Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Blair’s bombs: on July 7 2005, the invasion of Iraq came home to London

John Pilger wrote in July 2005:

[…] The bombs of 7 July were Blair’s bombs.

Blair brought home to this country his and George W Bush’s illegal, unprovoked and blood-soaked adventure in the Middle East. Were it not for his epic irresponsibility, the Londoners who died in the Tube and on the No 30 bus almost certainly would be alive today. This is what Livingstone ought to have said. To paraphrase perhaps the only challenging question put to Blair on the eve of the invasion (by John Humphrys), it is now surely beyond all doubt that the man is unfit to be Prime Minister.

How much more evidence is needed? Before the invasion, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “by far the greatest terrorist threat” to this country would be “heightened by military action against Iraq”. He was warned by 79 per cent of Londoners who, according to a YouGov survey in February 2003, believed that a British attack on Iraq “would make a terrorist attack on London more likely”. A month ago, a leaked, classified CIA report revealed that the invasion had turned Iraq into a focal point of terrorism. Before the invasion, said the CIA, Iraq “exported no terrorist threat to its neighbours” because Saddam Hussein was “implacably hostile to al-Qaeda”.

Now, a report by the Chatham House organisation, a “think-tank” deep within the British establishment, may well beckon Blair’s coup de grace. Published on 18 July, it says there is “no doubt” the invasion of Iraq has “given a boost to the al-Qaeda network” in “propaganda, recruitment and fundraising” while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. “Riding pillion with a powerful ally” has cost Iraqi, American and British lives. The right-wing academic Paul Wilkinson, a voice of western power, was the principal author. Read between the lines, and it says the Prime Minister is now a serious liability. Those who run this country know he has committed a great crime; the “link” has been made.’

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Post-sanctions Iran “could be the best emerging market for years to come”

Ian Black reports for The Guardian:

Iranian schoolgirls wave their national flag during the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran's Azadi Square.[…] Prospects for recovery occupy as much space in the Iranian media as the chances of reaching a deal in the P5 + 1 nuclear negotiations in Vienna, which are due to end by Tuesday. Things are already looking up. The economy rebounded out of recession and grew 2.8% in 2014, President Hassan Rouhani’s first year in office. The IMF predicts growth of 0.6% and 1.3% in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Inflation is down from 45% under the reckless and profligate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 15% today.

Expectations are high in the energy sector – the source of 35% of government revenues. Oil exports have halved since 2012 though the deputy oil minister said on Sunday that they could almost double when sanctions are lifted. “We are like a pilot on the runway ready to take off,” a bullish Mansour Moazami told the Wall Street Journal. “This is how the whole country is right now.”

Oil matters. But Iran’s economy is far more diverse than that of Saudi Arabia, its great rival in the region. It is the world’s largest exporter of cement, as well as pistachios, saffron and caviar. Shipping is another big earner. State-owned Iran Shipping Lines has been badly hit by sanctions and stands to benefit significantly when they go, analysts say.

The single most urgent change business wants is the end to the ban on bank transfers under the international Swift system. “That has been the biggest blow,” said Rouzbeh Pirouz, chairman of Turquoise Partners. “But it’s not just that. Iranian companies have had difficulty trading and participating in global markets.”’

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Why Iran’s Supreme Leader Wants a Deal

Omid Memarian writes for Politico:

When Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was about to leave Tehran for Vienna last week, the Twitter handler for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a tweet in English to show strong support for the negotiation team: “I recognize our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful,” the tweet said. It was clearly another attempt by the supreme leader to protect Zarif and his team from attacks by hard-liners in Tehran.

Despite his image as a hard-liner—and his occasional fulminations against Western perfidy—it is Khamenei who has been the guardian angel for Iran’s nuclear negotiators for the past 18 months. And if the negotiations end in a final agreement by July 7—the new deadline set as the original June 30 deadline expired last week—it will be Khamenei who makes the deal. Or breaks it.

