Pentagon Moves to Make It Easier to Buy and Use US Weapons to Kill Civilians

July 21st, 2018 - by admin & Defense News & The Intercept – 2018-07-21 20:10:36

US Airstrike Killed 14 Civilians in Northern Afghanistan
Officials claim slain,
including small children,
were all “Taliban fighters”

Jason Ditz /

US Airstrike Killed 14 Civilians in Northern Afghanistan

(July 20, 2018) — On Thursday, local Afghan officials reported “more than 10” civilians were killed in a Kunduz airstrike. At the time they claimed this was an Afghan, not US airstrike. It turns out this was untrue, and officials are now confirming that the strike killed 14, and was a US strike.

The US is struggling to shift the narrative on what happened, and now says that the family of 14 killed — which included small children, including a three-year-old girl — were all “Taliban fighters,” and that no civilians were killed.

Local officials reiterated that everyone killed was a civilian, while the Afghan military issued a statement saying that there can’t possibly have been any civilians killed because “foreign troops are our friends and we don’t target civilians.”

The Kunduz governor’s office has promised an investigation, and quoted local elders as saying none of the slain were armed, let alone Taliban fighters. They confirmed that “some Afghan civilians were killed and wounded.”

Pentagon Looks to Lower Costs
For Nations Buying American Weapons — Again

Aaron Mehta / Defense News

FARNBOROUGH, England (July 21, 18) — The Pentagon is considering lowering a transportation fee for foreign buyers of American defense goods as part of a broader push to lower the cost and hurdles for foreign military sales.

Under the Foreign Military Sales structure, by which the US government acts as the go-between for industry and a foreign customer, foreign partners are charged a transportation fee, which is variable based on the item but based partly around the cost of oil.

But this week, Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency head, told Defense News he wants to see that price cut.

“We’re looking at reducing the transportation admin fee,” Hooper said on the last day of the Farnborough International Airshow. “The last time we looked at it, the price of oil was relatively high. So we looked at that and we’re going to reduce that.”

He noted that while the final decision rests with the comptroller’s office, DSCA has submitted recommended changes. “I have a high confidence that we’ll come back with a positive determination so we can lower that fee,” he added.

If that happens, it would be the second fee cut for DSCA under Hooper. In June, DSCA dropped a surcharge on American defense goods sold abroad from 3.5 percent to 3.2 percent; the funding from that surcharge is used to support FMS costs for the Pentagon.

Asked if the goal is to make it cheaper for allies to buy American made weapons, Hooper said, “Absolutely,” before adding, “We want to make our goods more competitive.”

“We only want to [charge] the management fees that are absolutely necessary to provide a high, above-standard level of service to our partners. Not one penny more. And we want to offer the best equipment in the world at a fair price,” he explained.

It’s part of a broader push spearheaded by the White House to encourage allies to buy American defense goods — something Hooper said is already being noticed during his discussions at Farnborough.

“Clearly there’s an inference and belief that more capabilities will be made available [for sale to partners than before], and we are going to make more capabilities more available,” he said. “Certainly I think there is an expectation that more capabilities will be made available, and we will do our best to fulfill those expectations.”

Aaron Mehta is Deputy Editor and Senior Pentagon Correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Department of Defense and its international partners.

How a One-Word Loophole Will Make It Easier
For the US to Sell Weapons to Governments That Kill Civilians

Alex Emmons / The Intercept

(July 20 2018) — Arms control experts are raising concerns about a possible loophole in the Trump administration’s new arms export policy, arguing that it gives the administration further cover to sell weapons to some of the world’s worst human rights violators.

When it was issued in April, the Trump administration’s Conventional Arms Transfer policy was widely panned by critics for prioritizing the profits of weapons companies ahead of transparency and human rights concerns. The White House was blunt about its intentions, promising that the executive branch would “advocate strongly on behalf of United States companies.”

