division of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company.
  • U.S. borderlands have become laboratories for new systems of enforcement and control
  • these same systems often end up targeting other marginalized populations as well as political dissidents
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  • the spread of persistent surveillance technologies is particularly worrisome because they remove any limit on how much information police can gather on a person’s movements. “The border is the natural place for the government to start using them, since there is much more public support to deploy these sorts of intrusive technologies there,”
  • the company’s ultimate goal is to build a “layer” of electronic surveillance equipment across the entire perimeter of the U.S. “Over time, we’ll expand not only to the northern border, but to the ports and harbors across the country,”
  • In addition to fixed and mobile surveillance towers, other technology that CBP has acquired and deployed includes blimps outfitted with high-powered ground and air radar, sensors buried underground, and facial recognition software at ports of entry. CBP’s drone fleet has been described as the largest of any U.S. agency outside the Department of Defense
  • Nellie Jo David, a Tohono O’odham tribal member who is writing her dissertation on border security issues at the University of Arizona, says many younger people who have been forced by economic circumstances to work in nearby cities are returning home less and less, because they want to avoid the constant surveillance and harassment. “It’s especially taken a toll on our younger generations.”
  • Between 2013 and 2016, for example, roughly 40 percent of Border Patrol seizures at immigration enforcement checkpoints involved 1 ounce or less of marijuana confiscated from U.S. citizens.
  • In the U.S., leading companies with border security contracts include long-established contractors such as Lockheed Martin in addition to recent upstarts such as Anduril Industries, founded by tech mogul Palmer Luckey to feed the growing market for artificial intelligence and surveillance sensors — primarily in the borderlands. Elbit Systems has frequently touted a major advantage over these competitors: the fact that its products are “field-proven” on Palestinians
  • Border militarism has been spreading worldwide owing to neoliberal economic policies, wars, and the onset of the climate crisis, all of which have contributed to the uprooting of increasingly large numbers of people, notes Reece Jones
  • Leading Democrats have argued for the development of an ever-more sophisticated border surveillance state as an alternative to Trump’s border wall. “The positive, shall we say, almost technological wall that can be built is what we should be doing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in January. But for those crossing the border, the development of this surveillance apparatus has already taken a heavy toll. In January, a study published by researchers from the University of Arizona and Earlham College found that border surveillance towers have prompted migrants to cross along more rugged and circuitous pathways, leading to greater numbers of deaths from dehydration, exhaustion, and exposure.
  • “Walls are not only a question of blocking people from moving, but they are also serving as borders or frontiers between where you enter the surveillance state,” she said. “The idea is that at the very moment you step near the border, Elbit will catch you. Something similar happens in Palestine.”
  • CBP is by far the largest law enforcement entity in the U.S., with 61,400 employees and a 2018 budget of $16.3 billion — more than the militaries of Iran, Mexico, Israel, and Pakistan. The Border Patrol has jurisdiction 100 miles inland from U.S. borders, making roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population theoretically subject to its operations, including the entirety of the Tohono O’odham reservation
  • Verlon Jose, then-tribal vice chair, said that many nation members calculated that the towers would help dissuade the federal government from building a border wall across their lands. The Tohono O’odham are “only as sovereign as the federal government allows us to be,”
  • the agency uses its sprawling surveillance apparatus for purposes other than border enforcement
  • documents obtained via public records requests suggest that CBP drone flights included surveillance of Dakota Access pipeline protests
  • CBP’s repurposing of the surveillance tower and drones to surveil dissidents hints at other possible abuses. “It’s a reminder that technologies that are sold for one purpose, such as protecting the border or stopping terrorists — or whatever the original justification may happen to be — so often get repurposed for other reasons, such as targeting protesters.”
  • The impacts of the U.S. border on Tohono O’odham people date to the mid-19th century. The tribal nation’s traditional land extended 175 miles into Mexico before being severed by the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, a U.S. acquisition of land from the Mexican government. As many as 2,500 of the tribe’s more than 30,000 members still live on the Mexican side. Tohono O’odham people used to travel between the United States and Mexico fairly easily on roads without checkpoints to visit family, perform ceremonies, or obtain health care. But that was before the Border Patrol arrived en masse in the mid-2000s, turning the reservation into something akin to a military occupation zone. Residents say agents have administered beatings, used pepper spray, pulled people out of vehicles, shot two Tohono O’odham men under suspicious circumstances, and entered people’s homes without warrants. “It is apartheid here,” Ofelia Rivas says. “We have to carry our papers everywhere. And everyone here has experienced the Border Patrol’s abuse in some way.”
