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Archive for June, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on June 30th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Jun 30

APAP says Washington is reviving a plan to transfer some Taliban fighters out of US control, but not release them from custody

The White House is considering sending suspected militants currently held at Guantánamo back to Afghanistan in a bid to kickstart stalled talks with the Taliban, it has been reported.

Citing US and Afghan officials as its source, the Associated Press said that under a plan being discussed, some Taliban fighters captured in the early days of the 2001 invasion would be transferred out of full American control but not released from custody.

It represents a leap of faith on the US side that the men will not become threats to Nato forces once back on Afghan soil. But it is meant to show more moderate elements of the Taliban insurgency that Washington is still interested in cutting a deal for peace.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and others have said that while negotiations with the Taliban are distasteful, they are the best way to settle the prolonged war.

The new compromise is intended to boost the credibility of the US-backed Afghan government.

President Hamid Karzai and American officials are trying to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a peace deal between the national Afghan government and the Pashtun-based insurgency.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 29th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

M K Bhadrakumar | Jun 29

Asia Times – The vanguard for Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pakistan tells its own story – Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s point person for Afghanistan, a legend fit to set in motion great designs hatched in the Kremlin and intended to frustrate Washington’s own grand goals for Central and East Asia. Building a Russian bulwark on the Indian Ocean is a long-cherished dream, one Putin can turn to a US nightmare.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 28th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

An excellent piece from Michael Cohen, as he pushes back at apologists.

Andrew Exum’s apologia today for war supporters in World Politics Review. Exum makes the argument that “what sunk Afghanistan was not the planning process but the execution.” Exum’s assertion, which appears to be similar to Chandrasekaran’s, is that the United States “squandered its best chance at reversing the momentum of the war in 2009″ by sending troops into Helmand province and by the “vicious infighting among members of the Obama administration.” While there is no doubt that these were serious challenges, they elide the real problems that hobbled the U.S. effort it Afghanistan—namely, adopting an unrealistic population-centric COIN “strategy” that had little chance of success and was practically destined to fail (some people did mention this at the time).

Even with perfect execution, the strategy pushed by the military and adopted by the White House was doomed to failure because it was predicated on a series of unrealistic assumptions, including that Pakistan would be a strategic ally of the United States (it’s not), that the Karzai regime would be an effective COIN partner (it wasn’t), that a civilian surge would help provide good governance to Afghanistan (it didn’t), and that U.S. troops could act like armed social workers and “out-shura” the Taliban (they can’t). This is not to mention the fact that it dramatically overstated the threat to U.S. interests represented by the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Yet, Exum implicitly rejects this argument and argues instead that, “the conduct of the Obama administration and the U.S. military in 2009 represents the ideal for strategic decision-making in terms of both process and the relationship between the military and its civilian masters.”

Reading this quote I’m reminded of what George Romney had to say after Lyndon Johnson declared, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968, that it had been a failure for the North Vietnamese. “If what we have seen in the past week is a Viet Cong failure,” said Romney, “then I hope they never have a victory.” If Afghanistan is a success I’d hate to see what a strategic decision-making failure might look like.

Read the rest, on how Obama’s generals helped bend his decision-making process surge-ward in the first place, by threatening a breakdown in civil-military relations if it didn’t happen.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 27th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Read the whole of this excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book about how force protection and bureaucracy partnered with apathy and incompetence in the US “civilan surge” in Afghanistan.

Once she started her job, she began to understand why her colleagues had no great love for their work. Meetings consumed much of the day. Her boss expected her to be at her desk until 10 at night to draft memos, cables, and talking points for senior officials to read at meetings with Afghans. Nobody wanted her to go out and talk to her Afghan contacts or to soak up the country. They simply wanted responses to their emails right away. Much of what she was asked to do could have been accomplished back in Washington — at far less cost to American taxpayers. But then she wouldn’t have been counted as part of the State Department’s “civilian surge,” which was intended to dramatically increase the ranks of diplomats and USAID personnel in Afghanistan in tandem with the military’s troop surge.

Most of Coish’s colleagues also spent all day in their cubicles, hunched over computers. Embassy rules prevented Americans from leaving the compound unless they had official business — a meeting with an Afghan government official, dinner with a European diplomat, a visit to a U.S.-funded development project — and even then they had to obtain permission from the security office, which allotted the armored cars in the motor pool. Restaurants and offices had to be on a list of approved locations. Staffers had to identify the people with whom they were meeting and then submit reports upon their return to the embassy compound detailing the substance of their discussions with any citizens of countries listed on the State Department’s Security Environment Threat List, which, of course, included Afghanistan.