But one change in particular may make it easier for American companies to sell weapons to governments that routinely kill civilians in conflicts by discounting killings that the governments claim are unintentional. The change could have a significant impact on sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the top two US weapons clients — both of which are engaged in a destructive bombing campaign in Yemen.

The loophole hinges on the insertion of one word in a section that is otherwise identical to the Obama administration’s conventional arms policy, which was issued in 2014. While the previous policy prohibited arms transfers to countries that perpetrate “attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians,” the Trump administration policy bars such transfers to countries that commit “attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians” (emphasis added).

[Obama-era version]
The United States will not authorize any transfer if it has actual knowledge at the time of authorization that the transferred arms will be used to commit: genocide; crimes against humanity. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians who are legally protected from attack or other war crimes as defined in 18 USC 2441.

[Trump-era version]
Whether the United States has actual knowledge at the time of authorization that the transferred arms will be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1999; serious violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects of civilians who are legally protected from attack; or other war crimes as defined in section 2441 of title 18, United States Code. If the United States has such knowledge, the transfer shall not be authorized.

The release of the new policy was followed by a two-month public comment period that ended last month. On Monday, the State Department issued a fact sheet on the policy’s implementation, which promised it would energize a “whole-of-government effort to expedite transfers that support [the administration’s] essential foreign policy and national security objectives.”

Colby Goodman, a researcher on arms sales and director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy, said arms control groups had objected to the word “intentional,” but no change was reflected in the guidelines released Monday.

“Depending on how this policy is implemented, this focus could make it harder for those in the US government [with] legitimate human rights concerns to block or modify some proposed US arms sales,” Goodman told The Intercept.

The loophole is particularly significant in light of the destructive Saudi and Emirati-led bombing campaign in Yemen, where civilian deaths are routinely termed inadvertent or unintentional.

Throughout its three-year bombing campaign, the Saudi and UAE-led coalition has repeatedly bombed civilian targets, striking homes, markets, food sources, and even schools, hospitals, and water infrastructure. These attacks have become so common that human rights groups have called for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations have resupplied the coalition through arms sales, content with coalition claims that the strikes are unintentional mistakes. Under Obama’s 2014 policy, the US rebuffed human rights groups and sold the coalition more than $20 billion in weapons.

As part of an effort to push back against criticism, Saudi Arabia and the UAE formed a body called the “Joint Incidents Assessment Team” in 2015 to investigate civilian deaths. But rather than holding the coalition accountable, the body frequently parrots its rhetoric that strikes are unintentional mistakes, according to Kristine Beckerle, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“‘I didn’t mean to’ is not a sufficient excuse for the Yemenis still grieving [for] their loved ones killed or wounded — they deserve accountability, compensation,” Beckerle told The Intercept. “Even if the coalition didn’t intend to bomb a wedding, a home, a hospital, it doesn’t necessarily follow the strike was lawful, that an individual didn’t commit a war crime — there’s a lot more to the laws of war than that.”

In 2016, for example, the JIAT found that a strike against a residential complex in western Yemen had been “unintentional.” Later that year, it found that the bombing of a Medecins Sans Frontieres-run hospital was an “unintentional error,” despite the fact the buildings were clearly marked as MSF medical facilities. And last year, after the coalition bombed a water factory in Yemen’s Hajjah directorate, the JIAT found that “the bomb went off course and fell on the factory unintentionally.”

The Trump administration’s policy may help the US facilitate further arms sales by relying on the pretext that these types of bombings, though recurrent, are unintentional. “Those hoping this administration might learn lessons from the past about how US weapons ended up being misused, or show proper restraint in sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have nothing to cheer in the new policy or its implementation plan to date,” said Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

In May, shortly after the coalition bombed a wedding party in North Yemen, the State Department briefed Senate staff about another possible multibillion dollar sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The sale is currently being held up by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., over concerns about civilian casualties.

US Moves Forward With Multibillion-Dollar “Smart Bomb” Sale to Saudi Arabia and UAE Despite Civilian Deaths in Yemen

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