Thus, as we head into the final stages, it’s important for the West to see beyond the supposed “red lines” that Khamenei has laid out in his remarks to understand the tricky domestic politics his comments are meant to navigate.

[…] All of these statements were very likely mainly intended for Iranian domestic consumption, and all these demands can be finessed in the language of a final agreement. As an economist close to the Rouhani circles told me last week from Tehran, “Iran has not been in the talks for 18 months to blow it, but to make a deal.”’

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US spin on access to Iranian sites has distorted the issue

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

A public diplomacy campaign by the Obama administration to convince world opinion that Iran was reneging on the Lausanne framework agreement in April has seriously misrepresented the actual diplomacy of the Iran nuclear talks, as my interviews with Iranian officials here make clear.

President Barack Obama’s threat on Tuesday to walk out of the nuclear talks if Iranian negotiators didn’t return to the Lausanne framework – especially on the issue of IAEA access to Iranian sites – was the climax of that campaign.

But what has really been happening in nuclear talks is not that Iran has backed away from that agreement but that the United States and Iran have been carrying out tough negotiations – especially in the days before the Vienna round of talks began – on the details of how the basic framework agreement will be implemented.

The US campaign began immediately upon the agreement in Lausanne on 2 April. The Obama administration said in its 2 April fact sheet that Iran “would be required” to grant IAEA inspectors access to “suspicious sites”.  Then Deputy Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared that if the United States wanted access to an Iranian military base that the US considered “suspicious”, it could “go to the IAEA and get that inspection” because of the Additional Protocol and other “inspection measures that are in the deal”.’

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4,777 Killed in Iraq during June

Margaret Griffis reports for Antiwar:

The United Nations released its June casualty figures. It found that 1,466 people were killed and 1,687 were wounded. The fatalities are the highest since last September and may be due to increased fighting involving security figures and the fall of Ramadi. The U.N. does not attempt to tally deaths among the militants, so these are the absolute minimum figures possible. There is evidence that the Iraqi government is undercounting its dead, and there is no method to count the victims behind enemy lines.

Antiwar.com, using news reports, found at least 3,311 militants were killed and 287 were wounded. Many of these deaths were reported by the Iraqi government, which could be exaggerating its successes. On the other hand, many of the wounded might not have fallen into government hands and therefore are uncountable. In total, 4,777 were killed and 1,974 were wounded during June.’

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The bin Laden death mythology

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

[…] Hersh’s account has been rejected by some on the grounds that he relies on unverifiable anonymous sources. This investigation conducts a systematic review of open sources and key journalistic reports relevant to the events leading up to the bin Laden raid.

While much corroboration for Hersh’s reporting is uncovered, elements of his account and the Official History contradict a wider context of critical revelations disclosed by many other pioneering journalists. When that context is taken into account, a far more disturbing picture emerges.

The geopolitical relationship between the US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan played a central role in identifying and locating Osama bin Laden far sooner than officially acknowledged — yet nothing was done. The role of a former ISI officer in blowing the whistle on the ISI’s protection of bin Laden in August 2010, brought his concealment out into the open and triggered high-level White House discussions on how to resolve the situation: to kill or not to kill?

Declassified documents, official government reports and intelligence officials confirm that since before 9/11, and continuing for the decade after, the US intelligence community was systematically stymied from apprehending Osama bin Laden due to longstanding relationships with Saudi and Pakistani military intelligence.’

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Obama’s Terror Policy Criticized Amid Claims of “Progress” — Wars Causing “A Lot of Unintended Consequences”

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The Anbar capital city of Ramadi falls, and Pentagon officials shrug. 300 people are killed in Kobani, and US officials tout the fact that ISIS didn’t capture the city outright. Not a day goes by lately, it seems, that the Obama Administration isn’t touting their “progress” in the ongoing war on terror.

The claims were never particularly credible, and while officials continue to maintain that the strategy is “working” and won’t be changed, many, including a lot of former officials, are harshly criticizing the administration’s plans, saying their wars simply aren’t working.’