…Some staffers retreated to their trailers to watch movies on their laptops. Others grew homesick and despondent. The embassy health clinic doled out increasing quantities of antidepressant pills, and when a State Department psychiatrist arrived in February 2010 for a month-long visit, there was a rush to make appointments.

The most common salve, however, was booze.

It’s not as if the civilians are the only ones to blame though. Many have argued that the US problem with counter-insurgency is “We’re not that good at it” as Larry Korb succinctly put it. The force protection paradigm that hamstrung the civilian effort in Afghanistan has also hamstrung the military one. As Nir Rosen wrote in 2009:

COIN is not going in for a few hours, calling a shura—a sit-down—with some elders, and heading back to base before the chow hall closes. COIN is dangerous, and the military is risk-averse. American casualties peaked in Iraq when the military got serious about protecting the people. COIN advocates have changed the language used by the top brass, but the bureaucracy is still dominated by old-school army thinking. All they can do is try to take COIN and graft it onto conventional doctrine.

The military has been talking for a long time about being good at complex operations, simultaneously fighting and providing aid. But they still make it up as they go. Each unit takes its knowledge back home with it, leaving its successor to relearn everything. Relationships formed with Afghans—still viewed derisively in the military as “Hajis”—are lost.

The troubles with COIN are institutional. The American military and policy establishments are incapable of doing COIN. They lack the curiosity to understand other cultures and the empathy to understand what motivates people.

The negative pressure of the force protection paradigm on the ground will always outweigh any fine words on paper about “hearts and minds”. A deep-seated paradigm of force protection, aka Fobbitmania, means: airstrikes based on bad, bought intel; contracted mercs running over civilians with whole convoys; relying for an appearance of success on bribing already corrupt warlords; relying on security forces manned by criminals who are already in the pockets of warlords; corruption and bribe-taking within the military (Petraeus’ aide Lt. Col Lavonda Selph et al); acceptable “collateral damage” ratios of 50-1 or worse (e.g. drones in Pakistan); freefire orgies on civilians after attacks – and a whole lot more, none of it condusive to long-term COIN success.

When the connection between theory and real-world outcome requires America to do some things that are unlikely or impossible, you should know your strategy and it’s theoretical foundations are in trouble.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

This is the Afghan misadventure in a nutshell.

“I think we all desperately hoped that British soldiers were dying for something more noble than helping Karzai’s drug dealing cousins to sell gas from northern Afghanistan to the Chinese,” one former senior diplomat to Kabul told The Daily Telegraph.

Backstory – Karzai’s notorious cousins, Rashid and Rateb Popal, won the oil extraction contract in a joint venture with a Chinese state-owned firm despite accusations another of their companies used US funds to pay protection money to Taliban commanders and despite their serving nearly nine years in jail in New York in the 1990s on drugs charges.

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Posted by alexthurston on June 18th, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

“Do you do this in the United States? There is police action every day in the United States… They don’t call in airplanes to bomb the place.” — Afghan President Hamid Karzai denouncing U.S. air strikes on homes in his country, June 12, 2012

It was almost closing time when the siege began at a small Wells Fargo Bank branch in a suburb of San Diego, and it was a nightmare.  The three gunmen entered with the intent to rob, but as they herded the 18 customers and bank employees toward a back room, they were spotted by a pedestrian outside who promptly called 911.  Within minutes, police cars were pulling up, the bank was surrounded, and back-up was being called in from neighboring communities.  The gunmen promptly barricaded themselves inside with their hostages, including women and small children, and refused to let anyone leave.

The police called on the gunmen to surrender, but before negotiations could even begin, shots were fired from within the bank, wounding a police officer.  The events that followed — now known to everyone, thanks to 24/7 news coverage — shocked the nation.  Declaring the bank robbers “terrorist suspects,” the police requested air support from the Pentagon and, soon after, an F-15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base dropped two GBU-38 bombs on the bank, leaving the building a pile of rubble.

All three gunmen died.  Initially, a Pentagon spokesman, who took over messaging from the local police, insisted that “the incident” had ended “successfully” and that all the dead were “suspected terrorists.”  The Pentagon press office issued a statement on other casualties, noting only that, “while conducting a follow-on assessment, the security force discovered two women who had sustained non-life-threatening injuries.  The security force provided medical assistance and transported both women to a local medical facility for treatment.”  It added that it was sending an “assessment team” to the site to investigate reports that others had died as well.

