Russia Calls House Bill an “Act of War.”
Will the Senate Block H.R. 1644? Gar Smith / World Beyond War & Op-Ed News & Information Clearinghouse
(Many 26, 2017) — On May 4, 2017, House Resolution 1644, the innocently named “Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act,” was quickly passed by the US House of Representatives by a vote of 419-1 – and it was just as quickly labeled an “act of war” by a top Russian official.
Why was Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Russian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, so alarmed about a US law ostensibly aimed at North Korea? After all, there had been no blistering partisan debate preceding the vote. Instead, the bill was handled under a “suspension of the rules” procedure usually applied to noncontroversial legislation. And it passed with only one dissenting vote (cast by Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky).
So what did H.R. 1644 call for? If enacted, the bill would amend the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 to increase the president’s powers to impose sanctions on anyone in violation of certain United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding North Korea.
Specifically, it would allow for expanding sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear weapons programs by: targeting overseas individuals who employ North Korean “slave labor”; requiring the administration to determine whether North Korea was a state sponsor of terrorism and, most critically; authorizing a crackdown on North Korea’s use of international transit ports.
H.R. 1644 Targets Foreign Ports and Air Terminals
What caught the eye of Russian critics was Section 104, the part of the bill that presumed to grant the US “inspection authorities” over shipping ports (and major airports) far beyond the Korean Peninsula – specifically, ports in China, Russia, Syria, and Iran.
The bill identifies more than 20 foreign targets, including: two ports in China (Dandong and Dalian and “any other port in the People’s Republic of China that the President deems appropriate”); ten ports in Iran (Abadan, Bandar-e-Abbas, Chabahar, Bandar-e-Khomeini, Bushehr Port, Asaluyeh Port, Kish, Kharg Island, Bandar-e-Lenge, Khorramshahr, and the Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport); four facilities in Syria (the ports at Latakia, Banias, Tartous and the Damascus International Airport) and; three ports in Russia (Nakhodka, Vanino, and Vladivostok).
Under the proposed law, the US Secretary of Homeland Security could use the National Targeting Center’s Automated Targeting System to search any ship, plane, or conveyance that has “entered the territory, waters, or airspace of North Korea, or landed in any of the sea ports or airports of North Korea.” Any vessel, aircraft, or vehicle found in violation of this US law would be subject to “seizure and forfeiture.”
House Bill Raises a Red Flag for Russia
“I hope [this bill] will never be implemented,” Kosachev told Sputnik News, “because its implementation envisions a scenario of power with forced inspections of all vessels by US warships. Such a power scenario is beyond comprehension, because it means a declaration of war.”
Russian officials were understandably outraged by Congress’ imperious move to extend the US military’s authority to include surveillance of sovereign ports in the Russian Far East. Russia’s Upper House heatedly noted that such actions constitute a violation of international law that was tantamount to a declaration of war.
“No country in the world, and no international organization, has authorized the US to monitor implementation of any resolutions of the UN Security Council,” Kosachev observed. He accused Washington of attempting to “affirm the supremacy of its own legislation over international law,” an example of US “exceptionalism” that he claimed constitutes “the main problem of present-day international relations.”
Kosachev’s Upper House colleague, Alexey Pushkov, underscored this concern. “It is absolutely unclear how the bill will be implemented,” Pushkov stated. “To control Russian ports, the US will have to introduce a blockade and inspect all ships, which amounts to an act of war.” Pushkov argued that the lopsided 419-1 vote “indicates the nature of the legal and political culture of the US Congress.”
Russia Challenges US Exceptionalism
Russia now fears that the US Senate maybe similarly inclined. According to Sputnik News, the surveillance-and-interdiction amendment is “due to be approved by the Senate and then signed by US president Donald Trump.”
Andrey Krasov, the First Deputy Head of the Defense Committee in Russia’s Lower House, greeted news of the US move with a mixture of disbelief and indignation: “Why on Earth did America assume the responsibilities? Who gave it such powers to control the seaports of our country? Neither Russia nor international organizations asked Washington to do so. One can only answer that any unfriendly step by the US administration against Russia and our allies will receive a symmetrical adequate response. In any case, no American ship will enter our waters. Our armed forces and our fleet have every means to severely punish those who will dare to enter our territorial waters.”
Krasov suggested that Washington’s “saber-rattling” was another sign that the US has no interest in accommodating other members of the world community – especially rivals like China and Russia. “These are heavyweights which, in principle, do not fit into the US’s overall concept on governing and ruling the whole world.”
Vladimir Baranov, a Russian ferry line operator whose vessels ply the waters between Vladivostok and the North Korean port city of Rajin, told Sputnik News that “the US physically cannot control Russian ports – you have to visit the Port Authority, demand documents, that sort of thing . . . . This is essentially a bluff by the US, an attempt to show that it controls the world.”
Alexander Latkin, a professor from the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, was similarly skeptical: “How could the US control our ports operations? It might have been possible if the US possessed a percentage of the port’s equity but, as far as I know, all of the shareholders are Russian. It is essentially a political move by the US. The Americans don’t have any legal or economic basis for controlling our ports.”
Maxim Grigoryev, who heads Russia’s Foundation for the Study of Democracy, told Sputnik Radio that he found the proposed legislation “rather funny,” given that it fails to provide any details on what a US inspection intervention might entail nor does it provide any guidelines for conducting Pentagon inspections of internationally flagged foreign vessels and foreign port facilities.
“What happened is that the US judicial authority has empowered its executive counterpart to present a report on this matter, which includes telling whether the sanctions against North Korea are being violated via Russian, Korean, and Syrian ports,” Grigoryev stated.
“The US doesn’t mind that it basically dictates that other countries must adhere to US legislation. Clearly, this is a preparation for some sort of statement to be made against Russia, Syria or China. The measure is unlikely to be related to real politics – because the US doesn’t have any jurisdiction over other countries – but this is an obvious foundation for some propaganda campaign.”
Adding to the growing uncertainty over rising US/Russia tensions, top Russian military officials have expressed alarm over signs that the Pentagon is making preparations for a preemptive nuclear strike on Russia.
Rising Concerns of a Nuclear Attack
On March 28, 2017, Lt. Gen. Victor Poznihir, Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, warned that the placement of US anti-ballistic missiles near Russia’s borders “creates a powerful clandestine potential for delivering a surprise nuclear missile strike against Russia.”
He repeated this concern again on April 26, when he alerted the Moscow International Security Conference that the Russian General Staff’s Operations Command is convinced Washington is preparing to exercise the “nuclear option.”
This terrifying news went virtually unnoted by the US media. On May 11, columnist Paul Craig Roberts (a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Ronald Reagan and former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal) cited Poznihir’s comments in a clearly agitated blog post.
According to Roberts, a Google search revealed that this “most alarming of all announcements” had only been reported in a single US publication – the Times-Gazette of Ashland, Ohio. There were, Roberts reported, “no reports on US TV, and none on Canadian, Australian, European, or any other media except RT [a Russian news agency] and Internet sites.”
Roberts also was alarmed to discover that no “US senator or representative or any European, Canadian, or Australian politician has raised a voice of concern that the West was now preparing for a first strike on Russia” nor, it appeared, had anyone reached out to “ask Putin how this serious situation could be defused.”
(Roberts has previously written that Beijing’s leaders also fear the US has detailed plans for a nuclear for strike on China. In response, China has pointedly reminded the US that its submarine fleet stands ready to destroy America’s West Coast while it’s ICBMs go to work obliterating the rest of the country.)
“Never in my life have I experienced the situation where two nuclear powers were convinced that the third was going to surprise them with a nuclear attack,” Roberts wrote. Despite this existential threat, Roberts notes, there has been “zero awareness and no discussion” of the growing risks.
“Putin has been issuing warnings for years,” Roberts writes. “Putin has said over and over, ‘I issue warnings and no one hears. How do I get through to you?'”
The US Senate now has a critical role to play. The bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The committee has an opportunity to acknowledge the grave existential risks created by H.R. 1644 and make sure that no companion bill ever makes it to the Senate floor. If this precipitously ill-conceived legislation is allowed to survive, our own survival – and the survival of hundreds of millions of others around the world – cannot be guaranteed.
Gar Smith is a veteran of the Free Speech Movement, an anti-war organizer, the winner of several Project Censored Awards, Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, a member of the borad of World Beyond War, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, author of Nuclear Roulette and editor of the forthcoming book, The War and Environment Reader.
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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Condemns
New US Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia Press Release / Information Clearing House
WASHINGTON, DC (May 29, 2017) — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) condemned the Trump Administration’s new $460 billion arms deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over the next 10 years — a country with a devastating record of human rights violations at home and abroad, and a long history of providing support to terrorist organizations that threaten the American people.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest sponsor and propagator of the extremist Wahhabi Salafist ideology that fuels terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Based on Saudi Arabia’s history and track record, there is a significant likelihood these weapons will be used against innocent civilians or end up in the hands of terrorist groups.
[According to] Rep. Tulsi Gabbard:
“Saudi Arabia has spent hundreds of billions of dollars spreading their extreme Wahhabi Salafist ideology around the world, creating fertile ground for terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda to recruit, while simultaneously providing direct support to terrorist groups who pose a direct threat to US interests and who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.
“The hypocrisy in the Trump administration’s actions toward Saudi Arabia began in February 2017 with the newly-appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo presenting Saudi Crown Prince bin Nayef with the George Tenet Award in recognition of Prince bin Nayef’s ‘excellent intelligence performance, in the domain of counter-terrorism and his unbound contribution to realise world security and peace.’
“This hypocrisy continues now as the Trump administration talks tough against ISIS and terrorism, while selling weapons to, supporting, and praising a country that beheads dissidents, oppresses women, persecutes religious minorities, atheists, and LGBT people, and is the greatest supporter of terror groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in the world today.
“This arms deal will enable Saudi Arabia to use US-made weapons in their war crimes against Yemeni civilians in a brutal civil war, and continue perpetuating human rights atrocities at home and abroad.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has introduced H.R. 608, the bipartisan Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would prohibit any Federal agency from using taxpayer dollars to provide weapons, cash, intelligence, or any support to armed militants who are allied with al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups, and it will prohibit the US government from funneling money and weapons through other countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar who are directly or indirectly supporting terrorists.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also recently sent a letter to Secretary Mattis urging an end to the United States’ military participation in Yemen’s civil war, where 19 million people need emergency support and which has never been authorized by Congress, and calling for a Congressional briefing on the White House’s strategy in Yemen.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.