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Russell Brand: Tunisia Minute Of Silence Is Propaganda To Justify More War and Surveillance

Amid Warnings of Famine, Yemeni Civilians Trapped Inside Conflict with No End in Sight

‘U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a full investigation after Saudi coalition airstrikes hit a U.N. compound in Yemen. A guard was injured when the office of the U.N. Development Programme in the southern city of Aden was hit Sunday. The United Nations has warned Yemen is one step away from famine as a humanitarian crisis intensifies. We discuss the latest with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who reported recently from Yemen.’ (Democracy Now!)

US Cheers “Reforms,” Resumes Bahrain Military Aid

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Praising the island dictatorship for its “reforms,” the State Department today announced that the US is ending all restrictions on military aid to Bahrain, though they declined to say exactly how much new military aid would be involved in this.

The US made some restrictions on its provision of military aid to Bahrain back in 2011, when the country violently cracked down on pro-democracy protesters. The US has made some sales of weapons to the Bahraini government since then, but insisted that the arms were not of the sort that could be used to suppress dissent.

Rights groups are harshly critical of the US decision, saying the Bahraini “reforms” amount to virtually nothing, and that Bahraini prisons are still filled to near bursting with Shi’ite political prisoners involved in the demonstrations calling for more representation in parliament.

Though official stats are not kept, Shi’ites are believed to be a substantial majority in Bahrain. The royal family is Sunni, however, and has historically kept Shi’ites out of positions of import. The government has accused Bahraini Shi’ite politicians of being pro-Iran, and has accused the protesters of being a “Iranian terror plot” against the royal family’s continued rule.’

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Egypt’s imprisonment of journalists is at an all-time high

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports:

Journalists protest the imprisonment of Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, or Shawkan. (AP/Amr Nabil)“We are not going to replace Islamist fascism with a civil one,” Ahmed al-Mosallamany, spokesman for the transitional president, told CPJ in August 2013, a month after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Mosallamany also promised constitutional changes that would improve press freedom in the country.

But today, almost two years later, journalists face unprecedented threats in President Abdelfattah el-Sisi’s Egypt.

A prison census CPJ conducted on June 1, 2015, found that Egyptian authorities were holding at least 18 journalists behind bars in relation for their reporting, the highest in the country since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990. The threat of imprisonment in Egypt is part of an atmosphere in which authorities pressure media outlets to censor critical voices and issue gag orders on sensitive topics. Entire outlets, such as Al-Jazeera and the Turkish Anadolu news agency, have been banned from operating or forced to close their offices, according to CPJ research.

In a February 2015 mission to Egypt, CPJ spoke to high-level officials, including the prosecutor-general and the minister of transitional justice, who denied that Egypt was holding any journalists in jail in relation to their work. But CPJ research shows that the government of el-Sisi, who was elected president in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.’

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Egypt’s Power Struggle Intensifies with Killing of Prosecutor Behind Mass Jailings of Islamists: Interview with Sharif Abdel Kouddous

‘Egypt’s public prosecutor has been killed in a bomb attack in Cairo. Hisham Barakat died in hospital Monday after a remote bomb detonated next to his car outside his home as he drove to work. Eight others were also hurt in the blast. Barakat became a target of militants after he sent thousands of Islamists to trial following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. We speak with Cairo-based Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.’ (Democracy Now!)

Israel’s new kamikaze drone

Yoav Zitun reports for Ynet News:

Still from simulation video (Photo: Aeronautics)[…] It contains a 2.5 kilogram warhead with 4,000 tungsten fragments that can powerfully scatters over a radius of 25 meters.

The UAV is designed less for collecting intelligence than for homing in on a target and damage control when a UAV fails to strike a target.

The K1 is designed for surgical strikes on targets like light vehicles or terrorist cells. The UAV can also explode in the air slightly above the target.