Of course, as Americans quickly learned, the dead actually included five women, seven children, and a visiting lawyer from Los Angeles.  The aftermath was covered in staggering detail.  Relatives of the dead besieged city hall, bitterly complaining about the attack and the deaths of their loved ones.  At a news conference the next morning, while scenes of rescuers digging in the rubble were still being flashed across the country, President Obama said: “Such acts are simply unacceptable.  They cannot be tolerated.” In response to a question, he added, “Nothing can justify any airstrike which causes harm to the lives and property of civilians.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey immediately flew to San Diego to meet with family members of the dead and offer apologies.  Heads rolled in the local police department and in the Pentagon.  Congress called for hearings as well as a Justice Department investigation of possible criminality, and quickly passed a bill offering millions of dollars to the grieving relatives as “solace.”  San Diego began raising money for a memorial to the group already dubbed the Wells Fargo 18.

One week later, at the exact moment of the bombing, church bells rang throughout the San Diego area and Congress observed a minute of silence in honor of the dead.

The Meaning of “Precision”

It couldn’t have been more dramatic and, as you know perfectly well, it couldn’t have happened — not in the U.S. anyway.  But just over a week ago, an analogous “incident” did happen in Afghanistan and it passed largely unnoticed here.  A group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house in a village in Logar Province, south of Kabul, where a wedding ceremony either was or would be in progress.  American and Afghan forces surrounded the house, where 18 members of a single extended family had gathered for the celebration.  When firing broke out (or a grenade was thrown) and both U.S. and Afghan troops were reportedly wounded, they did indeed call in a jet, which dropped a 500-pound bomb, obliterating the residence and everyone inside, including up to nine children.

This was neither an unheard of mistake, nor an aberration in America’s Afghan War.  In late December 2001, according to reports, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, wiped out 110 out of 112 wedding revelers in a small Afghan village.  Over the decade-plus that followed, American air power, piloted and drone, has been wiping out Afghans (Pakistanis and, until relatively recently, Iraqis) in a similar fashion — usually in or near their homes, sometimes in striking numbers, always on the assumption that there are bad guys among them.

For more than a decade, incident after incident, any one of which, in the U.S., would have shaken Americans to their core, led to “investigations” that went nowhere, punishments to no one, rare apologies, and on occasion, the offering of modest “solatium” payments to grieving survivors and relatives.  For such events, of course, 24/7 coverage, like future memorials, was out of the question.

Cumulatively, they indicate one thing: that, for Americans, the value of an Afghan life (or more often Afghan lives) obliterated in the backlands of the planet, thousands of miles from home, is next to nil and of no meaning whatsoever.  Such deaths are just so much unavoidable “collateral damage” from the American way of war — from the post-9/11 approach we have agreed is crucial to make ourselves “safe” from terrorists.

By now, Afghans (and Pakistanis in tribal areas across the border) surely know the rules of the road of the American war: there is no sanctity in public or private rites.  While funerals have been hit repeatedly and at least one baby-naming ceremony was taken out as well, weddings have been the rites of choice for obliteration for reasons the U.S. Air Force has, as far as we know, never taken a moment to consider, no less explain.  This website counted five weddings blown away (one in Iraq and four in Afghanistan) by mid-2008, and another from that year not reported until 2009.  The latest incident is at least the seventh that has managed, however modestly, to make the news here, but there is no way of knowing what other damage to wedding parties in rural Afghanistan has gone uncounted.

Imagine the uproar in this country if a jet took out a wedding party.  Just consider the attention given every time some mad gunman shoots up a post office, a college campus, or simply an off-campus party, if you want to get an idea.  You might think then that, given the U.S. record of wedding carnage in Afghanistan, which undoubtedly represents some kind of modern wedding-crasher record, there might have been a front-page story, or simply a story, somewhere, anywhere, indicating the repetitive nature of such events.

And yet, if U.S. carnage in that country gets attention at all, it’s usually only to point out, in self-congratulatory fashion, that the Taliban — with their indiscriminate roadside bombs and their generally undiscriminating suicide bombers — are far worse.  If an American college campus is shot up, what are the odds that the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech won’t be mentioned?  And yet not a single report on the recent deaths in Logar Province has even noted that this is not the first time part of an Afghan wedding party has been taken out by the U.S. Air Force.

Over the years, such incidents, when they rose individually to the level of news, almost invariably followed the same pattern: initial denials by U.S. military or NATO spokespeople that any civilian casualties had occurred and then, if outrage in Afghanistan ratcheted up or the news reports on the incident didn’t die down, a slow back-peddling under pressure, and the launching of an “investigation” or, as in the case of the Logar bombing, a “joint investigation” with Afghan authorities, that seldom led anywhere and often was never heard from or about again.  In the end, in some circumstances, apologies were offered and modest “solatium” payments made to the survivors.