The Meaning of Memorial Day Tulsi Gabbard / US House of Representatives
(May 30, 2017) — Amidst the noise of retail sales, outdoor picnics, and the start of summer over a long weekend, it’s easy for people to miss the point of Memorial Day. But in the quiet moments, families, friends, and fellow service members and veterans feel the pain and emotion of losing someone who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.
No matter what generation or conflict these heroes gave their lives, the weight of their sacrifice is felt as acutely as it was on the day we lost them.
The cost of war is as infinite as the pain in our hearts, the joy of our memories, the pride in their courage and selflessness, and the bonds of camaraderie that exist between veterans of all generations.
Every year, the week before Memorial Day, I go with a handful of my colleagues early in the morning to Arlington Cemetery to pay silent tribute to those who gave all. Away from the parades, the cameras, and the crowds, the burden that our fallen heroes shouldered to serve this nation is as heavy as the weight we feel in the air of Arlington’s hallowed ground.
In Hawai’i, we remember those who were killed in Iraq, like First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe and Staff Sergeant Frank Tiai.
We remember SP5 Kimo Gabriel, the first Green Beret and the first Hawaiian killed in Vietnam.
We remember PFC Herbert K. Pilila’au, who was the first Hawaiian to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Korean War.
We think of “Uncle Herb” Weatherwax, a Native Hawaiian Pearl Harbor survivor, and those we lost on that day, whose legacies he carried with him at each event in their honor.
Uncle Herb fulfilled his dying wish last December to attend the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 75th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony, to honor those members of the Greatest Generation who sacrificed all on that tragic day. He left us just one week later.
Let us all take the time today for reflection, and to consider how best we can honor and celebrate the lives of our friends and loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Let us make the most of the life and time we have been blessed with, and do our best to live our own lives in service to others.
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Trump Faces Showdown With
Congress Over Saudi Arms Deal Mounting Concerns Over Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Record Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 28, 2017) — President Trump has been bragging about the massive Saudi Arabia arms deal since he got back from last week’s overseas trip, with a contract in hand for $110 billion in immediate sales, and in excess of $350 billion over the decade. First he’s going to have to fight Congress, however.
The ever-worsening humanitarian crisis in Saudi-invaded Yemen, and the very real concerns that the US supply of arms is being seen international as tacit involvement have led to a minority of figures in Congress, but a growing one, opposing previous arms deals.
This time, resolutions are already in the works in both the House and Senate, with an eye toward blocking parts of the sale that are particularly related to the Yemen War. Growing [outrage] from human rights groups and skepticism about making the Saudis, with their sketchy human rights record, recipients of a record US arms sale, are likely to add to the pressure to vote against the sale.
The Senate resolution, coauthored by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Al Franken (D-MN) aims to forbid the provision of bombs to the Saudis and service by US companies on certain Saudi warplanes. The House version, from Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ted Yoho (R-FL) aims to block the sale of guided munitions to the Saudis, the kind that President Obama had previously frozen sales of at the end of his term in office.
ACTION: Those wishing to contact their Senators in support of Sens. Paul, Murphy, and Franken’s resolution can find contact information here. Those wishing to support Reps. Lieu and Yoho can find contact information for their Representative here.
(May 27, 2017) — Donald Trump’s multi-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia could be held up by US politicians seeking to scrutinise its contents.
Members of both the US president’s Republican Party and rival Democrats in both Congress and the Senate are hoping to block the sale of the weapons and equipment.
Mr. Trump signed the $110 billion deal during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
“This package demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the United States’ commitment to our partnership with Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region, and supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the US defence industrial base,” a White House statement said shortly afterwards.
But In a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressmen Ted Lieu, a Democrat and Republican Ted Yoho urged their colleagues to reconsider the sale of precision guided munitions (PGMs) to the oil rich Middle Eastern Kingdom.
They pointed out that former president Barack Obama’s administration had halted a planned sale of of PGM’s to Saudi Arabia in December, “due to concerns over the widespread civilian casualties in Yemen” and “significant deficiencies” in the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force’s (RSAF) targeting capabilities”.
They said: “This decision was the result of an internal review launched after the United Nations and a number of human rights organisations documented a series of RSAF airstrikes on civilian targets including hospitals, markets, schools and a large funeral.”
They added that in March, The State Department had “reversed this policy without providing any justification for what had changed in its assessment.”
As a result they said it was incumbent of the committee to “exercise its oversight powers and to ask tough questions” of Mr. Trump’s administration.
In the Senate meanwhile, Senator’s Chris Murphy, Al Franken and Rand Paul introduced a joint resolution of disapproval for the deal.
Under a provision of the Arms Export Control Act, they hope to block the sale of weapons and equipment to the Royal Saudi Air Force, although it represents only a portion of the total package.
However, they will have to wait for over a week before bringing their measure to the floor of the Senate.
Other Congressional leaders slammed the deal on account of Saudi Arabia’s’s human rights violations and export of extremist ideologies.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, accused Trump of kowtowing to “one of the world’s wealthiest and repressive regimes.”
Healso accused the Saudi royal family of “support for extremism that breeds terrorism” and “gross mistreatment of its own citizens.”
Human rights organisations have also criticised the deal.
Shortly after it was signed Amnesty International accused the President of a “glaring omission” of human rights on the leaders’ agenda, and called for the US to stop selling arms to the Saudis to prevent the nation’s violation of international law via air strikes in Yemen and killing civilians.
Jeff Abramson of the Arms Control Association also cited the numerous cases of Saudi airstrikes against civilians in Yemen, telling Foreign Policy magazine: “The Saudis have not proven to be responsible in their use of American weapons.”
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US Successfully Intercepts ICBM in Historic Test Elizabeth McLaughlin and Luis Martinez / ABC News
(May 30, 2017) — The US has “successfully intercepted” an intercontinental ballistic missile during the first test of its ground-based intercept system, the US Missile Defense Agency said Tuesday.
The test occurred just days after the North Korean regime launched its ninth missile this year. US officials say today’s test had been planned for years.
The ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET. A little more than one hour later, the Pentagon confirmed that it had successfully collided with an ICBM-class target over the Pacific Ocean.
The ICBM-target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 4,200 miles away.
“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD [Ground-based Missile Defense] system and a critical milestone for this program,” said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. “This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat. I am incredibly proud of the warfighters who executed this test and who operate this system every day.”
The ground-based interceptor system is mainly designed to counter a North Korean missile threat, but a US official said Tuesday’s long-scheduled test was coincidental to North Korea’s increased missile testing this year.
This was the 18th test of the ground-based interceptor. The last one, in June 2014, was the first success since 2008. The system was nine for 17 since 1999 with other types of shorter-range target missiles. Tuesday’s ICBM target had never been tested before.
There are 32 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg.
The Missile Defense Agency said in its 2018 fiscal year budget overview that it would deploy eight additional ground-based interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017, for a total of 44, “to improve protection against North Korean and potential Iranian ICBM threats as they emerge.”
The US tests its ICBMs about twice every year. Earlier this month, the Air Force Global Strike Command test-launched an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM equipped with a single test re-entry vehicle from Vandenberg. The re-entry vehicle landed at Kwajalein Atoll.
“These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,” the Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement.
Growing Threat from North Korea
North Korea has spent the last decade working to develop an ICBM capable of reaching the continental United States. Though North Korea has conducted nine missiles tests in 2017, none have been ICBMs.
The ground-based interceptor being tested Tuesday is different from the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system deployed in South Korea, which is designed to intercept missiles at a lower altitude in their terminal stage.
The last test North Korea conducted, on May 28, was assessed as a short-range ballistic missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan, according to US Pacific Command.
Two weeks earlier, North Korea tested a KN-17 medium-range ballistic missile, the first successful launch of its kind for the nation.
The Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters that the missile reached an unprecedented altitude of 1,245 miles. Experts said the missile would have flown much farther if it had been launched on a maximum trajectory â€” perhaps capable of reaching US military bases in Guam.
US Tests ICBM Interceptor Missile
Amid Rising Tensions with North Korea RT News
(May 30, 2017) — The first ever test of an interceptor intended to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) has been successful, the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said. The long-planned trial comes amid increased tensions with North Korea.
A Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor was fired from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday afternoon. The target vehicle, designed to resemble an ICBM, took off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The intercept took place high above the Pacific Ocean, the agency said.
Kwajalein is approximately 8,000 km (4,972 miles) from Los Angeles, California. The Pentagon classifies any missile with a range greater than 3,400 miles as an ICBM.
Tuesday’s test was planned “years in advance” and is not a direct response to recent North Korean tests of ballistic missiles, a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Stars and Stripes last week.
The test interceptor is equipped with an Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which is supposed to destroy the target vehicle with a direct hit.
“This will be the first test of an upgraded kill vehicle, and the first test against an ICBM-class target,”MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said in a statement prior to the launch.
Deployed in 2004 by the Bush administration, the GMD has never been used it combat. This is the first intercept test since 2014. There are currently 32 interceptor missiles in Fort Greely, Alaska and four at Vandenberg. Eight more are supposed to come on-line by the end of this year, AP reported.
While North Korea currently lacks the capability to hit the US mainland, the US military intelligence chief recently warned that such a development is only a matter of time.
(February 6, 2017) — The US and Japan have passed a crucial test for missile defense, shooting down a medium-range ballistic missile with a new interceptor launched from a guided-missile destroyer.
The US Missile Defense Agency announced that the USS John Paul Jones detected, tracked and took out the target ballistic missile using its onboard Aegis Missile Defense System and a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor.
The test took place Friday night off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
“Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, said in a statement.
“The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and US government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”
The test came while new US Defense Secretary James Mattis was on his first overseas trip to South Korea and Japan. Ballistic missile defense was at the top of the agenda after North Korea’s prolific testing of short- and intermediate-range missiles last year. And the US is worried that North Korea may be developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to reach as far as the US West Coast.
A focus of Mattis’ trip was the THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — anti-missile system, which the US plans to deploy in South Korea this year.