It has the capability to remain airborne for two to two-and-a-half hours, relatively silently. Unlike other UAVs in the world, the K1 can return to its handlers and land nearby unscathed in the event that the mission is cancelled at the last moment.’

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The Iran I Saw

Christopher Schroeder, author of Startup Rising, writes for Politico:

[…] This is a tale of two Irans. This is, specifically, the tale of the other Iran.

The tale we hear most often focuses on natural resources like oil as their greatest asset or nuclear power as their greatest threat—a narrative frozen in time, stretching back decades with remembered pain on both sides. For many Americans, the reference point for Iran is still centered on the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran over 35 years ago; for others, it has focused on Iranian support for destabilizing regional actors against our interests and costing lives.

At the same time, of course, Iranians have their own version of this tale: Many remember well U.S. support for a coup of their elected leadership, our support for a dictatorial regime and later encouragement of a war in Iraq that cost nearly a half-million Iranian lives.

Politics, power, mistrust: This is one version of how the media frames discussion of Iran. It’s very real, and it has much caution and evidence to support it.

But there’s another tale, one I saw repeatedly in my trip there last month. It was my second visit within the year, travelling with a group of senior global business executives to explore this remarkable and controversial nation.’

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US cable from 1976 on ensuring continued access to Saudi petroleum

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Interview with British soldier badly wounded in Afghanistan on his survival and recovery

‘A soldier who suffered third-degree burns to 70% of his body during a roadside ambush in Afghanistan in 2006 has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme about the experience. L/Cpl Martyn Compton, from Staplehurst, Kent, was the sole survivor of the attack, in Helmand Province. He was twice shot in the leg in the same incident, and has since undergone hundreds of operations to reconstruct parts of his body. L/Cpl Compton was given a medical discharge from the Army in October 2014, and is now hoping he can earn enough through sponsorship to take part in endurance race Le Mans as part of the first disabled team.’ (BBC News)

ISIS, a year of the caliphate: Have US tactics only helped to make Islamists more powerful?

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

The “Islamic State” is stronger than it was when it was first proclaimed on 29 June last year, shortly after Isis fighters captured much of northern and western Iraq.

Its ability to go on winning victories was confirmed on 17 May this year in Iraq, when it seized Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and again four days later in Syria, when it took Palmyra, one of the most famous cities of antiquity and at the centre of modern transport routes.

The twin victories show how Isis has grown in strength: it can now simultaneously attack on multiple fronts, hundreds of miles apart, a capacity it did not have a year ago. In swift succession, its forces defeated the Iraqi and Syrian armies and, equally telling, neither army was able to respond with an effective counter-attack.

Supposedly these successes, achieved by Isis during its summer offensive in 2014, should no longer be feasible in the face of air strikes by the US-led coalition. These began last August in Iraq and were extended to Syria in October, with US officials recently claiming that 4,000 air strikes had killed 10,000 Isis fighters. Certainly, the air campaign has inflicted heavy losses on Isis, but it has made up for these casualties by conscripting recruits within the self-declared caliphate, an area the size of Great Britain with a population of five or six million.’

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Major Strikes on Three Continents Spark Fears of Growing ISIS Reach

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

The first Friday of Ramadan was a bloody one indeed, with three major attacks on three continents, coming even as a major ISIS attack on the Kurdish city of Kobani was leaving nearly 200 civilians dead. A bombing claimed by an ISIS affiliate on a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait killed 27, 39 more were killed in a strike by apparent ISIS gunmen at a Tunisia resort. Another attack, in Paris, left one man dead.

Of the three attacks, only the one in Kuwait has been conclusively linked to ISIS, and the suspect in the French strike was a Salafist, but killed his boss, so it may have been coincidental timing. Still, these attacks are fueling growing international fear about ISIS’ considerable reach.

ISIS has made considerable territorial gains over the past two years, carving out a “caliphate” across both Iraq and Syria, and holding roughly half of the entire area of Syria. They hold oil-rich territory, cities of millions, and are about to issue their own currency.’