And yet, over the years, amid all the praise for the “precision” of American air power, for the ability of the Air Force to bring a bomb or a missile to its target in a fashion that we like to call “surgical,” it is no small thing — explain it as you will — to wipe out parts or all of seven weddings. You might almost think that our wars on the Eurasian continent had been launched as an assault on “family values.”  At the very least, the Afghan War has given a different meaning to the ceremonial phrase “till death do us part.”

The Country Crasher

For years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has bitterly complained about similar air strikes that kill and wound civilians in or near their homes and repeatedly demanded that they be stopped.  In this particular case, he cut short a trip to China and returned to Afghanistan to denounce the attack as “unacceptable.” Ordinarily, this has meant remarkably little.

In this case, however, the Afghan president, who lacks much real power (hence his old nickname, “the mayor of Kabul”), seems to have the wind at his back.  Perhaps because the Obama administration is on edge about its disintegrating relations with Pakistan (thanks, in part, to its unwillingness to offer an apology for cross-border U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November); perhaps because the list of recent U.S. blunders and disasters in Afghanistan has grown long and painful — the urinating on bodies of dead enemies, the killing of civilians “for sport,” the burning of Korans, the slaughter of 16 innocent villagers by one American soldier, the rise of green-on-blue violence (that is, Afghan army and police attacks on their American allies); perhaps because of its need to maintain a façade of — if not success, then at least — non-failure in Afghanistan as drawdowns begin there in an election year at home; or perhaps thanks to a combination of all of the above, Karzai’s angry initial response to the Logar wedding killings did not go unnoticed in Washington.

In fact, the initial denials that any civilian deaths had occurred were quickly dropped, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, promptly apologized to the president, and then, in what might have been a unique act in the Afghan War record, went to Logar Province to meet with the provincial governor and apologize directly to grieving relatives.  (“The faces of the people were very sad,” said Mohammad Akbar Stanekzai, a parliamentarian member of a delegation Karzai appointed to investigate the incident.  “They told [General Allen], ‘These incidents don’t just happen once, but two, three, four times and they keep happening.’”)

At the same time, it was announced that there would be a change in the American policy of calling in air strikes on homes and villages in support of U.S. operations.  The Afghans promptly claimed that the Americans had agreed to stop calling in air power at all in their country.  The Americans offered a far vaguer version of the policy change.  Anonymous U.S. military officials in Kabul quickly suggested that it represented only “a subtle shift in the ground realities of the war against the Taliban.”  In fact, it did contain loopholes big enough to slip a B-52 through.  As General Allen put it, “What we have agreed is that we would not use aviation ordnance on civilian dwellings.  Now that doesn’t obviate our inherent right to self-defense. We will always… do whatever we have to do to protect the force.”

It’s easy enough, however, to sense an urge in Washington to calm the waters, not to have one more thing go truly wrong anywhere.  At this very moment, the president and his top officials are undoubtedly praying that the Eurozone doesn’t collapse and that the Af-Pak theater of operations doesn’t disintegrate into chaos or burst into flames in the early months of a planned drawdown of U.S. troops; that, in fact, nothing truly terrible happens — until at least November 7, 2012.

Karzai has clearly grasped the Obama administration’s present feeling of vulnerability and frustration in the region and, gambler that he is, he promptly upped the ante.  While the Americans were speaking of those “subtle” changes, he branded American air strikes in Afghanistan an “illegitimate use of force” and demanded that, when it came to air attacks on Afghan homes, the planes simply be grounded, whatever the dangers to U.S. or Afghan troops.

Back in 2009, then war commander General Stanley McChrystal ordered a somewhat similar reining in of American air strikes, a position countermanded by the next commander, General David Petraeus, who called the planes back in force.  Now, those air strikes will, to one degree or another, once again be a limited option.  But realistically, air power remains essential to the American way of war, whatever Karzai may demand.  So count on one thing: before this is all over, it will be called in again — and in Afghanistan, weddings will still be celebrated.

In the meantime, after more than a decade of our most recent Afghan War, the Obama administration and the U.S. military are clearly willing to hang out a temporary sign saying: “Washington at work.  Afghans, thank you for your patience…”  Just across the border in Pakistan, however, “kill lists” are in effect and the air campaign there is being ratcheted up.

In the process, one thing can be said about American firepower: it has been remarkably precise in the way it has destabilized the region.  In December 2001, we first took on the role of wedding crashers.  More than 10 years later, it couldn’t be clearer that we’ve been country crashers, too.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.