The THAAD system has drawn sharp criticism from China, which sees it as part of a broader US strategy to extend its military alliance network from Japan all the way down to the South China Sea.
But during his trip to South Korea, Mattis said North Korea’s “provocative behavior” was the only reason THAAD would be deployed. “There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” he said.
Though THAAD and Aegis operate on a similar concept, it’s THAAD that has drawn vocal Chinese opposition.
Asked Monday about the Aegis system missile test, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all such systems raised trust issues among the major military powers.
“Countries should not only consider their own security interests but also respect other countries’ security concerns” when it comes to missile defense, Lu said. “We should follow the principles of preserving global strategic stability and doing no harm to other countries’ security.”
The Aegis system is designed to intercept ballistic missile around the middle of their flight, when the missile is at its highest point above the Earth.
The system is based on the powerful AN/SPY-1 radar, which can track 100 missiles simultaneously.
The US Navy has 22 guided-missile cruisers and 62 guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis system. Japan has six Aegis destroyers with plans for more. South Korea also operates Aegis-equipped destroyers.
CNN’s Steven Jiang in Beijing contributed to this report.
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Death in al Ghayil: Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall the Horror
Of Donald Trump’s “Highly Successful” SEAL Raid Iona Craig / The Intercept
(March 9 2017) — ON JANUARY 29, 5-year-old Sinan al Ameri was asleep with his mother, his aunt, and 12 other children in a one-room stone hut typical of poor rural villages in the highlands of Yemen. A little after 1 a.m., the women and children awoke to the sound of a gunfight erupting a few hundred feet away. Roughly 30 members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were storming the eastern hillside of the remote settlement.
According to residents of the village of al Ghayil, in Yemen’s al Bayda province, the first to die in the assault was 13-year-old Nasser al Dhahab. The house of his uncle, Sheikh Abdulraouf al Dhahab, and the building behind it, the home of 65-year-old Abdallah al Ameri and his son Mohammed al Ameri, 38, appeared to be the targets of the US forces, who called in air support as they were pinned down in a nearly hourlong firefight.
With the SEALs taking heavy fire on the lower slopes, attack helicopters swept over the hillside hamlet above. In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep, and donkeys.
Three projectiles tore through the straw and timber roof of the home where Sinan slept. Cowering in a corner, Sinan’s mother, 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen, decided to flee the bombardment.
Grabbing her 18-month-old son and ushering her terrified children into the narrow outdoor passageway between the tightly packed dwellings, she headed into the open. Over a week later, Sinan’s aunt Nadr al Ameri wept as she stood in the same room and recalled watching her sister run out the door into the darkness.
Nesma al Ameri, an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved. As she recounted the horror of what happened, Sinan tapped her on the arm. “No, no. The bullets were coming from behind,” the 5-year-old insisted, interrupting to demonstrate how he was shot at and his mother gunned down as they ran for their lives.
“From here to here,” Sinan said, putting two fingers to the back of his head and drawing an invisible line to illustrate the direction of the bullet exiting her forehead. His mother fell to the ground next to him, still clutching his baby brother in her arms. Sinan kept running.
His mother’s body was found in the early light of dawn, the front of her head split open. The baby was wounded but alive. Sinan’s mother was one of at least six women killed in the raid, the first counterterrorism operation of the Trump administration, which also left 10 children under the age of 13 dead.
“She was hit by the plane. The American plane,” explained Sinan. “She’s in heaven now,” he added with a shy smile, seemingly unaware of the enormity of what he had witnessed or, as yet, the impact of his loss. “Dog Trump,” declared Nesma, turning to the other women in the room for agreement. “Yes, the dog Trump,” they agreed.
According to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the al Ghayil raid “was a very, very well thought out and executed effort,” planning for which began under the Obama administration back in November 2016.
Although Ned Price, former National Security Council spokesperson, and Colin Kahl, the national security adviser under Vice President Biden, challenged Spicer’s account, what is agreed upon is that Trump gave the final green light over dinner at the White House on January 25. According to two people with direct knowledge, the White House did not notify the US ambassador to Yemen in advance of the operation.
A girl stands in the burnt-out remains of a house destroyed during the US Navy SEAL raid in the village of al Ghayil in Yemen on January 29, 2017. Photo: Iona Craig
The Intercept‘s reporting from al Ghayil in the aftermath of the raid and the eyewitness accounts provided by residents, as well as information from current and former military officials, challenge many of the Trump administration’s key claims about the “highly successful” operation, from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the “large amounts of vital intelligence” the president said were collected.
According to a current US special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified.
Villagers interviewed by The Intercept rejected claims that al Rimi was present in al Ghayil, although one resident described seeing an unfamiliar black SUV arriving in the village hours before the raid. Six days after the operation, AQAP media channels released an audio statement from al Rimi, who mocked President Trump and the raid.
The White House and the military have denied that the AQAP leader was the target of the mission, insisting the SEALs were sent in to capture electronic devices and material to be used for intelligence gathering. A spokesperson for CENTCOM told The Intercept the military has not yet determined whether al Rimi was in al Ghayil when the SEALs arrived.
Although some details about the mission remain unclear, the account that has emerged suggests the Trump White House is breaking with Obama administration policies that were intended to limit civilian casualties. The change — if permanent — would increase the likelihood of civilian deaths in so-called capture or kill missions like the January 29 raid.
(February 3, 2017) — The US military has launched an investigation into a terror raid in Yemen that likely killed civilians and left an American commando dead. The operation targeted al Qaeda militants, but it didn’t go according to plan. David Martin reports.
* * * THE JANUARY MISSION was the fourth time US forces have been involved in ground operations in Yemen. While none of those prior raids could be deemed successful — two were failed attempts to free an American hostage, photojournalist Luke Somers — they did not leave the same trail of destruction as the operation in al Ghayil.
The village is part of a cluster of settlements known as Yakla in the Qayfa tribal region of Yemen’s al Bayda province. A basic knowledge of the local political environment, combined with a grasp of the obvious challenges posed by the geographical layout of al Ghayil, would have provided substantial forewarning that this latest raid was a highly precarious undertaking.
American military planners should have foreseen that their forces would face not only al Qaeda militants, but also heavy armed resistance from residents of al Ghayil and surrounding villages.
This area of al Bayda has been at war for more than 2 1/2 years, and the Qayfa tribe is renowned for its fighting prowess and a long-standing refusal to yield to the state. After the joint forces of Yemen’s northern Houthi rebels and military loyalists of the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, seized control of the capital, Sana, in September 2014, they swiftly moved southeast into al Bayda.
Most of the Qayfa tribe, including the men of Yakla, have been fighting the Houthi-Saleh forces ever since. Saudi Arabia joined the fray in March 2015, leading a coalition of nations in a military intervention and aerial bombing campaign, supported by the US, to push back the Houthis, who the Saudis view as an Iranian proxy force.
In theory, the residents of al Ghayil are on the same side as the United States in a civil war that has left more than 3 million people displaced and brought the country to the edge of famine.
Al Ghayil, just a few miles from Houthi-Saleh-controlled territory, came under Houthi rocket fire more than once in the early weeks of 2017, leaving the area of Yakla on high alert for attacks and residents in constant fear of losing their homes to a Houthi-Saleh incursion.
The closest town, Rada — home to the nearest hospital — had been a no-go area for the population of Yakla since it fell under Houthi-Saleh control in October 2014.
When the US Navy SEALs flew into al Ghayil in the early hours of January 29 — a deliberately chosen moonless night — local armed tribesmen assumed the Houthis had arrived to capture their village. After the firefight started, some of the men who ran to defend their families and homes saw colored lasers emanating from the weapons of their opponents, raising suspicions they might be facing Americans.
Shortly after the firefight erupted, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was shot by a bullet that hit just above his armored chest plate and entered his heart, according to the former senior special operations official briefed on the raid. Owens died shortly after he was hit.
Further confusion set in when the attack helicopters joined the assault. Knowing the Houthi-Saleh forces do not have an air force, residents could only assume it was the Saudi-led coalition attacking them from the air.
They were not entirely wrong. Troops from the United Arab Emirates — leading players in the coalition’s two-year fight against the Houthis — also took part in the raid and might have been involved in flying the helicopters that fired on civilians. Dozens of UAE Apache gunships are currently stationed in Emirati-run military bases across Yemen.
The UAE government did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its role in the raid or answer queries regarding any casualties among its personnel.
According to the former senior US special operations official and a current military consultant, both of whom were briefed on the raid, the SEALs discovered by the time they arrived in the village that their operation had been compromised.
It is still unclear how those on the ground were tipped off, but a current consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees SEAL Team 6, said the command is investigating whether UAE forces involved in the raid revealed the details of the mission before the SEALs arrived in al Ghayil. (However, local residents, who are used to hearing the buzz of drones in the remote area, said they noticed the unusual presence of helicopters around 9 p.m. the night before the raid, which raised concern.)
Some men in the surrounding villages grabbed their weapons and ran to help defend their neighbors when they heard the sound of a battle unfolding, according to residents. Mohammed Ali al Taysi, from the nearby village of Husun at Tuyus, dashed to his battered SUV, tearing down a dry riverbed in the dark to reach al Ghayil from the north.
But just short of the village, a helicopter flew low overhead, pounding warning shots into the ground on either side of his vehicle. Al Taysi jumped out, firing his rifle toward the Apache before retreating into the night. Other armed men closer to the village descended from the mountainside on foot to support the tribesmen of al Ghayil, who already held the advantage of the high ground on the western side of the village.
The SEALs had come in from the low ground to the north, approaching the homes of Abdulraouf al Dhahab and Mohammed al Ameri from the eastern slopes below.
According to those present, the firefight quickly escalated around the al Dhahab house, halting the SEALs’ advance. As the US forces fought from the lower ground and more men descended the mountainside to join the shootout, airstrikes obliterated Mohammed al Ameri’s house on the hill above, killing three of his children, ages 7, 5, and 4, and seemingly destroying any possibility of retrieving laptops, hard drives, or other intelligence material from inside without digging through piles of rubble in the dark.
With one Navy SEAL dead and two others seriously wounded, the special operations forces began to withdraw. But before they departed, according to local witnesses, the MV-22 Osprey used to extract the retreating soldiers crash-landed, forcing another aircraft to land to pull out the operators. Airstrikes then deliberately destroyed the abandoned Osprey.
