Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

The Pentagon’s New Afghanistan Policy—Way More Secrecy

Matthew Gault reports for Medium:

It’s suddenly become more difficult to learn anything about America’s 9,800 troops staying behind in Afghanistan, and how the Pentagon is spending billions of taxpayer dollars on reconstruction.

The U.S. military ended transparency of Afghanistan’s security forces in January. Losing that means losing sight of the United States’ many successes … and failures.

[…] Losing access to this information is bad news. Americans spent an incredible amount of cash fighting the war on terrorism. A recent congressional report puts the cost at $1.6 trillion. Washington spent $100 billion of that on Afghan reconstruction.’


Afghans live in peril among unexploded NATO bombs that litter countryside

Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for The Guardian:

unexploded ordnance awareness class in Kabul[…] Since 2001, the coalition has dropped about 20,000 tonnes of ammunition over Afghanistan. Experts say about 10% of munitions do not detonate: some malfunction, others land on sandy ground. Foreign soldiers have also used valleys, fields and dry riverbeds as firing ranges and left them peppered with undetonated ammunition.

Statistics from the UN-backed Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (Macca) show there were 369 casualties in the past year, including 89 deaths. The rate rose significantly in October and November when 93 people were injured, 84 of them children. Twenty died.’


At least 6,106 Killed in Iraq during January

Margaret Griffis reports for Antiwar:

January closed out with 293 deaths and 289 wounded. Most of the casualties were among the Islamic State militants. That brought the monthly totals to 6,106 dead and 1,953 wounded.

There were 1,587 deaths reported among civilians and security members. Another 4,519 dead were reported among Islamic State militants. The number of wounded was 1,953, including 431 injured militants. These figures are not independently confirmable and should be considered only estimates.’


Human Rights Watch: Rise in Extremisim Linked to War on Terror

DW reports:

Human Rights Watch Kenneth RothThe US and Great Britain “largely shut their eyes” to the persecution of the Sunni minority under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the New York-based watchdog organization said. The situation was additionally burdened by the abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and the security vacuum following the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“There has been a tendency, particularly in the Middle East, to play shortsighted security concerns over principled support for human rights”, said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth while presenting the 660-page 2015 HRW report Thursday.

According to Roth, many governments “appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights.”

“In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times,” Roth said.’


This is how a police state protects “secrets”

Marcy Wheeler writes for Salon:

This is how a police state protects "secrets": Jeffrey Sterling, the CIA and up to 80 years on circumstantial evidenceThe participants in the economy of shared tips and intelligence in Washington D.C., breathed a collective sigh of relief when, on January 12, the government announced it would not force James Risen to testify in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. “Press freedom was safe! Our trade in leaks is safe!” observers seemed to conclude, and they returned to their squalid celebration of an oppressive Saudi monarch.

That celebration about information sharing is likely premature. Because, along the way to the conviction of Sterling this week on all nine counts – including seven counts under the Espionage Act — something far more banal yet every bit as dear to D.C.’s economy of secrets may have been criminalized: unclassified tips.’


Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis (Documentary)

Jury Convicts Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling of Leaking to Journalist & Violating Espionage Act

Kevin Gosztola writes for The Dissenter:

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling has been convicted by a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, of charges brought against him because the government argued he leaked classified information about a top secret CIA operation in Iran to New York Times reporter James Risen.

Sterling’s case was the first case involving an alleged leak to the press to proceed to a full trial in thirty years. The last case involved Samuel L. Morison, a Navy civilian analyst who was charged under President Ronald Reagan for leaking photographs of Soviet ships to alert America to what he perceived as a new threat.’


Do corrupt governments breed political violence?

Carlos Lozada writes in her review of ‘Thieves of State’ by Sarah Chayes in The Washington Post:

Corruption, Compliance & Criminal Regimes: An Interview  with Sarah Chayes[…] The target of her zeal is government corruption around the world — an old challenge but one she recasts in urgent and novel terms. The trouble with fraud and bribery and the rest is not simply their moral evil or economic toll, Chayes argues. The real danger is that an abusive government can elicit violent responses, including religious extremism, putting the survival of the state at risk. The case she makes is anecdotal but alarming.

Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, is something of a rarity among Washington analysts. The places she writes about (Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Nigeria, among others) she knows well, not in the fly-in-for-a-week-then-pitch-an-op-ed kind of way. A former NPR correspondent who covered Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s and the fall of the Taliban after 9/11, Chayes went on to launch a business in Afghanistan, advise coalition forces there and work for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She’s been on all sides of the problem — at times, she admits, even inadvertently causing it.’


Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez‘Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela four times from 1998 through 2012 and was admired and supported by a large majority of that country’s citizens, largely due to his policies that helped the poor. King Abdullah was the dictator and tyrant who ran one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch. My Intercept colleague Murtaza Hussain has an excellent article about this whole spectacle, along with a real obituary, here.’


U.S. Won’t Admit to Killing a Single Civilian in the ISIS War

Nancy A. Youssef reports for The Daily Beast:

Civilian deaths, a keystone metric of the last war in Iraq, has now become the statistic no one wants to talk about.

Five months and 1,800-plus strikes into the U.S. air campaign against ISIS, and not a single civilian has been killed, officially. But Pentagon officials concede that they really have no way of telling for sure who has died in their attacks‚—and admit that no one will ever know how many have been slain.

“It’s impossible for us to know definitively if civilians are killed in a strike. We do everything we can to investigate. We don’t do strikes if we think civilians could be there. But we can’t have a perfect picture on what’s going on,” one Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast.’


U.S. Defense Secretary Doubts State Deptartment Claim of 6,000 ISIS Killed

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The State Department’s key talking point on the ISIS war today is that everything is going swimmingly. Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS’s momentum ‘decisively halted” while other officials bragged of 6,000 ISIS fighters, and half of the ISIS leadership, killed in their air war.

The State Department was claiming the death toll was based on a private tally kept by Centcom, though Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed serious doubt about the figure.’


The “Humanitarian” Weapon: Drones and the New Ethics of War

Never Gordon writes for CounterPunch:

theoryofdroneThis Christmas small drones were among the most popular gift under the tree in the U.S. with manufacturers stating that they sold 200,000 new unmanned aerial vehicles during the holiday season. While the rapid infiltration of drones into the gaming domain clearly reflects that drones are becoming a common weapon among armed forces, their appearance in Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Amazon serves, in turn, to normalize their deployment in the military.

Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone, have a uniquely seductive power, one that attracts militaries, politicians and citizens alike. A research scholar in philosophy at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Chamayou is one of the most profound contemporary thinkers working on the deployment of violence and its ethical ramifications. And while his new book offers a concise history of drones, it focuses on how drones are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.’


Yemen Chaos Throws a Wrench in US Drone War

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘The Obama Administration had pretty much unconditional support from the Saleh government in Yemen throughout its early years, going to the trouble of covering up botched airstrikes for them.

When long-time dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh faced growing unrest, the US orchestrated the “election” of another military strongman, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a single-candidate election in 2012. Since then, Hadi’s been the go-to guy for rubber stamping US airstrikes.

The US backed dictators of a country constantly being pounded by US drones aren’t near as stable as officials had hoped, however, and amid growing chaos, Hadi resigned on Thursday, throwing the drone campaign into uncertainty.’


Hailed as U.S. Counterterrorism Model, Yemen Teeters on the Brink: Interview with Iona Craig

Saudi Arabia’s new Yemen strategy: Get behind a fence

Angus McDowall reports for Reuters:

Saudi Arabia is increasingly taking a security-first approach to neighboring Yemen, where Houthi rebels have all but seized power, wanting nothing better than to finish a new border fence and then slam shut the gates.

Riyadh convened a meeting of Gulf countries on Wednesday to threaten unspecified measures to “protect their interests” in Yemen where the Shi’ite Muslim rebels, allies of its enemy Iran, are holding the president a virtual prisoner.

But unlike in the past, the kingdom wields little influence across its border and has few established ties to Yemen’s new powerbrokers. It has already suspended aid payments, its most potent leverage in the country.’


King Abdullah, a feminist? Don’t make me laugh

Anne Perkins writes for The Guardian:

‘Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the IMF, has paid tribute to the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He was a strong advocate of women, she said. This is almost certainly not what she thinks. She even hedged her remarks about with qualifiers like “discreet” and “appropriate”. There are constraints of diplomacy and obligations of leadership and navigating between them can be fraught. But this time there was only one thing to say. Abdullah led a country that abuses women’s rights, and indeed all human rights, in a way that places it beyond normal diplomacy.