[Note for Readers: For their remarkable usefulness (to me) in keeping track of American war-making in the Greater Middle East, I would like to offer a special bow of thanks to three invaluable websites: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog, and Paul Woodward’s The War in Context.  On military matters, I always keep an eye on Noah Shachtman’s provocative and informative Danger Room blog.  For Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular, it’s well worth checking out Foreign Policy’s AfPak Daily Brief, a particularly useful summary of press reports on the region.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on June 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

According to the official DoD count (PDF), as of today (Thursday) there have been 2,000 American fatalities in Operation Enduring Freedom. As John Kerry famously asked in 1971: “How do you ask someone to be the last American soldier to die for a mistake?”, because that’s certainly what the failed nation-building experiment in Afghanistan has turned into. Born out of the same Western hubris as the Iraqi occupation and perpetuated by Western leaders who are too scared of admitting their hubris to their electorates.

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Posted by alexthurston on June 14th, 2012

This article
 originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your
inbox three times a week, click here.

The frustration has long been growing.  Now, it’s been put into words.  On his recent trip to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who has earned a reputation for saying whatever comes into his head, insisted that Washington had just about had it with Pakistan.  “Reaching the limits of our patience” was the way he put it (not once but twice).  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey spoke only slightly more mildly of being “extraordinarily dissatisfied.”  The Obama administration, so went the message, was essentially losing it in South Asia.  It was mad and wasn’t about to take it any more!

How far Washington has come from the days (back in 2001) when an American official could reportedly march self-confidently into the office of Pakistan’s intelligence chief, and tell him that his country had better decide whether it was for us or against us.  Otherwise, he reportedly added, Pakistan should expect to be bombed “back to the Stone Age.”

In the ensuing years, the great imperial power of our age repeatedly recalibrated its Pakistan policy in growing frustration, only to see it run ever more definitively off the rails.  The Obama administration, in particular, has sent its high officials, like so many caroming pinballs, flying in and out of Pakistan in droves for years now to demand, order, chide, plead, wheedle, cajole, intimidate, threaten, twist arms, and bluster, as it repeatedly flipped from good-guy ally to fierce, missile-wielding frenemy, and back again.

Recently, in the wake of U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani border guards (without a U.S. apology), it has faced a more-than-six-month closure of its crucial Pakistani war supply lines into Afghanistan.  Its response: to negotiate ever more frenetically, and pull the trigger in its drone war in the Pakistani borderlands ever more often.  Recently, it even announced a multimillion dollar cut-off of funds for Pakistan’s version of Sesame Street, while reaching a highly touted agreement with some former Central Asian SSRs of the former Soviet Union to transport American equipment out of Afghanistan (as our forces draw down there), at up to six times the cost of the blockaded routes through Pakistan.

If you want a living, panting, post-9/11 parable of imperial self-confidence and mastery gone to hell, Pakistan is the first (but not the last) place to look.  Behind the visible failure of U.S. policy in that country lies a devastating self-deception: the thought that, in the twenty-first century, even the greatest of powers, playing its cards perfectly, can control this planet, or simply significant regions of it.

If you want a prospectively breathtaking version of the same disastrous principle check out the latest piece by TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse, co-author of the new book Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.  A new American global way of war is emerging to replace the double disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turse puts its sinews together strikingly, suggesting that Washington is once again bedazzled by the possibility of mastering the planet — in a new, cheaper, less profligate way.  Once again, the top officials of our ever-expanding national security state are evidently convinced of their own prospective brilliance in organizing the next version of the global Great Game.  As with Pakistan in late 2001, so — from Central Africa to the Philippines — this, too, looks like a winner in their eyes. Much on this planet is unpredictable and yet the crash-and-burn fate of what Turse calls the Obama doctrine is painfully predictable. Unfortunately, as it goes down in flames, it may help send the world up in flames, too. Tom

The New Obama Doctrine, A Six-Point Plan for Global WarSpecial Ops, Drones, Spy Games, Civilian Soldiers, Proxy Fighters, and Cyber Warfare
By Nick Turse

It looked like a scene out of a Hollywood movie.  In the inky darkness, men in full combat gear, armed with automatic weapons and wearing night-vision goggles, grabbed hold of a thick, woven cable hanging from a MH-47 Chinook helicopter.  Then, in a flash, each “fast-roped” down onto a ship below.  Afterward, “Mike,” a Navy SEAL who would not give his last name, bragged to an Army public affairs sergeant that, when they were on their game, the SEALs could put 15 men on a ship this way in 30 seconds or less.

Once on the aft deck, the special ops troops broke into squads and methodically searched the ship as it bobbed in Jinhae Harbor, South Korea.  Below deck and on the bridge, the commandos located several men and trained their weapons on them, but nobody fired a shot.  It was, after all, a training exercise.