The gunfight had lasted the better part of an hour. It would be another hour or more before the skies fell silent and the sound of helicopters, aircraft, and drones faded. It was in the dawn light that the mass of bodies was revealed, the missing accounted for, and dead children identified. Smoke swirled into the air from the roofs still burning and the carcass of the smoldering Osprey in the distance.
Map of the village of al Ghayil in Yemen’s al Bayda province. Map: The Intercept
* * * THIS WAS NOT the first time residents of the remote Yakla area had lost family members to a US attack. In December 2013, a drone strike on a wedding convoy killed 12 civilians. The groom, Abdallah al Ameri, survived that attack. But on January 29, the 65-year-old was killed standing unarmed beside his house as it was bombed. A picture posted online shortly after the raid showed his body lying in the rocky sand with his hand clasped around a blood-soaked head torch.
The aftermath of the raid’s destruction left villagers struggling to understand what the Americans were trying to accomplish. Abdulraouf, whose house appeared to be one of the targets, was no stranger to American attempts to kill him. He was the apparent target of at least three separate airstrikes between 2011 and 2013 in al Bayda province, including one in September 2012 that killed 12 civilians — a pregnant woman and three children were among the dead.
Following the deaths, Abdulraouf called on the families of victims to hire international lawyers to take their cases to court in the United States. Two of Abdulraouf’s brothers were also killed by American drone strikes as the US was drawn into a long-running bloody feud that had split the family of some 18 brothers between those aligned with al Qaeda and those who stood with the state.
Although Abdulelah al Dhahab, a brother who survived the January raid but lost his 12-year-old son, denied Abdulraouf was an al Qaeda member, the bonds between the family and Yemen’s al Qaeda insurgency also extend to marital ties. Al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al Awlaki married Abdularouf’s sister.
Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar, was in the al Dhahab house the night of the raid. She bled to death after being shot in the neck — the second of Awlaki’s children to be killed by the United States since his own death by an American drone strike in September 2011. His eldest son, 16-year-old Denver-born Abdulrahman, was killed by a US drone two weeks after his father.
Following the onset of civil war in March 2015, Abdulraouf played a key role in leading the self-described “resistance” of local armed militias loyal to the Saudi-led coalition, fighting on the pro-government side of Yemen’s internationally recognized president-in-exile, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
As a senior Qayfa tribal figure, Abdulraouf was a well-respected resistance leader. The day before the January raid, he was handing out salaries for pro-government fighters after collecting the money from the nearest Saudi coalition base in the neighboring province of Marib.
Although US drone strikes killed a succession of leading AQAP figures in the first six months of 2015, drone, air, and sea-to-land bombings over the preceding 15 years were plagued by poor intelligence and numerous civilian casualties.
Survivors of the al Ghayil operation were left to speculate what intelligence led American special operations forces to storm their village “as if they were coming to kill Osama bin Laden,” as one resident noted, puzzling over whether the US thought it was going after the leader of the Islamic State rather than an apparent low-level al Qaeda militant of the same name, Abubakr al Baghdadi, who was killed in the raid. “Or the Americans were tricked into killing Abdulraouf, the leading fighter in Qayfa, to help the Houthis and Saleh,” hypothesized one anti-Houthi tribal fighter.
On at least one occasion in Yemen, the US was deliberately fed false intelligence by the regime of then-President Saleh. In May 2010, it resulted in the erroneous killing of the deputy governor of Marib in a drone strike. As one anonymous American official was later quoted as saying, “We think we got played.”
Though the planning for the Yakla operation began many months ago, Abdulraouf’s house in al Ghayil was built recently. The modern cinder-block walls and PVC windows stood out among the simple stone huts dominating the rest of the village. The tribal leader had been living in a tent on the rocky hillside after being run out of the al Dhahab family homestead in the village of al Manasa by Houthi-Saleh forces in the fall of 2014.
One resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, stated that Mohammed al Ameri’s home was used as a guest house by passing al Qaeda militants — aggressive men whom the rest of the villagers avoided.
To get to Mohammed’s house, the SEALs had to pass the al Dhahab home, where Abdulraouf, his brother Sultan, and their guests were holding a late-night gathering with another tribal leader, octogenarian Saif Mohammed al Jawfi, who also died in the raid.
The witness claimed the meeting in al Dhahab’s house was held to resolve an issue regarding one of Saif’s relatives who had been arrested by militants connected to the guest house, as well as to arrange the distribution of the US-backed Saudi coalition cash payments to anti-Houthi resistance fighters.
Those in the village speculated about the exact target of the January 29 raid. Was the house of Abdulraouf and the tent beside it the objective? Did the US military believe that Qassim al Rimi, the AQAP leader, was inside the house? Or was it the next building on the hillside above, the home of Mohammed al Ameri, the Navy SEALs were aiming for? Others ventured that a woman, Arwa al Baghdadi, might have been the focus.
Arwa al Baghdadi, according to her own social media postings, was imprisoned in 2010 and tortured by authorities in Saudi Arabia after her brother was shot dead by security forces. She was later used as an apparent bargaining chip in the 2015 release of a Saudi diplomat who had been kidnapped by AQAP in Aden three years earlier (Saudi officials say there was no connection).
Arwa al Baghdadi, who fled to Yemen after her release from prison, was killed in the raid along with her son Osama, and another brother, Abubakr al Baghdadi. Her pregnant sister-in-law was shot in the stomach. The unborn infant, grazed by the bullet fired into his mother’s stomach, died following an emergency caesarean section at the 26 September hospital, a five-hour drive away in the neighboring province of Marib.
Many of al Ghayil’s residents denied any presence of al Qaeda militants in the village that night. Al Rimi’s statement after the raid offered condolences to the families of those killed, and along with AQAP propaganda channels, listed 14 men among the dead, although al Rimi stopped short of calling them AQAP members.
(Eight of those names were not included in the toll of the dead that villagers provided to The Intercept, as they were not known to local residents. Family members disputed claims the remaining six men were members of AQAP.)
In the current context of Yemen’s civil war, AQAP has sought to frame the conflict as a sectarian struggle against Shiite Houthis. In that narrative, AQAP regularly describes all opponents of the Houthis as Sunni “brothers” or “one of us” — part of a long-term strategy to create a more seamless blend with the local population and tribes.
Children stand in the rubble of houses destroyed during a raid by US Navy SEALs in the village of al Ghayil in Yemen on January 29, 2017. Photo: Iona Craig
* * * THE ONLY EVIDENCE released so far to back up Sean Spicer’s claim that “the goal of the raid was intelligence gathering, and that’s what we received” was a video posted by US Central Command on February 3. CENTCOM presented the clip as confirmation of the “valuable” material collected during the raid and labeled the video as an “AQAP course to attack the West.”
But it was quickly taken down after it was discovered that the footage was 10 years old — pre-dating the existence of AQAP in Yemen — and was readily available online. The US government has yet to produce any further proof of intelligence collected from the raid.
There are other suspect details in the US version of events. In the days after the raid, the Pentagon claimed that the women killed were armed and fought the incoming US special operations forces from “pre-established positions.” Yet all of the witnesses to the attack interviewed by The Intercept in al Ghayil strongly challenged this accusation, citing a culture that views the prospect of women fighting, as Nesma al Ameri put it, as “eib” — shameful and dishonorable — and pointing out the practical implausibility of women clutching babies while also firing rifles. A CENTCOM spokesperson refused to provide any details about female fighters to support its assertion.
However, the names of the dead that villagers gave to The Intercept did not include one woman listed by AQAP media channels. Propagandists and supporters of the militants claimed one unnamed woman “fought them with her own gun,” with an additional claim that Arwa, the former Saudi prisoner, had thrown a grenade killing a US soldier — assertions strongly denied by Abdulelah al Dhahab, who survived the lengthy gunfight around his brother’s home.
Sheikh Aziz al Ameri, the head of the al Ameri clan, lost 20 members of his extended family, six of them children, the youngest only 3 months old. “Everyone who tried to run, they killed them,” he said, standing on the hilltop outside his home 11 days later.
In response to The Intercept‘s findings, Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, called for a full investigation into the raid, including the legal basis for the operation, the adequacy of intelligence beforehand, what precautions were taken, and why any precautions failed.
“Each new revelation about this tragic operation is grievous and shocking,” Shamsi said. “Even in recognized armed conflict, there are rules to safeguard against the killings of civilians, and even under the Obama administration’s imperfect lethal force policy, which to the best of our knowledge remains in effect, there are constraints that should have prevented or at least minimized civilian deaths.”
Last week, the White House announced the Pentagon would be carrying out three reviews of the raid, looking into the death of Owens, the loss of the Osprey, and the civilian casualties.
During his first address to Congress on February 28, President Trump noted that Owens died “a warrior and a hero,” leading to a standing ovation for the Navy SEAL’s widow, Carryn Owens. Trump has made no mention of the relatives of the women and children who died that night.
By the time the whirring sound of drones returned to Yakla two days after the operation, the village of al Ghayil was largely deserted. With little reason to stay after their livestock had been eradicated, families fled in fear of further attack and imminent enemy takeover following the death of Abdulraouf al Dhahab, Qayfa’s most eminent adversary of the Houthi-Saleh forces. The majority of the men, women, and children who survived are now indefinitely displaced.
A month later, amid an unprecedented uptick in US military activity in Yemen last week, the helicopters and drones returned to Yakla. Apaches descended on al Ghayil before dawn on March 2, carrying out “indiscriminate shelling,” according to Sheikh Aziz al Ameri, one of the few residents who remained in the village. Later that day, the Pentagon took responsibility for more than 20 airstrikes carried out in the early hours of the morning across three Yemeni provinces, including al Bayda.
Early on March 3, attack helicopters and drones returned yet again. An airstrike, apparently targeting Abduelah, the surviving brother of Abdulraouf al Dhahab, landed just outside the door of his house, killing three of his extended family members from their home village of al Manasa.
Late that night, Abdulelah was yet again the apparent target of a drone strike that killed four men traveling with him in a car in Marib province. It is unclear if Abdulelah survived. At least six houses in al Ghayil were damaged the same night by yet more helicopter gunship fire.
With the village coming under attack for the third consecutive night on March 5, Sheikh Aziz and his family finally fled; they are now living under trees several miles away. Less than 24 hours later, another drone strike killed two more children, brothers ages 10 and 12.
Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement that the strikes targeting AQAP were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen and were coordinated with President Hadi. Anti-Houthi resistance fighters on the front lines of the civil war, not far from Yakla, were also killed, according to residents of al Bayda.
The following day, Davis told reporters that additional strikes were carried out early on Friday, bringing the total to more than 30 strikes in less than 36 hours — exceeding the 32 confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen during all of last year.
Although Davis stated that “US forces will continue to target AQAP militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization’s plots, and ultimately to protect American lives,” NBC News reported the strikes were also part of “new directives” to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans, citing a senior military intelligence source.
While the Yakla raid supposedly took place under presidential policy guidelines set up under the Obama administration — standards repeatedly used to defend the US drone program — further developments last week indicate the Trump administration is no longer abiding by the condition of “near certainty” that civilians will not be killed or injured in operations.
A defense official speaking to the Washington Post stated that the military has been granted temporary authority to regard selected areas of Yemen as “areas of active hostility.”
That change, while shortening the approval process for military action, effectively puts the US on a war footing in any area of Yemen designated, but unlikely to be disclosed, by the military, noted Cori Crider, a lawyer at the international human rights organization Reprieve who has represented Yemeni drone strike victims.
This authority has a lower bar: Civilian deaths have to be “proportionate” rather than avoided with a “near certainty,” as set out by the previous administration for the use of lethal force “outside areas of active hostilities.”
“This means that all of those much-vaunted ‘standards’ the Obama administration said they were using to minimize civilian casualties in drone strikes in Yemen have been chucked right out the window,” said Crider.
In a press briefing on March 3, Davis told reporters that the legal authority for carrying out the January raid and recent strikes “was delegated by the president through the secretary of defense” to US Central Command. But when contacted by The Intercept, the Pentagon could not clarify whether al Ghayil was still considered to be outside areas of active hostilities during the botched raid.
In al Bayda, the continuing aerial bombardments are perceived by some as helping Saleh and the Houthis — who last month Spicer conflated with Iran and accused of attacking an American Navy vessel off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast. The Houthis had, in fact, hit a Saudi frigate.
Meanwhile, the villagers of al Ghayil are not calling for the usual tribal standard of compensation for the families of victims. Few wanted to be named saying so, but all expressed the same sentiment less than two weeks after the raid: This time, they want revenge, not a payout.
While President Trump continues to hail the mission as a success, quoting Defense Secretary James Mattis in Congress last week that intelligence gathered “will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy,” in Yakla, the clearest outcome appears to be lengthening the list of America’s adversaries beyond al Qaeda.
Mohammed al Taysi, the tribesman who tried to join the fight in al Ghayil, put it succinctly as we parted company at dusk along the track out of Yakla. “If they come back,” he said, referring to the SEALs, “tell them to bring their caskets. From now we are ready for any fight with the Americans and the dog Trump.”
Iona Craig’s reporting from Yemen was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Is Trump Intentionally Killing ISIS Family Members?
(December 2, 2015) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump asserted on Wednesday that the only way to defeat ISIS was to kill their families.
Is Trump Deliberately Having ISIS Relatives Killed? Soaring Toll Among Relatives Raises Questions About US Policy Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 29, 2017) — Over the course of the past week, US warplanes have repeatedly targeted the town of Mayadeen, in the ISIS-held part of Syria. The casualties have been overwhelmingly civilian in nature, and many reports suggest those civilians were mostly relatives of ISIS fighters.
This would just be another round of US warplanes killing a hundred-plus civilians in their air war, except that during the presidential campaign, President Trump very publicly advocated adopting a US military strategy of deliberately killing civilian relatives of ISIS members, insisting that was the only way to deter ISIS.
Put these two facts together and you’ve got a recipe for a potentially explosive question: is President Trump implementing this policy within the Pentagon, and is that the reason the death toll among civilian family members of ISIS fighters has soared in recent days?
Officials have been unusually mum about the Mayadeen strikes, with only a single statement confirming they carried out the attacks, but insisting they were still not sure what casualties might’ve resulted from it. In having not admitted to the deaths yet, they likewise aren’t yet at the point where they have to address the question of why they killed them.
It was pointed out during the 2016 campaign, but bears repeating, particularly now, that a family member of a combatant is not themselves a combatant, and deliberately targeting civilians is necessarily a war-crime, irrespective of who they are related to.
When that was pointed out during the debate, President Trump attacked the Geneva Conventions, insisting “everyone believes in the Geneva Conventions until they start losing.” The administration has not, however, admitted this has become formal policy.
WASHINGTON (December 3, 2015) — Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would kill the families of terrorists in order to win the fight against ISIS.
The billionaire businessman was asked by the hosts of Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” how to fight ISIS but also minimize civilian causalities when terrorists often use human shields.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families,” Trump said.
Trump said he would “knock the hell out of” ISIS, and criticized the U.S. for “fighting a very politically correct war.”
Israeli Expert: Trump’s Call
To Kill Terrorists’ Families Immoral, Ineffective Gregory Krieg / CNN
(December 3, 2015) — A leading Israeli counter-terrorism expert says Donald Trump’s call to “take out” the families of terrorists would run afoul of international law and degrade the moral standing of the US.
“Any deliberate attacks aimed against civilians is a war crime, regardless if they are family members of terrorists or presidents or presidential candidates,” said Boaz Ganor, a former consultant to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Adopting this policy is immoral and against the common liberal democratic values,” added Ganor, the founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel.
“Deliberate attacks against the terrorist families is blurring the moral differences between the terrorist organizations and the state which is fighting terrorism. This by itself might benefit the terrorists which are trying to claim that they are fighting a moral war against relentless and immoral entity.”
On Wednesday, Trump responded to a question on Fox News about minimizing civilian casualties in the fight against ISIS by saying the U.S. should hit the kin of enemy fighters.
“You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said. “When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
Ganor, who worked as part of an international anti-terror advisory group to the NYPD after 9/11 and has written extensively about terrorism, told CNN that killing the family members of terrorists also would have little benefit in the effort to stop attacks.
“They might just spend more time and resources” on protecting family members, he said. “Nevertheless, I don’t think that the threat to kill their families will deter terrorist leaders form being engaged in terrorist activities.”
Ganor argued that the real danger would be in squandering “one of the most important pillars of counterterrorism: the differences of morality.”
“The American-led campaign in Syria and Iran is too little and too late, and it will not lead as such to a military decisive victory on ISIS,” he said. “This does not mean by any way that the U.S. should adopt savage policy, illegal or immoral military activity. There is a lot that still can be done and improve without adopting such policies.”
Asked about Israel’s anti-terror efforts, which at times have caused civilian casualties in the West Bank and Gaza and resulted in the country being accused by critics such as Amnesty International of war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, Ganor said that family members were not the targets.
“Israel activities were always calculated and limited to the immediate goals of thwarting terrorism and the measures that Israel was using in its counter terrorism campaigns where never random nor aimed against civilians even they had family ties with terrorists and their leaders,” he said.
“The families were not targeted nor even being arrested unless they took part in the terrorist activity, then they would brought to court and be accused in terrorism assistance.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a CNN request for comment.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US-led Airstrikes Kill 20 Civilians in Syria’s Raqqa Xinhua News
DAMASCUS (May 28, 2017) — At least 20 civilians were killed when a US-led airstrike struck their convoy near the northern city of Syria’s Raqqa, state news agency reported on Sunday.
The warplanes of the US-led anti-terror coalition targeted cars transporting civilians out of Raqqa between the towns of Ratleh and Kasrah on Saturday, said SANA.
The rate of civilian causalities by US-led airstrikes has increased recently as a result of the intensification of US airstrikes on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group, and other IS strongholds in northern and eastern Syria.
Last Thursday, 35 civilians were killed by US strikes on IS-held city of Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.
The Syrian government repeatedly denounced the attacks that target civilians, branding the operation of the US-led anti-terror coalition in Syria as “illegitimate.”
Last week, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the US targeting of civilians is part of a series of attacks carried out by the “illegal international coalition against Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the pretext of combating terrorism, while the actions of this alliance only contribute to spreading chaos and destruction which benefits the extremist terrorist organizations, particularly IS and other terrorist organizations.”
The ministry said that Syria condemns the US-led attacks which target civilians and cause massive material damage to the infrastructure, facilities, and properties in Syria, calling on the UN Security Council to implement its resolutions on preserving the integrity of Syria’s territory and people and stop the attacks of the illegal coalition.
It concluded by saying that Syria reiterates the importance of halting the illegal US-led coalition’s actions and implementing Security Council resolutions related to counter-terrorism, including resolution no. 2253.
(May 28 2017) — Five civilians including a child were killed and another five were wounded in the latest US Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, according to eyewitness accounts gathered by The Intercept.
The raid by US commandos in the hamlet of al Adhlan, in the Yemeni province of Mareb on May 23, also destroyed at least four homes. Navy SEALs, with air support from more than half a dozen attack helicopters and aircraft, were locked in a firefight with Yemeni tribesmen for over an hour, according to local residents.
Details from five eyewitnesses in the village conflict with statements made by the Department of Defense and US Central Command, which have not acknowledged that civilians were harmed. Official military reports claimed seven militants from the Yemen-based Al Qaeda branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, were killed “through a combination of small arms fire and precision airstrikes.”
Two commandos were also reportedly lightly wounded in the gunfight. Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters on May 23 there were “no credible indications of civilian casualties.”
Yet village residents gave a list of 10 names of civilians killed and wounded during the raid. Fifteen-year-old Abdullah Saeed Salem al Adhal was shot dead as he fled from his home with women and children. Another child, 12-year-old Othman Mohammed Saleh al Adhal, was injured but survived.
An additional seven men who were guests in one house in the village were also killed, according to a senior figure in al Adhlan whose name is being withheld for fear of reprisals from AQAP. He was not able to identify the guests but they appear to account for the seven Al Qaeda militants Central Command claimed were killed.
College student Murad al Adhal, 22, the elder brother of 15-year-old Abudullah who was shot and killed, described how he woke to the sound of gunfire around 1:30 a.m. as the SEALs took control of buildings on the mountainside overlooking the village.
