Tag Archives: al-Qaeda

Guest Post: Obama’s Speech.

Susan here. This is a quote from Obama’s speech:

“To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”

My response is this:

Fuck you, Obama. Fuck you for trying to come to us on the Left when you need us, and then shitting on us when you don’t. You do NOT have my permission to bomb Syria, and you will NEVER get it. You will NOT get my permission to bomb Syria based upon a YouTube video that conveniently surfaced just as the UN weapons inspectors were checking into their Damascus hotel. There are hundreds of videos of the so-called Syrian opposition al-Qaeda “rebels” committing atrocities like beheading Christians, practicing cannibalism, and sawing a little girl’s arms and legs off while she is still alive. And yet, we are supposed to ignore these atrocities and focus on the one (conveniently-timed) atrocity that Assad would never actually be stupid enough to commit.

I am tired of your patronization. I am tired of your lies. I am tired of looking at your face. I am tired of hearing your voice. And I’m tired of you trying to soften up Syria for the kill, and slouching us inch by inch into World War III. Because unlike Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2003, Syria has allies, allies who are likely to retaliate. If Iran retaliates, the price of oil will go sky high, and we will freeze in winter-time, and the price of just about every product will go up due to the higher cost of shipping. Because 50% of the world’s oil comes from the Persian Gulf. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, Mr. Obama. That’s what you pay that useless Cabinet of yours to do.

But since you did address Leftists such as myself in your speech, I will tell you this: The US used chemical weapons in Vietnam (Agent Orange), and used them again in Iraq and Afghanistan (White Phosphorus, Depleted Uranium). So we are in NO position to lecture others on the use of chemicals as weapons. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: The US Love Affair with Drones

A War Strategy Built Around Drone Attacks Is Not Only Unethical, But Will Hurt US Interests in the Long Run.

One of the pleasures of traveling through the developing world is that things develop. They change. There’s always something new.

Afghanistan is, depending on one’s point of view, developing, deteriorating, or doing both at once.

Example: Last August found me and two fellow Americans in a hired taxi zooming past bombed-out fuel trucks through Taliban-held Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan near the Tajik border. The sense of menace was palpable, but our driver seemed calm.

Then his face darkened. We were passing into the flatlands east of Mazar-i-Sharif. We saw nothing but dirt, dust and rocks, all the way to the horizon. Yet our driver was nervous. He scanned this bleak landscape. “Motorcycles,” he said. “I am looking for the motorcycles.”

The adaptable neo-Taliban increasingly rely on the classic tactics of guerilla warfare. Rather than hold territory, these postmodern Islamists-cum-gangsters rely on hit-and-run strikes using something I hadn’t seen in 2001: motorcycles. Like a scene from the Kazakh film epic about Genghis Khan updated by Quentin Tarantino, squadrons of bearded bikers are terrorizing Afghanistan’s newly/cheaply paved highways.

I call them the Talibikers.

One of the more intriguing revelations in last year’s WikiLeaks data dump was that the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency has been supplying the Taliban with thousands of Pamir dirtbikes, including a 2007 shipment of 1,000 to the Waziristan-based network led by Mawlawi Jalaludin Haqqani. Talibs ride the Pamirs and their preferred brand, the Honda 125 and its Chinese knock-offs, to assassinations. They launch attacks on highways from bases in villages 10 to 15 kilometers away.

The Talibikers speed across the desert in great clouds of dust, “Mad Max” style, to ambush and bomb fuel trucks. There they set up checkpoints where they shakedown travelers for cash. Sometimes they kidnap motorists and demand ransom payments from their families. By the time the hapless Afghan national police shows up, the resistance fighters are long gone.

An early report on the Talibikers appeared in the Telegraph in 2003. “The motorcycles have played a key role in Taliban hit-and-run operations in the south of the country where the campaign against international troops and aid workers has intensified,” the British newspaper reported in November of that year. “In the latest incident, a Frenchwoman working for the United Nations was shot dead this month by the pillion passenger on a motorcycle in the south-eastern town of Ghazni. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack. In another recent attack, a group of motorcyclists opened fire on an aid convoy near Kandahar, killing four Afghans. In August, two motorcyclists threw a grenade into the Kandahar compound of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, damaging the building but causing no injuries.”