All of those ship-searchers were SEALs, but not all of them were American.  Some were from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 out of Coronado, California; others hailed from South Korea’s Naval Special Brigade.  The drill was part of Foal Eagle 2012, a multinational, joint-service exercise.  It was also a model for — and one small part of — a much publicized U.S. military “pivot” from the Greater Middle East to Asia, a move that includes sending an initial contingent of 250 Marines to Darwin, Australia, basing littoral combat ships in Singapore, strengthening military ties with Vietnam and India, staging war games in the Philippines (as well as a drone strike there), and shifting the majority of the Navy’s ships to the Pacific by the end of the decade.

That modest training exercise also reflected another kind of pivot.  The face of American-style war-fighting is once again changing.  Forget full-scale invasions and large-footprint occupations on the Eurasian mainland; instead, think: special operations forces working on their own but also training or fighting beside allied militaries (if not outright proxy armies) in hot spots around the world.  And along with those special ops advisors, trainers, and commandos expect ever more funds and efforts to flow into the militarization of spying and intelligence, the use of drone aircraft, the launching of cyber-attacks, and joint Pentagon operations with increasingly militarized “civilian” government agencies.

Much of this has been noted in the media, but how it all fits together into what could be called the new global face of empire has escaped attention.  And yet this represents nothing short of a new Obama doctrine, a six-point program for twenty-first-century war, American-style, that the administration is now carefully developing and honing.  Its global scope is already breathtaking, if little recognized, and like Donald Rumsfeld’s military lite and David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations, it is evidently going to have its day in the sun — and like them, it will undoubtedly disappoint in ways that will surprise its creators.

The Blur-ness

For many years, the U.S. military has been talking up and promoting the concept of “jointness.”  An Army helicopter landing Navy SEALs on a Korean ship catches some of this ethos at the tactical level.  But the future, it seems, has something else in store.  Think of it as “blur-ness,” a kind of organizational version of war-fighting in which a dominant Pentagon fuses its forces with other government agencies — especially the CIA, the State Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration — in complex, overlapping missions around the globe.

In 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began his “revolution in military affairs,” steering the Pentagon toward a military-lite model of high-tech, agile forces.  The concept came to a grim end in Iraq’s embattled cities.  A decade later, the last vestiges of its many failures continue to play out in a stalemated war in Afghanistan against a rag-tag minority insurgency that can’t be beaten.  In the years since, two secretaries of defense and a new president have presided over another transformation — this one geared toward avoiding ruinous, large-scale land wars which the U.S. has consistently proven unable to win.

Under President Obama, the U.S. has expanded or launched numerous military campaigns — most of them utilizing a mix of the six elements of twenty-first-century American war.  Take the American war in Pakistan — a poster-child for what might now be called the Obama formula, if not doctrine.  Beginning as a highly-circumscribed drone assassination campaign backed by limited cross-border commando raids under the Bush administration, U.S. operations in Pakistan have expanded into something close to a full-scale robotic air war, complemented by cross-border helicopter attacks, CIA-funded “kill teams” of Afghan proxy forces, as well as boots-on-the-ground missions by elite special operations forces, including the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The CIA has conducted clandestine intelligence and surveillance missions in Pakistan, too, though its role may, in the future, be less important, thanks to Pentagon mission creep.  In April, in fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new CIA-like espionage agency within the Pentagon called the Defense Clandestine Service. According to the Washington Post, its aim is to expand “the military’s espionage efforts beyond war zones.”

Over the last decade, the very notion of war zones has become remarkably muddled, mirroring the blurring of the missions and activities of the CIA and Pentagon.  Analyzing the new agency and the “broader convergence trend” between Department of Defense and CIA missions, the Post noted that the “blurring is also evident in the organizations’ upper ranks. Panetta previously served as CIA director, and that post is currently held by retired four-star Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.”

Not to be outdone, last year the State Department, once the seat of diplomacy, continued on its long march to militarization (and marginalization) when it agreed to pool some of its resources with the Pentagon to create the Global Security Contingency Fund.  That program will allow the Defense Department even greater say in how aid from Washington will flow to proxy forces in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

One thing is certain: American war-making (along with its spies and its diplomats) is heading ever deeper into “the shadows.”  Expect yet more clandestine operations in ever more places with, of course, ever more potential for blowback in the years ahead.

Shedding Light on “the Dark Continent”

One locale likely to see an influx of Pentagon spies in the coming years is Africa.  Under President Obama, operations on the continent have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years.  Last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, secret prisons, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders, operating in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic (where U.S. Special Forces now have a new base) only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.