The constraints and restrictions on Saudi women are too notorious and too numerous to itemise. Right now, two women are in prison for the offence of trying to drive over the border in to Saudi Arabia. It is not just the ban on driving. There is also the ban on going out alone, the ban on voting, the death penalty for adultery, and the total obliteration of public personality – almost of a sense of existence – by the obligatory veil. And there are the terrible punishments meted out to those who infringe these rules that are not written down but “interpreted” – Islam mediated through the conventions of a deeply conservative people.’


Saudi King Abdullah: Britain mourns a tyrant

Nigel Morris reports for The Independent:

Martin Rowson cartoon‘The Government face demands to reassess Britain’s relationship with the Saudi Arabian regime amid fury over the reverential tributes paid to King Abdullah following his death.

Flags were lowered across England and Wales in tribute to the late monarch after an instruction from Whitehall, while both Prince Charles and David Cameron will join foreign dignitaries in Saudi Arabia today to pay their respects to his memory.

Campaigners and MPs said the officially sanctioned show of sympathy for the oil-rich nation’s ruling elite made a mockery of its dismal human rights record.’


Saudi King Abdullah’s death sets up complex succession process

Kevin Sullivan and Liz Sly report for The Washington Post:

‘Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz died early Friday, setting the stage for a transition of power at a critical moment as the key U.S. ally in the Middle East struggles with falling oil prices and rising Islamist violence.

The monarch, believed to be 90, was succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Salman, according to state television. That put the region’s most important Sunni power and America’s closest Arab ally in the hands of a 79-year-old who is reportedly in poor health and suffering from dementia.

Salman’s rise to the throne postpones the question of when the Saudi monarchy will turn to the next generation of princes to run their country of 28 million people at a crucial moment in a region mired in crisis.’


King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia: Interviews with Ali al-Ahmed and Toby Jones

Ali al-Ahmed, Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, interviewed on Breaking the Set by Abby Martin:

Toby Jones, director of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University and author of “Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia,” interviewed on Democracy Now!:

American Sniper’s Patriot Porn and the Celebration of Psychopathy: Interview with Rania Khalek

Abby Martin interviews independent journalist, Rania Khalek, about the new film ‘American Sniper’ and why it’s such a controversial choice to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination.’ (Breaking the Set)

Obama’s State of the Union Double Speak

Execution In Saudi Arabia Leaked

Iraq War report delayed until after UK election

BBC News reports:

Sir John Chilcot‘[…] MPs have demanded that the report be published before voters go to the polls in May.

However, Nick Robinson said the process of giving witnesses time to respond to allegations against them, which began last autumn, cannot be completed in time for this to happen.

He said he expected Sir John to set out the reasons why the report could not be completed in time, a development first reported by the Guardian, on Wednesday.

Ministers had made it clear that the report would have to be finished by the end of February to allow enough debate on its contents before Parliament rises at the end of March ahead of the election.’


US Commander: Afghan War Could Be Extended

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In an interview with the Army Times, US Commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell suggested that the Afghan War, now 13+ years in, could be further extended in the next few months.

There are currently around 10,600 US troops in Afghanistan, more than was originally intended for 2015, but Campbell says that in the next few months he says he may have to ask to forestall planned drawdowns.’


The Real American Sniper Was a Hate-Filled Killer

Lindy West writes for The Guardian:

‘[…] However effective it is as a piece of cinema, even a cursory look into the film’s backstory – and particularly the public reaction to its release – raises disturbing questions about which stories we choose to codify into truth, and whose, and why, and the messy social costs of transmogrifying real life into entertainment.

Chris Kyle, a US navy Seal from Texas, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and claimed to have killed more than 255 people during his six-year military career. In his memoir, Kyle reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.

He was murdered in 2013 at a Texas gun range by a 25-year-old veteran reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.’