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UN Official: ‘Gaza reconstruction could take 30 years’

The National reports:

‘Gaza reconstruction could take 30 years’Gaza reconstruction is moving at a “snail’s pace” and at this rate, it would likely take 30 years to rebuild the extensive damage from last summer’s Israel-Hamas war, a senior UN official said. Roberto Valent, the incoming area chief of a UN agency involved in reconstruction, blamed the delays on the slow flow of promised foreign aid and continued Israeli curbs on the entry of building material to Gaza.

Speaking in the Gaza City office of the UN Development Programme, he said his tour of destroyed neighbourhoods this week was “very, very disheartening”.

Israel and Egypt have severely restricted access to Gaza since the militant Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

After last year’s 50-day war, Israel allowed the import of some cement and steel under UN supervision to ensure the materials would not be diverted by Hamas for military use.

Mr Valent said on Wednesday that the system is too slow and Israel must open Gaza’s borders to allow for the speedy rebuilding or repair of 141,000 homes he said suffered minor to severe damage or were destroyed.’

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UN Report: Israel Committed Unprecedented Devastation and Killings in 2014 Gaza War

US Secretary of State John Kerry Pushed Israel on Gas Policy, Supporting Company He Owned Stock In

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a revelation that’s getting a lot of play in the Israeli press but remarkably little in the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry is revealed to have been using his post to push Israel on issues of natural gas policy in ways which would have bolstered Noble Energy, a company which at the time he owned roughly $1 million in stock in.

Noble Energy and its partner Delek have been under intense pressure in Israel for having formed an effective monopoly on the nation’s natural gas, controlling the nation’s sole import facility as well as having a majority interest in its two large offshore gas fields, Tamar and Leviathan.

Israel’s antitrust commissioner had been pushing the government to move against the monopoly, which prompted Kerry to call Netanyahu and urge him to follow through on a plan to retroactively “forgive” the monopoly, telling Netanyahu it was important for Israel to have a “consistent regulatory environment.”’

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Western collusion with Egypt’s reign of terror

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

[…] So far, Egypt has signed a grant total of $158 billion worth of agreements and memoranda of understanding with international companies, many of which have focused on energy.

Apart from Germany, Britain and Israel, as of March 2015, Egypt has also signed a $1.8 billion deal with China to develop Egypt’s electricity transmission grid; a $2.4 billion deal with companies from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to develop solar and wind power stations; a $7 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to develop a coal power station; a $5 billion deal with Italian oil major Eni to develop Egypt’s oil resources over four years.

Meanwhile, Sisi has appropriated the “war on terror” rhetoric of his Western benefactors to legitimise his brutal crackdown on political dissent and civil society activism.

Presenting himself as a bulwark of regional stability in the face of rising Islamist extremism, the West has rushed to shore up his tyranny primarily with energy contracts, but also, it seems, through direct collusion in Sisi’s domestic human rights abuses to crush political opposition.

The West has learned no lessons from the fall of Mubarak – except to keep doing more of the same.’

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Top U.S. general predicts international presence in Afghanistan for years to come

Josh Smith reported late last month for Stars and Stripes:

As Afghan forces try to fend off attacks by resurgent militants, the top coalition commander has been meeting with NATO leaders to hammer out details of a plan that could keep thousands of international advisers in the country for years to come.

“There is overwhelming support to do something” to continue to aid the Afghan security forces,” Gen. John Campbell, who commands both NATO’s Resolute Support mission as well as the American counterterrorism force in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Saturday.

What exactly that “something” is remains to be seen, but Campbell said some thirty countries have voiced support for a continued international mission in Afghanistan. NATO leaders have said they are planning for a civilian-led military mission to continue after the current training and advising-focused Resolute Support mission expires at the end of 2016.

Campbell said as many as 1,000 troops supported by contractors and other civilians could remain in Afghanistan past 2016 to try to help Afghan security forces stave off attacks by Taliban and other insurgent groups.’