ISI-funded motorbikes continue to play a vital role in the Taliban’s war to drive U.S. and NATO occupation troops out of Afghanistan. “Day and night, Taliban assassins on motorbikes hunt their victims, often taunting them over the telephone before gunning them down in the city’s streets,” Paul Watson wrote in The Star, a newspaper in Canada in February 2011. “They are working their way through lists, meticulously killing off people fingered as collaborators with the Afghan government or its foreign backers…The build-up of Afghan police and soldiers, and foreign troops, in and around Kandahar city over recent months has improved security, but agile and coldly efficient motorbike death squads remain active.”

Mass attacks continue as well. “About 100 Taliban fighters on motorcycles attacked a northern Afghan village that was working to join the government-sponsored local police program against the insurgency, killing one villager, police said Wednesday. An ensuing battle also left 17 militants dead,” the Associated Press reported in May 2011.

There are fewer than 10,000 Talibikers in Afghanistan. They could be eliminated—if the U.S. and NATO stopped focusing on assassination-by-drone and instead used the same technology to increase security.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) date to the maiden flight of the now-familiar Predator drones in 1994. After 9/11 the United States became addicted to the Predator and its successor, the Reaper.

Today the Air Force and CIA have at least 7000 UAVs in service around the world, representing the biggest and most visible presence of the U.S. military in Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. This trend is likely to accelerate. As of March 2011 the U.S. Air Force was training more remote drone “pilots” than those for conventional planes. Next year the Pentagon wants $5 billion just for drones.

Drones are getting smaller and more numerous. “One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill,” according to The New York Times. “There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost.” More on this later.

It’s easy to see why generals and politicians are so enthusiastic. The pilotless planes, guided by operators manning a joystick at military and pseudomilitary agencies such as CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and armed by Xe, the private contractor formerly called Blackwater, are relatively cheap. A Predator costs $4.5 million; an F-22 Raptor fighter jet runs $150 million a unit. Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, cites the “three Ds.” Drones are “dull” because they can patrol empty stretches of barren land 24 hours a day. They’re “dirty” because they can fly in and out of toxic clouds, including radiation. Most appealingly, they are “dangerous” because the absence of a pilot eliminates the risk that a pilot—they cost millions to train–will be killed or captured by enemy forces. UAVs exploit the element of surprise: though relatively unobtrusive, they fire supersonic armor-piercing Hellfire missiles capable of striking a target as far as five miles away.

“People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying,” The New Yorker magazine reported in 2009. “‘You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,’ a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) [Bleeding] human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: ‘squirters.'”

Charming.

According to the Pentagon, drones hit their targets with 95 percent accuracy. The problematic question is: who are their targets?

Thousands of people have been rubbed out by drones since 9/11.

(Press accounts document between 1400 and 2300 extrajudicial killings by allied forces, mostly in the Tribal Areas adjacent to Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. According to media reports cited by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 957 Pakistanis were murdered by American drones in 134 airstrikes during the year 2010 alone. Since the media only learns about a fraction of these “secret” killings, the real number must be many times higher.)

Since the Pakistani government does not officially acknowledge, much less authorize, such attacks, they are illegal acts of war.

Political philosopher Michael Walzer asked in 2009: “Under what code does the CIA operate? I don’t know. There should be a limited, finite group of people who are targets, and that list should be publicly defensible and available. Instead, it’s not being publicly defended. People are being killed, and we generally require some public justification when we go about killing people.”

One would think.

Legal or not, Christine Fair of Georgetown University says the U.S. doesn’t use drone planes indiscriminately: “You have lawyers, you have targeteers, you have intelligence operatives, you actually have pilots who are manning the drones. These are not 14-year-old kids right out of basic training, playing around with a joystick,” she told National Public Radio.

In the real world, it’s often hard to tell the difference. There’s no doubt that drone operators make mistakes. In April 2011, for example, two American marines were killed by a Predator in Afghanistan.

Of course, the majority of victims are local civilians. In Afghanistan and Pakistan drone strikes have killed countless children and wiped out so many wedding parties that it’s become a sick joke. Estimates of the civilian casualty rate range from a third (by the New America Foundation) to 98 percent (terrorism expert Amir Mir). There is no evidence that a single “terrorist” has ever been killed by a drone—only the say-so of U.S. and NATO spokesmen.

Errors are inherent due to the principal feature of the technology: remoteness. Manned aerial warfare is notoriously inaccurate; pilots zooming close to the speed of sound tens of thousands of feet above the ground have little idea who or what they’re shooting at. Drone operators have even less information than old-school pilots. Like a submariner peering out of a periscope, they are supposed to decide whether people live or die based on fuzzy images through layers of glass. They call it the “soda straw.”