  • Tohono O’odham people have developed common cause with other communities struggling against colonization and border walls. David is among numerous activists from the U.S. and Mexican borderlands who joined a delegation to the West Bank in 2017, convened by Stop the Wall, to build relationships and learn about the impacts of Elbit’s surveillance systems. “I don’t feel safe with them taking over my community, especially if you look at what’s going on in Palestine — they’re bringing the same thing right over here to this land,” she says. “The U.S. government is going to be able to surveil basically anybody on the nation.”
Ed Webb

Dismal failure of Saudi defences may entangle US just where Iran wants it | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant was a surprise – and that was itself surprising in view of all the Western defensive hardware, let alone the major US and British naval presence, very close by. The Saudis were initially reluctant to give many details, save blaming the Iranians rather than the Yemenis. Quite a lot more information has now seeped out, however: it suggests that the political consequences of the Abqaiq attack may last long after the oil plant is repaired.
  • It appears that Saudi air defences failed to intercept any missile or drone: the intruders may not even have been tracked en route to their targets, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly.
  • US officials say that all the drones and missiles were launched from south-western Iran on a flight path that would have taken them across the tip of Kuwait. In response the Kuwaiti authorities have launched an inquiry into the possible violation of airspace – which suggests that they did not detect the missiles either.
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  • none of this should have happened, given the extensive and hugely expensive air defences that the Saudis have installed to safeguard Abqaiq and other facilities from Iranian and Houthi missiles
  • US troops left the kingdom in 2004 after the start of the 2003 Iraq war, even if many Americans stayed on in civilian guise. With that withdrawal, one of the biggest US bases, a large part of the Royal Saudi Air Force’s Prince Sultan Air Force Base, was closed down, leaving the Saudis as the sole occupants. That was until July this year when, according to Military.com: Air Force Col. David Jackson, commander of the 621st Contingency Response Wing, told Military.com last week that teams from his wing were sent to Prince Sultan, about 50 miles southeast of the capital of Riyadh, to prepare the airfield for renewed operations.
  • Iranian cruise missiles have a range of about 700 km, armed drones of 1,200 km, and the nearest Iranian territory to Abqaiq is far less than that
  • an apparently minor decision taken three months ago that scarcely registered with Western politicians: the return of uniformed US troops to the kingdom
  • The Iranian success was a disaster for Saudi Arabia and an embarrassment for US, French, German and Swiss arms suppliers. Given that Saudi Arabia has many oil and gas fields and processing plants, not to mention a series of huge desalination plants on which the kingdom depends for half of its drinking water, it is easy to see the extreme concern behind the scenes in Riyadh.
  • Prince Sultan base now looks highly likely to be the main staging post for around 500 uniformed US military to be deployed to the kingdom to boost its own inadequate air defences. Given the state of tension with Iran it is safe to assume that this initial deployment will be the start of something substantially bigger.
  • a perfect gift for extreme Islamist movements who can point once again to the weakness of the House of Saud: in their view the Guardian of the Two Holy Cities is anything but
  • wise to assume that, all along, one of Iran’s aims has been to draw Saudi Arabia and the Pentagon closer and closer together, causing dissent in the kingdom and continuing embarrassment for the royal house
Ed Webb

A Libyan Revenant | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • After detaining the men for more than a month, the Saudis returned them to Libya, but not to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord or GNA — as they were required to do by international law. Instead, they dispatched them to a rival and unrecognized administration in eastern Libya, aligned with the anti-Islamist militia commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. It was not a repatriation, then, but a rendition. And the Saudis likely knew full well what lay in store for the men at the hands of their bitter foe.In the months ahead, the two Libyans, who hailed from the seaside town of Az Zawiyah west of Tripoli, were incarcerated in eastern Libya’s most notorious prisons, where they were allegedly tortured by pro-Haftar militias
  • Released from captivity a year and half later after pledging support to Haftar, one of the men, a militia commander named Mahmud bin Rajab, reneged on his promise and played a role in thwarting Haftar’s plan in April 2019 to quickly seize Tripoli — a scheme that Saudi Arabia had promised to bankroll and that received military support from the UAE and Egypt, among other countries
  • For the Saudis and their autocratic Arab allies, the saga of the Zawiyans’ captivity was but one blunder in their larger Libyan misadventure, which has handed their rival Turkey uncontested influence over much of western Libya
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  • the Middle East’s proxy wars and ideological rivalries have spilled across borders, ensnaring both the innocent and not so innocent — and perpetuating Libya’s vicious cycles of retribution
  • The Emiratis had been flying hundreds of drone sorties in support of Haftar since the start of his attack, and the resulting psychological impact on the GNA forces had been severe. The twisted remains of Toyota trucks at the Naqliya Camp were evidence of this. Fearing the drones, none of the GNA fighters slept in their trucks anymore, and hardly anyone used them for movement on the battlefield.