Even less well known are other U.S. military efforts designed to train African forces for operations now considered integral to American interests on the continent.  These include, for example, a mission by elite Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) to train soldiers from the Uganda People’s Defense Force, which supplies the majority of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Earlier this year, Marines from SPMAGTF-12 also trained soldiers from the Burundi National Defense Force, the second-largest contingent in Somalia; sent trainers into Djibouti (where the U.S. already maintains a major Horn of Africa base at Camp Lemonier); and traveled to Liberia where they focused on teaching riot-control techniques to Liberia’s military as part of an otherwise State Department spearheaded effort to rebuild that force.

The U.S. is also conducting counterterrorism training and equipping militaries in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia.  In addition, U.S. Africa Command (Africom) has 14 major joint-training exercises planned for 2012, including operations in Morocco, Cameroon, Gabon, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Senegal, and what may become the Pakistan of Africa, Nigeria.

Even this, however, doesn’t encompass the full breadth of U.S. training and advising missions in Africa.  To take an example not on Africom’s list, this spring the U.S. brought together 11 nations, including Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone to take part in a maritime training exercise code-named Saharan Express 2012.

Back in the Backyard

Since its founding, the United States has often meddled close to home, treating the Caribbean as its private lake and intervening at will throughout Latin America.  During the Bush years, with some notable exceptions, Washington’s interest in America’s “backyard” took a backseat to wars farther from home.  Recently, however, the Obama administration has been ramping up operations south of the border using its new formula.  This has meant Pentagon drone missions deep inside Mexico to aid that country’s battle against the drug cartels, while CIA agents and civilian operatives from the Department of Defense were dispatched to Mexican military bases to take part in the country’s drug war.

In 2012, the Pentagon has also ramped up its anti-drug operations in Honduras. Working out of Forward Operating Base Mocoron and other remote camps there, the U.S. military is supporting Honduran operations by way of the methods it honed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In addition, U.S. forces have taken part in joint operations with Honduran troops as part of a training mission dubbed Beyond the Horizon 2012; Green Berets have been assisting Honduran Special Operations forces in anti-smuggling operations; and a Drug Enforcement Administration Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team, originally created to disrupt the poppy trade in Afghanistan, has joined forces with Honduras’s Tactical Response Team, that country’s most elite counternarcotics unit.  A glimpse of these operations made the news recently when DEA agents, flying in an American helicopter, were involved in an aerial attack on civilians that killed two men and two pregnant women in the remote Mosquito Coast region.

Less visible have been U.S. efforts in Guyana, where Special Operation Forces have been training local troops in heliborne air assault techniques. “This is the first time we have had this type of exercise involving Special Operations Forces of the United States on such a grand scale,” Colonel Bruce Lovell of the Guyana Defense Force told a U.S. public affairs official earlier this year.  “It gives us a chance to validate ourselves and see where we are, what are our shortcomings.”

The U.S. military has been similarly active elsewhere in Latin America, concluding training exercises in Guatemala, sponsoring “partnership-building” missions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, and Panama, and reaching an agreement to carry out 19 “activities” with the Colombian army over the next year, including joint military exercises.

Still in the Middle of the Middle East

Despite the end of the Iraq and Libyan wars, a coming drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, and copious public announcements about its national security pivot toward Asia, Washington is by no means withdrawing from the Greater Middle East.  In addition to continuing operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. has consistently been at work training allied troops, building up military bases, and brokering weapons sales and arms transfers to despots in the region from Bahrain to Yemen.

In fact, Yemen, like its neighbor, Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden, has become a laboratory for Obama’s wars.  There, the U.S. is carrying out its signature new brand of warfare with “black ops” troops like the SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force undoubtedly conducting kill/capture missions, while “white” forces like the Green Berets and Rangers are training indigenous troops, and robot planes hunt and kill members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, possibly assisted by an even more secret contingent of manned aircraft.

The Middle East has also become the somewhat unlikely poster-region for another emerging facet of the Obama doctrine: cyberwar efforts.  In a category-blurring speaking engagement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton surfaced at the recent Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Florida where she gave a speech talking up her department’s eagerness to join in the new American way of war.  “We need Special Operations Forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound,” she told the crowd. “We also need diplomats and development experts who are up to the job of being your partners.”

Clinton then took the opportunity to tout her agency’s online efforts, aimed at websites used by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.  When al-Qaeda recruitment messages appeared on the latter, she said, “our team plastered the same sites with altered versions… that showed the toll al-Qaeda attacks have taken on the Yemeni people.”  She further noted that this information-warfare mission was carried out by experts at State’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications with assistance, not surprisingly, from the military and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

These modest on-line efforts join more potent methods of cyberwar being employed by the Pentagon and the CIA, including the recently revealed “Olympic Games,” a program of sophisticated attacks on computers in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities engineered and unleashed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Unit 8200, Israeli’s equivalent of the NSA.  As with other facets of the new way of war, these efforts were begun under the Bush administration but significantly accelerated under the current president, who became the first American commander-in-chief to order sustained cyberattacks designed to cripple another country’s infrastructure.