The Missing Pages of the 9/11 Report

Eleanor Clift writes for The Daily Beast:

september 11 report, missing pages‘[…] Sen. Bob Graham said the redacted pages characterize the support network that allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur, and if that network goes unchallenged, it will only flourish. He said that keeping the pages classified is part of “a general pattern of coverup” that for 12 years has kept the American people in the dark. It is “highly improbable” the 19 hijackers acted alone, he said, yet the U.S. government’s position is “to protect the government most responsible for that network of support.”

The Saudis know what they did, Graham continued, and the U.S. knows what they did, and when the U.S. government takes a position of passivity, or actively shuts down inquiry, that sends a message to the Saudis. “They have continued, maybe accelerated their support for the most extreme form of Islam,” he said, arguing that both al Qaeda and ISIS are “a creation of Saudi Arabia.”

Standing with Graham were Republican Rep.Walter Jones and Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, co-sponsors of House Resolution 428, which says declassification of the 28 pages is necessary to provide the American public with the full truth surrounding the 9/11 attacks.’


France’s War Against ISIS Could Create Homegrown Terrorists, Experts Say

Christopher Harress reports for the International Business Times:

‘As the people of France digest the terror attacks that killed 17 people last week, the country’s military is preparing the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to conduct strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq. However, France’s decision to continue its involvement in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, which Prime Minister Manuel Valls said was part of France’s war with “terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism” during a speech Tuesday, arrives with the possibility that it could radicalize more Muslims in the country and spawn further homegrown attacks, suggests an expert on the matter.

According to Max Abrahms, a professor at Northeastern University whose work has been published in dozens of scholarly journal articles regarding terrorism, previous attempts by Western governments to stomp out terrorist threats in the Middle East have done more harm than good.

“One of the ironies about the coalition against the Islamic State is that every single member in some way or another contributed to the creation and development of the very group they are fighting against,” said Abrahms. “There’s no question that oftentimes, just as terrorism is counterproductive, counterterrorism is counterproductive too.”’


‘Open for Business’ American-Style: The Military-Industrial Complex in Iraq

Peter Van Buren, a former State Department Foreign Service Officer in Iraq, writes for Tom Dispatch:

‘The current American war in Iraq is a struggle in search of a goal. It began in August as a humanitarian intervention, morphed into a campaign to protect Americans in-country, became a plan to defend the Kurds, followed by a full-on crusade to defeat the new Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS, aka ISIL), and then… well, something in Syria to be determined at a later date.

At the moment, Iraq War 3.0 simply drones on, part bombing campaign, part mission to train the collapsed army the U.S. military created for Iraq War 2.0, all amid a miasma of incoherent mainstream media coverage. American troops are tiptoeing closer to combat (assuming you don’t count defensive operations, getting mortared, and flying ground attack helicopters as “combat”), even as they act like archaeologists of America’s warring past, exploring the ruins of abandoned U.S. bases. Meanwhile, Shia militias are using the conflict for the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis and Iranhas become an ever-more significant player in Iraq’s affairs. Key issues of the previous American occupation of the country — corruption, representative government, oil revenue-sharing — remain largely unresolved. The Kurds still keep “winning” against the militants of IS in the city of Kobani on the Turkish border without having “won.”

In the meantime, Washington’s rallying cry now seems to be: “Wait for the spring offensive!” In translation that means: wait for the Iraqi army to get enough newly American-trained and -armed troops into action to make a move on Mosul.  That city is, of course, the country’s second largest and still ruled by the new “caliphate” proclaimed by Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All in all, not exactly inspiring stuff.

You can’t have victory if you have no idea where the finish line is. But there is one bright side to the situation. If you can’t create Victory in Iraq for future VI Day parades, you can at least make a profit from the disintegrating situation there.’


Rage of the Dispossessed: Interview with Chris Hedges

Iraq says US-led coalition not doing enough against Islamic State

Ahmed Rasheed and Ned Parker report for Reuters:

‘Iraq has told President Barack Obama’s envoy that the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State needs to do more to help Iraq defeat the jihadists controlling large areas of the north and west of the country.

Parliament speaker Selim al-Jabouri said he delivered the message in a closed meeting with retired U.S. Marine General John Allen, who visited Baghdad this week for talks with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s government.

“Until now our feeling is that the international support is not convincing,” Jabouri told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “We might see participation here or there, but it is not enough for the tough situation we are passing through.”‘