  • It would be another three months before the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner Group would shift the momentum in Haftar’s favor by improving the precision of his artillery, and then another two months before a larger Turkish intervention, including drones and Syrian mercenaries, would arrive to save the embattled GNA and turn the tables once again
  • a breezy display of military jargon, one that I’d often encountered among Libya’s young militia commanders. Like many of them, bin Rajab’s military experience was gained through battles during and after the revolution. He rose through dint of charisma, patronage, and social ties rather than formal training
  • In Libya alone, countless citizens have lost their lives to the direct actions of foreign states like Emirati drone strikes, or indirect interference like the continued foreign backing of Libyan militias who murder and torture with impunity. Recently, there are signs of a softening of these harmful regional enmities, such as the end of the Saudi-led embargo of Qatar and Ankara’s quiet engagement with Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. But the damage caused by years of foreign interventions has yet to fully mend.
  • The massacre of up to a thousand Morsi supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood left Libyan Islamists fearing similar suppression in their own country. For their part, Libyan anti-Islamists were emboldened by the ascent of al-Sisi’s friendly regime next door
  • Libya was now split into two warring political camps: the anti-Haftar and Islamist factions in Tripoli, who called themselves “Libya Dawn,” and Haftar’s Operation Dignity based in the east. Foreign powers quickly joined, sending arms and advisers and conducting airstrikes. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia, and France backed Haftar’s side, while Turkey and Qatar backed his opponents.
  • On the evening of their departure, an ambulance took the men to the runway at Jeddah’s international airport. During the drive, a Saudi doctor in a white coat asked bin Rajab questions about his health and took his blood pressure. As he exited the vehicle, someone was filming him with a camera. The Libyan consul, whom bin Rajab was told would be present, was nowhere to be seen. Bin Rajab tried to stall, but a Saudi military officer muscled him onto a Libyan military cargo plane. Inside, the Libyan soldiers who bound his mouth with tape spoke in the dialect of eastern Libya, the territory controlled by Haftar.
  • For over a year, Haftar had denied holding the three prisoners, causing GNA officials to suspect they were still in Saudi Arabia. It was not until Haftar’s LAAF swapped a prisoner with the GNA that an eyewitness, a fellow detainee in Benghazi, provided the first confirmation of their incarceration in eastern Libya. Then, in the spring of 2019, a delegation of elders from Az Zawiyah visited Haftar at his base outside Benghazi, who agreed to release the prisoners, reportedly under pressure from the Saudis. Bin Rajab told me that protests by the men’s friends and families in front of Saudi diplomatic facilities in Istanbul, Geneva, and London played a role, as did growing international scrutiny on the Kingdom in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing. Human rights organizations and foreign diplomats were also raising the Libyans’ case with the Saudi government.
  • By mid-2020, Turkish-backed GNA fighters had forced Haftar’s LAAF out of western Libya and compelled him to accept a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
  • The civil war erupted in May 2014, when Haftar and his militia allies launched a military campaign called Operation Dignity in Benghazi, framed as an effort to eliminate the city’s Islamists, including radical jihadists, and restore security. In fact, the operation was the first step in Haftar’s bid for national power. His public threats to expand his military campaign to Tripoli triggered a countermove by anti-Haftar and Islamist armed groups in western Libya.
  • Libyans have often told me that their fates are being decided abroad and that Libyan elites have all but surrendered their country’s sovereignty to their foreign patrons
  • Libyans still have agency to derail the best-laid plans of foreign capitals
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