“I walked out of my house and I saw the nearby hills were filled with the American soldiers,” he said. When Apache helicopter gunships began firing into buildings, women and children started running out of their homes. “My little brother Abdullah ran for his life with the other women and children. They killed him as he was running.” Murad was shot in the leg.
Residents in al Adhlan described to The Intercept how commandos also shot dead unarmed Nasser Ali Mahdi al Adhal, who was at least 70 years-old. An account by Reprieve, a London-based human rights group, said Nasser was partially blind. The elderly man was killed while attempting to greet the Navy SEALs, after apparently mistaking them for visitors, according to Reprieve.
Local residents estimated some 40 to 60 commandos stormed the village with the support of eight or nine attack helicopters and other aircraft that repeatedly strafed the villagers’ homes. Dozens of animals — livestock belonging to the villagers — were also killed in the barrage of gunfire and airstrikes.
The Intercept collected these accounts through phone interviews with residents and activists who visited the hospital where the wounded were taken. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on The Intercept‘s findings and civilian casualties in the raid.
The operation in al Adhlan, a hamlet in the village of al Khathlah in the district of al Jubah in Mareb, is the second US Navy SEAL raid in Yemen acknowledged by the military since Donald Trump took office.
The first, on January 29 in al Ghayil, about 40 miles from al Adhlan, left a Navy SEAL dead along with at least 10 children under the age of 13 who were amongst 26 villagers killed in addition to eight apparent Al Qaeda members. Trump billed the operation as “highly successful.”
Another raid by Navy SEALs in March on Yemen’s southern coast was aborted at the last minute. There have also been more than 80 drone, air, and sea-launched strikes on Yemen since Trump took office, a significant escalation of a campaign that had tapered off at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term.
“Al Adhlan Are Not al Qaeda”
The aim of the al Adhlan raid was to gather electronic equipment such as cell phones and laptops in order to gain “insight into AQAP’s disposition, capabilities and intentions,” according to Central Command’s statement.
This was also the supposed intention of the January mission, although it later emerged that the actual target of the first raid was AQAP leader Qassem al Raymi. None of the villagers in al Adhlan spoken to by The Intercept were aware of any materials or people taken by commandos on May 23.
The accounts given by al Adhlan residents throw into question the veracity of US official accounts. The eyewitness testimony also raises serious questions about intelligence gathering methods and the ability of decision-makers to determine who is and who is not an Al Qaeda militant amidst Yemen’s multifaceted conflict where loyalties are fluid and pragmatically based.
The senior figure from the village described a long-running confrontation over the issue of locals providing guest-houses for Al Qaeda militants. A tribal dispute began in 2015 after a drone strike in the area, when the senior figure confronted other tribal leaders who were reluctant to ban Al Qaeda members from the area. A recent US drone strike, on April 30, had revived the issue.
The senior villager said that in that attack two brothers were killed who were not Al Qaeda but had been living alongside them. The pair of brothers were also the brothers of Murad al Adhal, who survived the May 23 raid with a gunshot wound. Murad narrowly escaped being killed along with his siblings in the drone strike after getting out of the targeted Toyota Hillux moments before it was hit.
(The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks US drone strikes in Yemen, detailed a strike on April 30 in Mareb, which killed four, possibly five, men in a car. Central Command claimed all of the occupants were Al Qaeda militants.)
The April drone attack spurred the senior figure to action.
“I just needed more time to save my own people from this. There was a collective effort to kick out Al Qaeda,” he said. He expressed his anger that rather than being offered support to oust the militants his fellow tribesmen and civilians have instead been killed.
AQAP released a statement in response to the raid through its media channels on May 26, praising the local tribesmen who they said died as “heroes” while denying there was an Al Qaeda camp in the village. The country’s civil war has assisted the militants in one of their main objectives of creating a more seamless existence with local tribal groups.
But the reaction from the villagers after the raid was one of anger toward all sides: Al Qaeda, the US government, the Yemeni government, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Local residents say Emerati forces were involved in the raid alongside US forces, which was also the case in the January operation in al Ghayil. On May 26 al Adhlan tribesman gathered to protest the Navy SEAL mission under the banner “al Adhlan are not Al Qaeda.”
One of those killed in the May 23 raid, Al Khader Saleh Salem al Adhal, was a soldier in the Yemeni army currently fighting on the US-supported side in the country’s complex civil war. Yemen’s conflict pits military units loyal to former president and previous US ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with the predominantly Shia Houthi rebels, against a local Yemeni resistance and anti-Houthi military units backed by a Saudi Arabian-led coalition of regional nations.
The coalition is in turn aided by the United States, which has been providing weapons and crucial logistical support to the Saudi Kingdom and its allies in their fight against the Houthi-Saleh forces since March 2015. The Saudis, who view the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, have been the main financial backer and weapons supplier to the military and local tribes fighting in Mareb, including in al Adhlan.
During his visit to Riyadh earlier this month Trump announced a new arms deal, with Saudi Arabia agreeing to buy at least $110 billion of US weapons and equipment.
The announcement came despite concerns raised by lawmakers and human rights groups over evidence of apparent war crimes and the high proportion of civilian casualties in the Saudi-led air war, as well as the worsening humanitarian crisis caused by the war. On May 25 US Senators introduced a resolution to block part of the sale.
Yemenis are also experiencing the world’s worst hunger crisis, with seven million people facing the possibility of famine as a direct result of the conflict, in no small part due to restrictions on imports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition that have impacted essential food supplies. Alongside severe food shortages, a rapidly escalating Cholera outbreak has killed more than 400 people this month.
Shuaib Almosawa contributed reporting to this article.
(March 16, 2017) — Navy SEALs attempted to conduct another raid inside Yemen earlier this month but aborted the mission at the last minute, according to a senior US military official.
Members of SEAL Team 6 deployed to Yemen in early March for a ground assault targeting suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group US officials view as the most dangerous branch of the terrorist organization.
The aborted mission followed a botched January 29 raid in the village of al Ghayil, in al Bayda province. That raid left a Navy SEAL dead and two others seriously injured, and killed more than two dozen Yemeni civilians, including at least 16 women and children. The leader of AQAP, Qassim al Rimi, released a statement mocking Donald Trump and stating that 14 men died in the assault.
General Joseph Votel, who leads US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services committee last week, “We lost a lot in this operation. We lost a valued operator, we had people wounded, we caused civilian casualties, lost an expensive aircraft.”
Votel told Senators that a “determination based on our best information available is that we did cause casualties, somewhere between four and 12 casualties that we accept, I accept responsibility for.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Are We Fighting Terrorism,
Or Creating More Terrorism? Ron Paul / The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity
(May 28, 2017) — When we think about terrorism we most often think about the horrors of a Manchester-like attack, where a radicalized suicide bomber went into a concert hall and killed dozens of innocent civilians. It was an inexcusable act of savagery and it certainly did terrorize the population.
What is less considered are attacks that leave far more civilians dead, happen nearly daily instead of rarely, and produce a constant feeling of terror and dread. These are the civilians on the receiving end of US and allied bombs in places like Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.
Last week alone, US and “coalition” attacks on Syria left more than 200 civilians dead and many hundreds more injured. In fact, even though US intervention in Syria was supposed to protect the population from government attacks, US-led air strikes have killed more civilians over the past month than air strikes of the Assad government. That is like a doctor killing his patient to save him.
Do we really believe we are fighting terrorism by terrorizing innocent civilians overseas? How long until we accept that “collateral damage” is just another word for “murder”?
The one so-called success of the recent G7 summit in Sicily was a general agreement to join together to “fight terrorism.” Have we not been in a “war on terrorism” for the past 16 years? What this really means is more surveillance of innocent civilians, a crackdown on free speech and the Internet, and many more bombs dropped overseas.
Will doing more of what we have been doing do the trick? Hardly! After 16 years fighting terrorism, it is even worse than before we started. This can hardly be considered success.
They claim that more government surveillance will keep us safe. But the UK is already the most intrusive surveillance state in the western world. The Manchester bomber was surely on the radar screen.
According to press reports, he was known to the British intelligence services, he had traveled and possibly trained in bomb-making in Libya and Syria, his family members warned the authorities that he was dangerous, and he even flew terrorist flags over his house. What more did he need to do to signal that he may be a problem? Yet somehow even in Orwellian UK, the authorities missed all the clues.
But it is even worse than that. The British government actually granted permission for its citizens of Libyan background to travel to Libya and fight alongside al-Qaeda to overthrow Gaddafi. After months of battle and indoctrination, it then welcomed these radicalized citizens back to the UK. And we are supposed to be surprised and shocked that they attack?
The real problem is that both Washington and London are more interested in regime change overseas than any blowback that might come to the rest of us back home. They just do not care about the price we pay for their foreign policy actions.
No grand announcement of new resolve to “fight terrorism” can be successful unless we understand what really causes terrorism. They do not hate us because we are rich and free. They hate us because we are over there, bombing them.
President Trump: Toss Your Generals’
War Escalation Plans in the Trash Ron Paul / The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity
(May 14, 2017) — By the end of this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor HR McMaster will deliver to President Trump their plans for military escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. President Trump would be wise to rip the plans up and send his national security team back to the drawing board — or replace them.
There is no way another “surge” in Afghanistan and Iraq (plus a new one in Syria) puts America first. There is no way doing the same thing over again will succeed any better than it did the last time.
Near the tenth anniversary of the US war on Afghanistan — seven years ago — I went to the Floor of Congress to point out that the war makes no sense. The original authorization had little to do with eliminating the Taliban. It was a resolution to retaliate against those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
From what we know now, the government of Saudi Arabia had far more to do with the financing and planning of 9/11 than did the Taliban. But we’re still pumping money into that lost cause. We are still killing Afghanis and, in so doing, creating the next generation of terrorists.
The war against ISIS will not end with its defeat in Mosul and Raqqa. We will not pack up and go home. Instead, the Pentagon and State Department have both said that US troops would remain in Iraq after ISIS is defeated.
The continued presence of US troops in Iraq will provide all the recruiting needed for more ISIS or ISIS-like resistance groups to arise, which will in turn lead to a permanent US occupation of Iraq.
The US “experts” have completely misdiagnosed the problem so it no surprise that their solutions will not work. They have claimed that al-Qaeda and ISIS arose in Iraq because we left, when actually they arose because we invaded in the first place.