Nowadays, staffing is a troubling challenge: it takes 19 analysts to study images and other data from one drone. In the future, a war could eliminate unemployment entirely: it will take approximately 2000 men and women to process information from one drone equipped with “Gorgon stare” optics capable of scanning an entire city at once.

There’s also a huge gap in education, experience and culture. Virtual warriors require simple rules that don’t apply when trying to kill jihadis. At the beginning of the U.S. war against Afghanistan in 2001, for example, it was an article of faith within the Pentagon that men wearing black long-tailed turbans were Talibs. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of noncombatants were killed because of this incorrect assumption. In February 2002 a drone operator blew up a man because he was tall—as was Osama bin Laden. In fact, he and two other men killed were poor villagers gathering scrap metal. Again, this doesn’t address the broader issue of whether it’s OK to murder people simply because they are members of the Taliban.

At least as interesting as the choice of target is whom the U.S. does not try to kill: the Talibikers.

Unlike the wedding parties, houses and tribal councils that have been mistakenly incinerated by the aptly-named Hellfire missiles, Taliban bike gangs are easy to identify from the air. One or two hundred dirtbikes speeding across the desert toward a truck on an Afghan highway are unmistakable. Most Afghans, even those who oppose the U.S. occupation, fear the Talibikers and resent being robbed at impromptu checkpoints. There have been a few scattershot drone strikes, nothing more. Why don’t the CIA whiz kids make these easily identified fighters a primary target?

I posed the question to Afghan government officials. They told me that the same U.S. military that blows $1 billion a week on the war won’t lift a finger to save Afghan lives by providing basic security. “Afghan lives are worth nothing to the Americans,” a provincial governor told me.

Last week the United Nations announced that civilian casualties were up 15 percent during the first six months of 2011. If the same rate continues, this will be the worst year of the ten-year-long American occupation.

A well-placed U.S. military source confirms that Afghan security “isn’t a priority, it isn’t even much of a passing thought.” Contrary to President Obama’s claim that U.S. is in Afghanistan in order to prevent the country from becoming a base for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups and to combat opium cultivation, he says that Afghanistan isn’t about Afghanistan at all. “Afghanistan is a staging area for drone and other aerial strikes in western Pakistan,” he says. “Nothing more, nothing less. Afghanistan is Bagram [airbase].”

Under Obama the death toll has risen, worsening relations between the White House and its puppet president, Hamid Karzai. Beyond the horror of the deaths themselves, it would be impossible to overstate the contempt that ordinary people in nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan feel for the drone program. “Americans are cowards” was one refrain I heard last year. Real soldiers risk their lives. They do not send buzzing machines to kill people half a world away…people they know nothing about.

Back in 2002, former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith worried about blowback. “If [Taliban leaders and soldiers are] dead, they’re not talking to you, and you create more martyrs,” he noted. Ongoing drone attacks “suggest that it’s acceptable behavior to assassinate people…Assassination as a norm of international conduct exposes American leaders and Americans overseas.”

These days, the media gives little to no time or space to such concerns. Americans have moved into postmorality. Right or wrong? Who cares?

Recently international law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell of Notre Dame University said that the new reliance on drones could prompt an already militaristic superpower to fight even more wars of choice. “I think this idea that somehow this technology is allowing us to kill in more places and…aim at more targets is for me the fundamental ethical and legal problem.”

Meanwhile, adds Mary Dudziak of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law: “Drones are a technological step that further isolates the American people from military action, undermining political checks on…endless war.” No casualties? No problem.

Meanwhile, at a “microaviary” inside an air force base north of Dayton, Ohio, “military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds,” approvingly reports The New York Times.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH COLUMN: Obama’s Third War

Yesterday I published my first column for Al Jazeera English. I get more space than my syndicated column (2000 words compared to the usual 800) and it’s an exciting opportunity to run alongside a lot of other writers whose work I respect.

Here it is:

Stalemate in Libya, Made in USA

Republicans in the United States Senate held a hearing to discuss the progress of what has since become the war in Libya. It was one month into the operation. Senator John McCain, the Arizona conservative who lost the 2008 presidential race to Barack Obama, grilled top U.S. generals. “So right now we are facing the prospect of a stalemate?” McCain asked General Carter Ham, chief of America’s Africa Command. “I would agree with that at present on the ground,” Ham replied.

How would the effort to depose Colonel Gaddafi conclude? “I think it does not end militarily,” Ham predicted.

That was over two months ago.