From Brushfires to Wildfires

Across the globe from Central and South America to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the Obama administration is working out its formula for a new American way of war.  In its pursuit, the Pentagon and its increasingly militarized government partners are drawing on everything from classic precepts of colonial warfare to the latest technologies.

The United States is an imperial power chastened by more than 10 years of failed, heavy-footprint wars.  It is hobbled by a hollowing-out economy, and inundated with hundreds of thousands of recent veterans — a staggering 45% of the troops who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq — suffering from service-related disabilities who will require ever more expensive care.  No wonder the current combination of special ops, drones, spy games, civilian soldiers, cyberwarfare, and proxy fighters sounds like a safer, saner brand of war-fighting.  At first blush, it may even look like a panacea for America’s national security ills.  In reality, it may be anything but.

The new light-footprint Obama doctrine actually seems to be making war an ever more attractive and seemingly easy option — a point emphasized recently by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace.  “I worry about speed making it too easy to employ force,” said Pace when asked about recent efforts to make it simpler to deploy Special Operations Forces abroad.  “I worry about speed making it too easy to take the easy answer — let’s go whack them with special operations — as opposed to perhaps a more laborious answer for perhaps a better long-term solution.”

As a result, the new American way of war holds great potential for unforeseen entanglements and serial blowback.  Starting or fanning brushfire wars on several continents could lead to raging wildfires that spread unpredictably and prove difficult, if not impossible, to quench.

By their very nature, small military engagements tend to get larger, and wars tend to spread beyond borders.  By definition, military action tends to have unforeseen consequences.  Those who doubt this need only look back to 2001, when three low-tech attacks on a single day set in motion a decade-plus of war that has spread across the globe.  The response to that one day began with a war in Afghanistan, that spread to Pakistan, detoured to Iraq, popped up in Somalia and Yemen, and so on.  Today, veterans of those Ur-interventions find themselves trying to replicate their dubious successes in places like Mexico and Honduras, the Central Africa Republic and the Congo.

History demonstrates that the U.S. is not very good at winning wars, having gone without victory in any major conflict since 1945.  Smaller interventions have been a mixed bag with modest victories in places like Panama and Grenada and ignominious outcomes in Lebanon (in the 1980s) and Somalia (in the 1990s), to name a few.

The trouble is, it’s hard to tell what an intervention will grow up to be — until it’s too late.  While they followed different paths, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq all began relatively small, before growing large and ruinous.  Already, the outlook for the new Obama doctrine seems far from rosy, despite the good press it’s getting inside Washington’s Beltway.

What looks today like a formula for easy power projection that will further U.S. imperial interests on the cheap could soon prove to be an unmitigated disaster — one that likely won’t be apparent until it’s too late.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the just published Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (with Tom Engelhardt).  This piece is the latest article in his new series on the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Nick Turse

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Posted by The Agonist on June 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

June 12

Al JazeeraWashington to bring home diplomats without securing deal with Islamabad to end blockade on NATO convoys to Afghanistan.

The United States is withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan without securing a long-sought deal with Islamabad to allow trucks to again supply NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said.

“The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time,” George Little, Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Monday.

The team of negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks, he said, as US officials had believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade on NATO convoys.

But no breakthrough was imminent and there was no scheduled date for a resumption of the negotiations, Little said.

The comments came after Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused last week to meet US assistant defence secretary Peter Lavoy, who traveled to Pakistan to try to resolve the dispute, officials said.

[...]

Pakistan’s envoy to the US had warned that Panetta’s comments last Thursday in Kabul were unhelpful to efforts to narrow the differences between the two countries and came at a critical moment in negotiations.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 10th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Brian M Downing | Jun 9 | Asia Times Online

Iran over the past decade has devoted considerable attention to getting American forces away from its borders. In Iraq, it backed Shi’ite militias who formed an important part of the insurgency. It later pressed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to oust US forces, though he did allow US training missions and oil companies to remain.

Efforts to oust the US from Afghanistan have been unsuccessful. Iran arms the Taliban with a modicum of weapons, mainly as a reminder to the US that these supplies could increase sharply in the event of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran loathes the Taliban as an unstable Sunni cult that is backed, albeit indirectly, by Saudi Arabia.

Iran arms the Taliban?

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