General David Petraeus is said to have a lot of influence over H.R. McMaster, and in Syria he is pushing for the kind of US troop “surge” that he still believes was successful in Iraq.
The two are said to favor [sending] thousands of US troops to fight ISIS in eastern Syria instead of relying on the US-sponsored and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to do the job.
This “surge” into Syria would also lead to a lengthy US occupation of a large part of that country, as it is unlikely that the US would return the territory to the Syrian government. Would it remain an outpost of armed rebels that could be unleashed on Assad at the US President’s will?
It’s hard to know from week to week whether “regime change” in Syria is a US priority or not. But we do know that a long-term US occupation of half of Syria would be illegal, dangerous, and enormously expensive.
President Trump’s Generals all seem to be pushing for a major US military escalation in the Middle East and south Asia. The President goes back and forth, one minute saying, “We’re not going into Syria,” while the next seeming to favor another surge. He has given the military much decision-making latitude and may be persuaded by his Generals that the only solution is to go in big.
If he follows such advice, it is likely his presidency itself will be buried in that graveyard of empires.
Ron Paul is a former Republican congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for president.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION ALERT: End the Dickey Amendment:
Tell Congress to Allow Research on Gun Violence Nation of Change Petition
(May 22, 2017) — Gun violence kills nearly 100 Americans every day. But Congress refuses to move forward on gun control legislation claiming that there is not enough evidence and not enough research to move forward.
The number of mass shootings has increased dramatically over the last several years. This is the time for action.
We are concerned about the influence NRA has on Congress. In 1996 the NRA passed the Dickey Amendment, preventing the Center for Disease Control from studying the effect of gun violence on the American public.
Now, 20 years later, even the author of the amendment, Congressman jay Dickey, believes it should be repealed.
Not only has Congress not allow any new gun control measures to pass, or in some cases even be voted upon, but they are also working hard to keep anyone from doing any serious research on gun violence.
Now the most powerful medical association in the United States has called gun violence a “public health crisis.” If the American Medical Association is calling for changes to gun control it is time we, and Congress, listen.
ACTION:Sign the petition now and tell Congress to take the first step — repeal the Dickey Amendment and allow for more research on gun violence.
The Hazards of Military Worship Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch
(May 11, 2017) — Here’s a footnote to America’s present wars that’s worth pondering for a few moments. The US Air Force is running out of ordinary bombs, smart bombs, and in some cases missiles. No kidding. The air war over Syria and Iraq that began in August 2014 and is now two-and-a-half years old has eaten through America’s supply of bombs.
The usual crew of weapons makers evidently can’t produce such munitions fast enough to keep up, so the US military is, for instance, cutting into its stockpiles of smart bombs in Asia to send some to the Middle East and Africa simply to keep pace with demand — and, according to recent reports, it may nonetheless be failing to do so.
Consider this a longer term problem since, in the era of Donald Trump, the generals are increasingly running their own wars, which, if the daily drumbeat of news about them is accurate, are only ramping up further.
Everywhere you look, from Yemen to Iraq, Syria to Somalia, the American military is growing more assertive as civilian casualties rise and constraints of any sort, whether on special operations raids, drone strikes, or the use of the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal, fall away.
Only last week, for instance, came news that Trump’s generals plan to put recommendations on his desk soon to turn the tide in America’s longest war, the largely forgotten one in Afghanistan, which the US military now refers to as a “stalemate.” (Who cares that, on the ground, the Taliban has in recent months seemed increasingly ascendant and the US-trained, US-supplied, and US-backed Afghan military increasingly battered?)
Those recommendations — so claims acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Theresa Whalen — will help the U.S “move beyond the stalemate.” This will evidently be done by sending 3,000 to 5,000 more US troops there to train the Afghan military. Yes, you read that right.
Almost 16 years after the invasion and “liberation” of Afghanistan in 2001, the solution to the never-ending war there is to send in a few thousand more US military personnel to work with a force filled with “ghost soldiers,” into which this country has already reportedly poured $71 billion and which has suffered both staggering casualties and startling desertion rates in recent years.
Just off the top of your head, tell me how you think that’s likely to go. And oh yes, once those troops are there, one thing that will certainly be needed: more bombs and missiles to support their activities.
All of this is part of what TomDispatch regular Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, refers to today as the US military’s “more” strategy.
With the generals ascendant in the Trumpian universe and all those stars twinkling in Washington’s firmament, “more” is distinctly in the saddle. Whether in Afghanistan or in Syria and Iraq, where that massive air campaign against the Islamic State is now well into its third year, it has lent a significant hand to the rubblization of major cities across both of those countries.
(In Syria, the Russian and Syrian air forces have offered a similarly helping hand in the process, as has ISIS with its suicide vehicles and booby-trapped buildings.)
As a result, while the Islamic State is not yet defeated, the region is now in genuine chaos, overrun by millions of uprooted refugees from countries increasingly in ruins and in disarray. In other words, what started as a “war” against al-Qaeda, a modest-sized group of fanatics largely located in Afghanistan (with scattered cells of followers elsewhere), has now become a catastrophe stretching from Afghanistan to the former state of Libya in North Africa and beyond. As ever, the American solution to this crisis, as Sjursen points out, is: more!
Everyone Loves the Troops and Their Generals,
But History Indicates That Military Advice
Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be Danny Sjursen / TomDispatch
More, more, more.
I was guilty of it myself. Commanding a small cavalry troop of about 85 soldiers in southwest Kandahar Province back in 2011, I certainly wanted and requested more: more troopers, more Special Forces advisers, more Afghan police, more air support, more supplies, more money, more . . . everything. Like so many others in Afghanistan back then, I wanted whatever resources would protect the guys in my unit and fend off the insurgent threat.
No one, of course, asked me if the US military should even be there, nor did I presume to raise the question. I was, after all, just a captain dug into a tough fight in a dangerous district.
It’s funny, though, people sometimes ask me now, “What’s really going on in Afghanistan?” They ask the same question about Iraq, where I led a unit back in 2006-2007. I mean, the implication is: If you served over there, unlike those (liberal!) pundits and politicians who regularly mouth off on the subject, who would know better?
But I’ve learned over the years that what they don’t want to hear is my real answer to such questions, so I rarely bother to tell them that historians, analysts, and thoughtful critics, even ones who haven’t been within thousands of miles of our war zones, probably understand the “big picture” better than most soldiers.
That’s the dirty little secret of America’s wars: despite the omniscient claims of some veterans, most soldiers see their version of war as if gazing through a straw at 30,000 feet. Combat and dedication to your unit and mission naturally steer you toward such tunnel vision.
And here’s the sad thing that no one wants to admit: that mantra applies as strongly to generals as to sergeants (and if you don’t believe that, just check out our wars of the last 15 years). So it’s worrisome when president after president defers to and all too often hides behind the supposed wisdom of active and retired three- and four-star flag officers.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these guys can be impressive. No one is perfect, but former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey was a gem with genuine scholarly and combat bona fides. But consider him and a few others the exceptions that prove the rule.
Which is why civilian control of the military, and of the policymaking process that goes with military action, is not just a constitutional imperative but desirable for thoroughly practical reasons. Which, in turn, is why the makeup of the current administration — with an unprecedented number of generals in key positions — raises some serious questions.
And yet the problem is so much bigger than that. Somehow — and this should be truly unnerving — Americans have gotten to a place where, it seems, they trust only soldiers.
In June 2016, for instance, a Gallup poll found that 73% of Americans had “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, versus 36% for the presidency and 6% for Congress. Such disparities ought to inspire distress about the direction of our public institutions, but rarely do.
Where the nation puts its money both reflects this reality and aggravates it. Consider that in this fiscal year military spending exceeded $600 billion, or 12 times the State Department’s budget. Worse still, the new president’s proposed budget would cut State by more than one-third — despite former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s quip that there are already more members of military bands than Foreign Service officers.
The Myth of (Infallible) Military Judgment
By now, it’s part of American lore that, facing a thorny problem or potential conflict abroad, a president should throw some stars at it. If only generals were indeed pixie dust. Historically speaking, though, since World War II, calling on the generals has often resulted in abject failure.
There’s plenty of evidence of that in the last 15 years of, at best, inconclusive war in the Greater Middle East, but first, let’s take a brief tour of military advice from the previous century’s crises.
MacArthur in Korea
In October 1950, just months after the Korean War began, President Harry Truman met General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the coalition forces in Korea, on Wake Island. There, MacArthur assured the president of two things: that the Chinese would not intervene in the war and that the fighting would be over by Christmas.
A month later, hundreds of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” streamed across the Yalu River into northern Korea, sending MacArthur’s troops into headlong retreat. Wrong once, the general promptly called for a massive US troop escalation and the bombing of China, perhaps even nuclear attacks on that country.
Truman recoiled, fired the general, and opened negotiations, all while avoiding nuclear war. And what happened to the twice-wrong MacArthur? In April 1951, with the war still underway — an armistice wouldn’t finally come until July 1953 — he received a record-breaking 19-mile-long ticker-tape parade through New York City in which 3,249 tons of paper rained down on him.
Ike vs. the Generals
President Dwight Eisenhower so loved the Army that he asked his successor to return him to his five-star rank. That way he’d be addressed as “General” rather than “Mr. President” in retirement. Yet no president was more dismissive of the notion that military men, rather than civilians, know what’s best.
When a senator contended that the Air Force was better positioned than politicians to assess its own needs, Ike snapped back, “Bunk!” (He knew the Pentagon regularly overstated its case.) As for sage military advice, Eisenhower dismissed General Mark Clark’s plans for an all-out assault in Korea as “madness” and sacked all his service chiefs after they “revolted” over a truncated defense budget he proposed.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Arthur Radford, even hinted that it might be “high time” to reexamine the taboo against using nuclear weapons in that war. Despite significant saber-rattling, Ike ultimately chose restraint.
In fact, he was notoriously skeptical of his generals’ advice and left office famously warning Americans about a growing “military-industrial complex.” The result of his presidency: the commanding general and hero of World War II held down defense spending, never used nukes, ended the bloody stalemate of a war in Korea, and — most importantly — avoided World War III.
Soon after came the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought humanity as close to extinction as it’s ever come. When US intelligence learned that the Soviet Union had stationed nuclear missiles on that island, just 90 miles from Florida, the government entered full-scale panic mode.