It’s a familiar ritual. Once again a military operation marketed as inexpensive, short-lived and—naturally—altruistic, is dragging on, piling up bills, with no end in sight. The scope of the mission, narrowly defined initially, has radically expanded. The Libyan stalemate is threatening to become, along with Iraq and especially Afghanistan, America’s third quagmire.

Bear in mind, of course, that the American definition of a military quagmire does not square with the one in the dictionary, namely, a conflict from which one or both parties cannot disengage. The U.S. could pull out of Libya. But it won’t. Not yet.

Indeed, President Obama would improve his chances in his upcoming reelection campaign were he to order an immediate withdrawal from all four of America’s “hot wars”: Libya, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Yemen. When the U.S. and NATO warplanes began dropping bombs on Libyan government troops and military targets in March, only 47 percent of Americans approved—relatively low for the start of a military action. With U.S. voters focused on the economy in general and joblessness in particular, this jingoistic nation’s typical predilection for foreign adventurism has given way to irritation to anything that distracts from efforts to reduce unemployment. Now a mere 26 percent support the war—a figure comparable to those for the Vietnam conflict at its nadir.

For Americans “quagmire” became a term of political art after Vietnam. It refers not to a conflict that one cannot quit—indeed, the U.S. has not fought a war where its own survival was at stake since 1815—but one that cannot be won. The longer such a war drags on, with no clear conclusion at hand, the more that American national pride (and corporate profits) are at stake. Like a commuter waiting for a late bus, the more time, dead soldiers and materiel has been squandered, the harder it is to throw up one’s hands and give up. So Obama will not call off his dogs—his NATO allies—regardless of the polls. Like a gambler on a losing streak, he will keep doubling down.

U.S. ground troops in Libya? Not yet. Probably never. But don’t rule them out. Obama hasn’t.

It is shocking, even by the standards of Pentagon warfare, how quickly “mission creep” has imposed itself in Libya. Americans, at war as long as they can remember, recognize the signs: more than half the electorate believes that U.S. forces will be engaged in combat in Libya at least through 2012.

One might rightly point out: this latest American incursion into Libya began recently, in March. Isn’t it premature to worry about a quagmire?

Not necessarily.

“Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word ‘quagmire’ has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad,” R.W. Apple, Jr. reported in The New York Times. He was talking about Afghanistan.

Apple was prescient. He wrote his story on October 31, 2001, three weeks into what has since become the United States’ longest war.

Obama never could have convinced a war-weary public to tolerate a third war in a Muslim country had he not promoted the early bombing campaign as a humanitarian effort to protect Libya’s eastern-based rebels (recast as “civilians”) from imminent Srebrenica-esque massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi—a city nearly the size of Charlotte [North Carolina]—could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” the President said March 28th. “It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.”

Obama promised a “limited” role for the U.S. military, which would be part of “broad coalition” to “protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone.” There would be no attempt to drive Gaddafi out of power. “Of course, there is no question that Libya—and the world—would be better off with Gaddafi out of power,” he said. “I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

“Regime change [in Iraq],” Obama reminded, “took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

The specifics were fuzzy, critics complained. How would Libya retain its territorial integrity—a stated U.S. war aim—while allowing Gaddafi to keep control of the western provinces around Tripoli?

The answer, it turned out, was essentially a replay of Bill Clinton’s bombing campaign against Serbia during the 1990s. U.S. and NATO warplanes targeted Gaddafi’s troops. Bombs degraded Libyan military infrastructure: bases, radar towers, even ships. American policymakers hoped against hope that Gaddafi’s generals would turn against him, either assassinating him in a coup or forcing the Libyan strongman into exile.

If Gaddafi had disappeared, Obama’s goal would have been achieved: easy in, easy out. With a little luck, Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would have little to no influence on the incoming government to be created by the Libyan National Transitional Council. With more good fortune, the NTC could even be counted upon to sign over favorable oil concessions to American and European energy concerns.

But Gaddafi was no Milosevic. The dictator dug in his heels. This was at least in part due to NATO’s unwillingness or inability to offer him the dictator retirement plan of Swiss accounts, gym bags full of bullion, and a swanky home in the French Riviera.

Stalemate was the inevitable result of America’s one foot in, one foot out Libya war policy—an approach that continued after control of the operation was officially turned over to NATO, specifically Britain and France. Allied jets were directed to deter attacks on Benghazi and other NTC-held positions, not to win the revolution for them. NTC forces, untrained and poorly armed, were no match for Gaddafi’s professional army. On the other hand, loyalist forces were met by heavy NATO air strikes whenever they tried to advance into rebel-held territory. Libya was bifurcated. With Gaddafi still alive and in charge, this was the only way Obama Administration policy could have played out.