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SEAL Team 6, the CIA and the secret history of U.S. kill missions in Afghanistan

Dan Lamothe reports for The Washington Post:

As the U.S. military focused heavily on the Iraq war in 2006, the general in charge of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) noticed something alarming: The Taliban was regrouping in Afghanistan, and the United States didn’t have the manpower there to stop it.

That commander, then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, responded by unleashing the Naval Special Warfare Development Group — popularly known as SEAL Team 6 — on a variety of missions in which the unit wouldn’t have typically been involved, according to an investigative report published by the New York Times on Saturday. Some of those operations resulted in civilians being killed, several former SEALs said in interviews, according to the report.

“No figures are publicly available that break out the number of raids that Team 6 carried out in Afghanistan or their toll,” the Times reported. “Military officials say that no shots were fired on most raids. But between 2006 and 2008, Team 6 operators said, there were intense periods in which for weeks at a time their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and sometimes up to 25.”

The report, long-rumored in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence world, details the evolving use for the elite force that is one of America’s most revered but least understood. It also notes the lack of oversight team members receive.’

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The Story of America’s Very First Drone Strike

Chris Woods reports for The Atlantic:

‘“Who the fuck did that?” The words greeting the first-ever combat strike by a remotely piloted aircraft were uttered not in praise but in anger. A botched Hellfire-missile attack by a CIA Predator had just cost the United States a likely chance to kill Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Mohammed Omar. In response, the U.S. Air Force general in charge of airstrikes in Afghanistan was about to threaten to call off the entire opening campaign of the War on Terror, unless he was given control of the CIA’s secret weapon.

It was the night of October 7, 2001, less than a month after 9/11, and from the United States’ new Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Saudi Arabia, it was the job of Lieutenant General Chuck Wald and his deputy Dave Deptula to coordinate every aspect of the unfolding Afghan air war. Operation Enduring Freedom—the campaign to rid Afghanistan of al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts—was the first offensive of a global conflict that would eventually consume many tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, and see more than two and a half million U.S. personnel sent into battle.

In the autumn of 2001, however, the United States was unwilling to launch a full-scale land invasion in a region 7,000 miles from home. Instead, a plan evolved to send into Afghanistan a small number of CIA agents and Special Forces in support of anti-Taliban militias, with the aid of the U.S. Air Force. That first October night was a powerful display of coordination involving laser-guided munitions dropped from the air and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the sea. General Tommy Franks, who then led the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the military command overseeing operations in Afghanistan, wrote in his memoir American Soldier that the assault involved in total some 40,000 personnel, 393 aircraft, and 32 ships.

But one aircraft did not feature at all in the Air Force’s complex planning: a tiny, CIA-controlled, propeller-driven spy plane, which had crept into Afghanistan some hours earlier. Predator tailfin number 3034 now hangs suspended in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., its place in history assured. Yet its actions that first night of the war—in which numerous agencies in the vast U.S. military-intelligence machine each played sharply contradictory roles—remain steeped in controversy.’

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Pentagon Chief Says Iraq May Fracture Into Three

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The Abadi government in Iraq already has enough reasons to be pessimistic about their chances of beating ISIS and reunification of the country afterwards, since they lose seemingly every major battle against ISIS. Analysts are increasingly concerned, however, that pessimistic comments out of the US are going to really weigh on them.

Testifying to the House Armed Services Committee last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered a pretty negative assessment on the Iraqi military. But the real eye-opener for some was the revelation within his comments that the Pentagon is already opening planning for the contingency that Iraq will never be reunified at all.’

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Saudi Arabia warns citizens to ignore latest WikiLeaks release

Ian Black reports for The Guardian:

King AbdullahSaudi Arabia has warned its citizens to ignore thousands of its diplomatic documents leaked by the transparency site WikiLeaks, which give a rare insight into the kingdom’s habit of buying influence and monitoring dissidents.