During deliberations on how to proceed, the Joint Chiefs — to a man — recommended air strikes against Cuba and a possible follow-on invasion. Later, in a memo, they declared that they were prepared to use “nuclear weapons for limited war operations in the Cuban area.”
Instead, Kennedy chose a blockade and negotiations. The Russians responded by pulling their missiles out of Cuba and humankind lived to fight another day. After one of those meetings, Kennedy remarked to an aide, “These brass hats [generals and admirals] have one great advantage. If we . . . do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.”
Deeply disturbed by the advice of the Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy later confided to some White House guests that “the first thing I’m going to tell my successor is to watch the generals, and to avoid feeling that just because they were military men, their opinions on military matters were worth a damn.”
The Generals Grapple With Southeast Asia
In April 1961, the Joint Chiefs recommended that President Kennedy intervene to stop a “North Vietnamese-sponsored” Communist offensive in Laos through the use of air strikes and the introduction of US ground forces in that country.
When Kennedy asked the military chiefs what to do if the North Vietnamese Communists bombed Laotian airports as the US flew in troops, one replied: “You [drop] a bomb on Hanoi, and you start using atomic weapons!” In fact, Army General Lyman Lemnitzer assured the president that “if we are given the right to use nuclear weapons, we can guarantee victory.” Kennedy ruled against his generals on both counts.
Nevertheless, Kennedy and then President Lyndon Johnson foolishly agreed to escalate US involvement in Vietnam. In that war, admittedly, civilian policymakers were often the chief villains. However, the generals were anything but blameless.
In 1967, as US casualties increased and many Americans began to question the country’s involvement in the conflict, the senior commander, General William Westmoreland, assured Congress that there was, in a phrase that became infamous, “light at the end of the tunnel.”
When Vietcong guerillas attacked nearly every American base in South Vietnam in the January 1968 Tet Offensive, he had only one answer, a solution once again all-too-familiar to twenty-first-century Americans: more. He requested 206,000 additional US troops on top of the half-million-plus already in Vietnam.
President Johnson balked and began negotiations with North Vietnam. It took — tragically — seven more bloody years, but eventually US troops were extracted from what a near consensus of credible historians now conclude was an “unwinnable” war.
These examples obviously don’t imply that no general ever gave solid advice or that civilians weren’t perfectly capable of concocting their own hare-brained war-making schemes. Rather, the point is to deflate — just a bit — the present all-too-popular notion of American military infallibility, or at least superiority.
It’s dangerous to deify any public institution, let alone the country’s bureau of violence. That’s not, in itself, a knock at the military to which I’ve dedicated my adult life, but a basic recognition of the gravity of all martial exertions. No government agency is so holy that it shouldn’t be scrutinized, not in a real democracy.
Yet American society is headed in that very direction, along with its new president. On Inauguration Day, finding himself in a crowded room with all the generals he had appointed to key positions in his administration around him, he declared emphatically, “I see my generals, generals that are going to keep us so safe.”
We usually imagine the threat of military control over decision-making as an aspect of opaque autocracies, but it can also stem from the excessive exultation of a “warrior” class in a democracy.
Consider the chilling comments of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer after a controversial raid in Yemen in January left Ryan Owens, a Navy SEAL, several al-Qaeda fighters, and a number of civilians, as well as several children, dead.
Spicer took umbrage after a number of people, including the notoriously hawkish, wildly pro-military, former POW Senator John McCain, questioned the operation’s value. The press secretary’s statement, however, went beyond standard partisan defensiveness and into genuinely treacherous territory when he asserted that “anyone who would suggest [the raid] is not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.”
That represents a new standard for public debate on military operations. Think of the implications: if a single serviceman dies, then all critical scrutiny of such actions is off the table, being by its very nature disrespectful and unpatriotic.
Taken to its logical conclusion, such an approach would leave no room for public protest or even the vestiges of an antiwar movement in response to future American war making.
Lest anyone imagine that Spicer simply misspoke, President Trump promptly upped the ante. He tweeted: “Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy . . . our hero died on a winning mission.”
Take a moment to let that sink in: to question the effectiveness of a raid in a country with which the US is not at war, which resulted in multiple military and civilian deaths — even when the critic is the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee — should now be considered “emboldening” the enemy. Somebody pinch me.
Generally, however, that raid led mainly to endless praise for both Chief Petty Officer Owens and the US military. In fact, no matter the situation, the carnage involved, or the decision-making behind it, the rhetoric of praise for America’s “warriors” has become a commonplace of our national life.
In fact, we military professionals ought to be confident enough to weather genuine scrutiny of both our decision-making and our acts. The danger is this: while we’re caught up in the countless “thanks-for-your-service” platitudes, upgraded airline seating, ever larger flags flying o’er sporting events, and other forms of hollow soldier-worship and militarized “patriotism,” the nation may be losing something precious: the right to dissent.
In nearly every recent instance when military commanders were asked for a strategy review, the response was the same. What was needed, swore the generals repeatedly, were more troops, more airstrikes, more bases, more money, and more time.
A rare exception to this litany of more came from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey who laid out not just the options, but also the potential costs of a Syrian intervention.
Presidents deserve and require such real options. Too often, however, especially in this country’s 15-year “war on terror” across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, senior military leaders have failed to present plausible, achievable choices to the commander-in-chief. Nearly all of them have proved to be “more” guys.
Consider, for instance, Afghanistan in 2009. Things had been going poorly indeed in what was already an eight-year-old war. And so our nation turned its lonely eyes to him — General Stanley McChrystal, a special operator fresh off a tour tracking down and killing al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leadership, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Asked to conduct a “strategic review” and present Barack Obama with military options in Afghanistan, McChrystal instead offered the new president a Goldilocks dilemma. He submitted what were, in essence, three versions of the same option: surge big, surge little, or surge just right.
Those “options” failed the Army’s own doctrinal course of action test — solutions must be suitable, feasible, acceptable, and distinguishable. Since all three of McChrystal’s choices involved counterinsurgency and troop escalation, they were hardly distinguishable.
Instead, they did what they were meant to do and boxed the young president into an escalatory corner, a “more” decision being not just the commander’s favored but only course of action. Obama grumbled and then sent McChrystal his reinforcements. It sounded like Iraq 2006-2007 all over again.
Only this time — the president and Americans more generally were assured — the ensuing surge would be even better, involving a supposedly comprehensive, interagency approach to the Afghan War.
Before he used his new troops to launch his first major offensive into largely Taliban-controlled, opium-poppy-rich Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, McChyrstal proudly announced that he not only had a military force ready to go, but “a government in a box, ready to roll in,” too.
Seven years later, with more American soldiers once again being sent back into Helmand Province and the Taliban ascendant in significant parts of it, can there be any question how badly McChrystal’s strategy failed? Today, in fact, more of Afghanistan is under Taliban control than at any time since 2001.
As retired army colonel and Professor Gregory Daddis observed, “Looking back, the logic flaws become clear.” After all, Daddis continued, “how could counterinsurgents provide . . . security . . . if the population . . . too often saw US soldiers as ‘anti-bodies’ invading their body politic?”
Perhaps at this point it won’t surprise you to learn that two civilians on the Obama team — Vice President Joseph Biden and US Ambassador to Afghanistan (as well as ex-lieutenant general) Karl Eikenberry — doubted from the start the US military’s ability to impose an external solution on Afghans via such a surge. They were ignored. After all, who knows better than the guys overseeing the actual fighting?
Which raises the question: How will the Trump administration’s generals, now in crucial government positions, counsel the president regarding Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and North Korea?
Predictions are always a dicey matter, but recent history suggests that we can expect military escalation, which already seems to be underway in at least three of those countries. More, after all, remains the option of choice for America’s generals almost 70 years after MacArthur went head to head with his president over Korea.
What then is to be expected when it comes to the conflict with ISIS in Iraq, the complex, multi-faceted Syrian civil war, and America’s longest war of all in Afghanistan? All signs point to more of the same.
Open up a newspaper or check out a relevant website and you’ll find, for example, that US Afghan commander General John Nicholson wants a new mini-surge of American troops dispatched into that country, while the US commander in the fight against ISIS, General Stephen Townsend, may require yet more ground troops to “win” in Iraq and Syria.
After much positive and often fawning news coverage in the wake of his recent Tomahawk missile strike in Syria, it’s hard to imagine that the president won’t grant the generals’ wishes. In fact, he has already reportedly turned over decision-making on US troop levels in Syria and Iraq to them.
And yet it should be obvious enough that more of the same, without even the semblance of credible alternatives or dissenting voices, is an innovation-stifling loser of an option. Fifteen years later, it doesn’t take a genius to know that something about US strategy hasn’t been and isn’t working.
So, isn’t it well past time for the generals and civilian leaders to ask the obvious question: Does the US even have the ability to improve such societies via military power? These days, unfortunately, such thinking rings heretical to martial ears. Yet not to raise such questions is to ensure that Americans will experience a kind of endless deja vu in their wars.
What this country needs right now are civilian leaders who think strategically, exude confidence, and aren’t afraid to challenge military advice. Appropriate respect for senior servicemen shouldn’t mean either impulsive adulation or timid apprehension. Civilian policymakers haven’t always been right, but since World War II, the generals have the weaker (and far more hair-raising) record.
Republics are imperiled when a military caste diverges from civil society. Despite the glowing (if shallow) praise heaped on America’s all-volunteer force, it is increasingly distant from the population in whose name it theoretically fights.
For those of us still in uniform, thoughtlessly soldiering on may sound both stalwart and romantic, but it rarely amounts to a sagacious strategy. Don’t take my word for it, consider the climactic scene in Once an Eagle, a legendary novel within the American officer corps and long a staple on every general’s recommended professional reading list.
This highly touted, if ill-understood, book ends as its protagonist, an aged, decorated general, slowly dies from wounds inflicted by a Vietnamese “terrorist” bomber. Gasping his final breath, the old soldier dispenses his last pearl of wisdom to a junior officer: “Remember, Joey, if it comes to a choice between being a good soldier and a good human being — try to be a good human being . . .”
In war, as in much else, there’s often wisdom in abstention. And when it comes to war, sometimes less is more.
Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a US Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.]
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Copyright 2017 Danny Sjursen
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