No one knows whether Gaddafi’s angry bluster—the rants that prompted Western officials to attack—would have materialized in the form of a massacre. It is clear, on the other hand, that Libyans on both sides of the front are paying a high price for the U.S.-created stalemate.

At least one million out of Libya’s population of six million has fled the nation or become internally displaced refugees. There are widespread shortages of basic goods, including food and fuel. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the NTC has pulled children out of schools in areas they administer and put them to work “cleaning streets, working as traffic cops and dishing up army rations to rebel soldiers.”

NATO jets fly one sortie after another; the fact that they’re running out of targets doesn’t stop them from dropping their payloads. Each bomb risks killing more of the civilians they are ostensibly protecting. Libyans will be living in rubble for years after the war ends.

Coalition pilots were given wide leeway in the definition of “command and control centers” that could be targeted; one air strike against the Libyan leader’s home killed 29-year-old Mussa Ibrahim said Saif al-Arab, Gaddafi’s son, along with three of his grandchildren. Gaddafi himself remained in hiding. Officially, however, NATO was not allowed to even think about trying to assassinate him.

Pentagon brass told Obama that more firepower was required to turn the tide in favor of the ragtag army of the Libyan National Transitional Council. But he couldn’t do that. He was faced with a full-scale rebellion by a coalition of liberal antiwar Democrats and Republican constitutionalists in the U.S. House of Representatives. Furious that the President had failed to request formal Congressional approval for the Libyan war within 60 days as required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution, they voted against a military appropriations bill for Libya.

The planes kept flying. But Congress’ reticence now leaves one way to close the deal: kill Gaddafi.

As recently as May 1st,, after the killing of Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren, NATO was still denying that it was trying to dispatch him. “We do not target individuals,” said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of Canada, commanding military operations in Libya.

By June 10th CNN television confirmed that NATO was targeting Libya’s Brother Leader for death. “Asked by CNN whether Gaddafi was being targeted,” the network reported, “[a high-ranking] NATO official declined to give a direct answer. The [UN] resolution applies to Gaddafi because, as head of the military, he is part of the control and command structure and therefore a legitimate target, the official said.”

In other words, a resolution specifically limiting the scope of the war to protecting civilians and eschewing regime change was being used to justify regime change via political assassination.

So what happens next?

First: war comes to Washington. On June 14th House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner sent Obama a rare warning letter complaining of “a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of Congress” in the U.S. war against Libya and a “lack of clarity” about the mission.

“It would appear that in five days, the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless it asks for and receives authorization from Congress or withdraws all U.S. troops and resources from the mission [in Libya],” Boehner wrote. “Have you…conducted the legal analysis to justify your position?” he asked. “Given the gravity of the constitutional and statutory questions involved, I request your answer by Friday, June 17, 2011.”

Next, the stalemate/quagmire continues. Britain can keep bombing Libya “as long as we choose to,” said General Sir David Richards, the UK Chief of Defense Staff.

One event could change everything overnight: Gaddafi’s death. Until then, NATO and the United States must accept the moral responsibility for dragging out a probable aborted uprising in eastern Libya into a protracted civil war with no military—or, contrary to NATO pronouncements, political—solution in the foreseeable future. Libya is assuming many of the characteristics of a proxy war such as Afghanistan during the 1980s, wherein outside powers armed warring factions to rough parity but not beyond, with the effect of extending the conflict at tremendous cost of life and treasure. This time around, only one side, the NTC rebels, are receiving foreign largess—but not enough to score a decisive victory against Gaddafi by capturing Tripoli.

Libya was Obama’s first true war. He aimed to show how Democrats manage international military efforts differently than neo-cons like Bush. He built an international coalition. He made the case on humanitarian grounds. He declared a short time span.

In three short months, all of Obama’s plans have fallen apart. NATO itself is fracturing. There is talk about dissolving it entirely. The Libya mission is stretching out into 2011 and beyond.

People all over the world are questioning American motives in Libya and criticizing the thin veneer of legality used to justify the bombings. “We strongly believe that the [UN] resolution [on Libya] is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation,” South African President Jacob Zuma said this week, echoing criticism of the invasion of Iraq.

Somewhere in Texas, George W. Bush is smirking.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

(C) 2011 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.