The 61,000 Saudi cables, the first tranche of 500,000 promised by Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, also show the country’s sharp focus on its strategic rival Iran and the revolution in Egypt, and support for allies and clients in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Nothing yet published matches embarrassing revelations about the Saudis in WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of US diplomatic documents, which reported King Abdullah calling to “cut off the head of the [Iranian] snake” as well as drink- and drug-fuelled partying by minor royals in Jeddah.

But routine secret correspondence from the foreign ministry in Riyadh and embassies abroad, some from as recently as April this year, catalogues many of the preoccupations of the conservative monarchy, the world’s biggest oil exporter, especially during the turbulent period of the Arab spring from early 2011.’

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Seeds of destruction: Yemen civil war ripping society apart

Iona Craig writes for Al Jazeera:

The crows and their haunting screams are pervasive. They scavenge through mountains of rubbish lining the streets and tear at rotting bodies lying in the no man’s land separating the two warring sides in a conflict that has decimated this once bustling seaport.

Yemen’s southern port city of Aden was, until recently, a popular if slightly dilapidated holiday retreat for throngs of Yemenis. Amid rising tension on March 19, Houthi militiamen, along with renegade military units loyal to the country’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, launched an assault in the city that quickly escalated into civil war.

The widespread destruction caused by months of relentless fighting has torn the heart out of Aden, including the historic old town known as Crater that nestles in the dramatic backdrop of a dormant volcano.

The most densely populated area of Aden is now ghostly quiet, save for the crows and the distant pounding of artillery indicating the latest location of the shifting front line. Burnt out tanks and armored personnel carriers stand amid the concrete skeletons of apartment blocks, hollowed out by weeks of shelling and gun battles.’

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Saudi-led naval blockade leaves 20 million Yemenis facing humanitarian disaster

Julian Borger reported earlier this month for The Guardian:

Twenty million Yemenis, nearly 80% of the population, are in urgent need of food, water and medical aid, in a humanitarian disaster that aid agencies say has been dramatically worsened by a naval blockade imposed by an Arab coalition with US and British backing.

Washington and London have quietly tried to persuade the Saudis, who are leading the coalition, to moderate its tactics, and in particular to ease the naval embargo, but to little effect. A small number of aid ships is being allowed to unload but the bulk of commercial shipping, on which the desperately poor country depends, are being blocked.

Despite western and UN entreaties, Riyadh has also failed to disburse any of the $274m it promised in funding for humanitarian relief. According to UN estimates due to be released next week 78% of the population is in need of emergency aid, an increase of 4 million over the past three months.

The desperate shortage of food, water and medical supplies raises urgent questions over US and UK support for the Arab coalition’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war since March. Washington provides logistical and intelligence support through a joint planning cell established with the Saudi military, who are leading the campaign. London has offered to help the Saudi military effort in “every practical way short of engaging in combat”.’

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Samantha Power: Liberal War Hawk

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

President Barack Obama talks with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, following a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)[…] Though Power is a big promoter of the “responsibility to protect” – or “R2P” – she operates with glaring selectivity in deciding who deserves protection as she advances a neocon/liberal interventionist agenda. She is turning “human rights” into an excuse not to resolve conflicts but rather to make them bloodier.

Thus, in Power’s view, the overthrow and punishment of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad takes precedence over shielding Alawites and other minorities from the likely consequence of Sunni-extremist vengeance. And she has sided with the ethnic Ukrainians in their slaughter of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

In both cases, Power spurns pragmatic negotiations that could avert worsening violence as she asserts a black-and-white depiction of these crises. More significantly, her strident positions appear to have won the day with President Barack Obama, who has relied on Power as a foreign policy adviser since his 2008 campaign.

Power’s self-righteous approach to human rights – deciding that her side wears white hats and the other side wears black hats – is a bracing example of how “human rights activists” have become purveyors of death and destruction or what some critics have deemed “the weaponization of human rights.”’

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