US CENTCOM Chief Visits Syria Before Impending Invasion of Raqqa

Senior US commander secretly visits Syria to ‘prepare push to Raqqa’

Russia-Today

 

U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votell. ©  Win McNamee / Getty Images / AFP
General Joseph Votel, head of US Centcom, talked over cooperation with Kurdish and Arab militant groups while on a secretive trip to Syria on Friday. The talks were said to involve coordinating the US-led coalition and rebels plans on recapturing Raqqa from Islamic State.
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© Stringer

The news on the highly secretive visit to Syria broke only after Votel had returned to the US. During his 11-hour stay in the country he met with American advisers at a camp, located some 50 miles from the battleground, as well as with representatives of the Syrian groups who are being trained by the American military experts. Votel also talked to commanders of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In the aftermath of the visit, Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition against Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL), tweeted that one of the purposes of the clandestine trip was to prepare an offensive on Raqqa, IS terrorists’ stronghold in Syria since 2013.

Commenting on the current positions of the US-backed forces in Syria, Vogel stated that he “left with increased confidence in their capabilities and our ability to support them,” in an interview, cited by AP.

The existing model of cooperation between US and armed rebels fighting terrorists “is working and working well,” claimed the general.

Speaking about his primary motives behind the sudden visit, Vogel, however, did not specify any details that might explain its timing, while saying that it felt like an “imperative” to him to “see what they’re dealing with – to share the risk they are dealing with.”

AP cited Qarhaman Hasan, deputy commander of the SDF, as saying that the talks focused on the issues of US military support to rebel groups in the form of weaponry and equipment supplies.

“You can’t run an army on smuggling,” he said, adding that the they are “creating an army” and the necessity to smuggle the munitions severely hampers its operational capabilities.

General Vogel became the first military official of such a rank to appear in Syria since the onset of the US military operation against IS in 2014.
Vogel reportedly flew to Syria from Iraq on Friday in daylight. Although the circumstances surrounding the flight are not disclosed due to security concerns, it is believed to be the first time US forces’ representatives flew to Syria not under the cover of night.

Earlier, it is was reported the SDF is preparing to launch a decisive attack on Raqqa in the coming days. The operation is supposedly going to be backed by US-led coalition forces from air.

SDF representative Tackir Kobani said in an interview on Friday that Brett McGurk had visited Syria last week to discuss the “strategy to battle Daesh, in particular, for the liberation of Raqqa, Manbij and Jarabulus.” That makes Votel a second senior American official visiting Syria in the last two weeks.

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© Amer Almohibany  

Army Gen. Joseph Votel was appointed the head of the US Central Command (Centcom) in March. The area of Centcom’s responsibility covers Northeast Africa as well as the Middle East and Central and South Asia.

Reports of an imminent siege of Raqqa come as Moscow has suggested that the US-led coalition joined forces with the Russian Air Force to strike militant groups that did not adhere to ceasefire plan. In particular, Al-Nusra Front terrorists and convoys of arms and militants crossing the Syrian-Turkish border were mentioned.

While the White House has already denied it would even consider a joint Russian-US air campaign, such move would at least partly legitimize the US presence in the country, as the proposal is said to have been agreed with Damascus in advance. The Syrian government has never given permission for any US-led military campaign in the country, making its airstrikes illegal by international law.

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Mullah Mansour Reportedly Killed Again—This Time By Drone In Balochistan

[Funny, the way he was killed in near Quetta, Balochistan both times.  The killing of Mullah Mansour would open the door to negotiations with former Guantanamo prisoner, Mullah Rasoul, a.k.a., Mullah Nazir.  

“Pakistan has little control over the Taliban faction led by Mullah Rasoul. The group led by Mullah Rasoul is more interested to join the peace process”–Tolo News, A Look At Taliban’s Different Factions

With this first drone attack in Balochistan, the US seizes the initiative with controlling the Afghan Taliban, eliminating Pak ISI’s horse in this race.]

 

Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour ‘shot dead after argument in Pakistan’   —(Reportedly killed in the firefight in the Kuchlak area of Balochistan)

Kuchlak area of Balochistan, HQ for Mullah Akhtar Mansour Group  —(Mulla Mohammad Alam, Mullah Mansour’s top aid, was reported killed in Kuchlak)

US targeted Taliban emir Mullah Mansour in unprecedented Pakistan drone strike

Long war journal

The US military said it targeted and possibly killed Taliban emir Mullah Mansour today in an “airstrike” in a remote area along the “Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.” Mansour’s status is unknown and the military said it is attempting to determine if he is dead or alive.

“We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in an official statement.

“Mansour has been the leader of the Taliban and actively involved with planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners,” Cook said, offering justification for the strike. “Mansour has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict.”

Mansour officially replaced Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, as the group’s emir in August 2015 when Omar’s death was disclosed. But Mansour has really been at the helm of the Taliban since April 2013, when Omar died and the Taliban kept his death secret for more than two years. Since taking the role of emir, Mansour fought and won a divisive power struggle against senior Taliban leaders who preferred Omar’s eldest son as heir to the group. Mansour led a deadly uprising that saw the resurgent Taliban gain more territory than any time since the US invasion in 2001.

It may take days for the US to receive physical confirmation of Mansour’s death, if at all possible. The Taliban has not issued an official statement announcing Mansour’s death. Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, has been offline most of the week.

While the Pentagon did not state the location of the airstrike which targeted Mansour, Reuters reported that it took place at 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (3 p.m. local time) in the town of Ahmad Wal in Baluchistan province.

“Multiple US drones targeted the men as they rode in a vehicle in a remote area in Pakistan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal,” an unnamed official told the news agency.

US intelligence officials confirmed to The Long War Journal that the strike took place in Mansour’s home Baluchistan province.

A strike in Baluchistan is unprecedented and may signal a shift in US policy which previously confined drone strikes to Pakistan’s tribal agencies. This is the first reported strike by the US in Baluchistan, where the Taliban’s top leadership setup shop in Quetta. All of the other 391 drone and airstrikes reportedly executed by the US took place in Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Only one other strike took place outside of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Of those 390 strikes that occurred in the tribal agencies, 280 took place in North Waziristan and 90 took place in South Waziristan.

Conducting a strike in Baluchistan raises questions whether or not the US sought permission from the Pakistani government to carry out the attack in an area other than North and South Waziristan. Mansour was believed to be operating under the auspices and protection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

If Mansour is confirmed killed, one likely successor is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network which is also closely tied to the Taliban. Siraj is one of Mansour’s two deputies and serves as the Taliban’s overall military commander.

If Siraj replaced Mansour, he is even more unlikely than his predecessor to negotiate a peace agreement.The Taliban has insisted that only the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the imposition of its harsh brand of sharia – or Islamic law – and the withdrawal of all Western forces is acceptable.

The Taliban released a statement last month sternly denying another senior leader – Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, a former Guantanamo detainee – had called for negotiations with the Afghan government and the West. Although he might represent a coup for the US, Mullah Zakir is an unlikely successor to Mansour. And Zakir, who is also closely tied to al Qaeda, is just as committed to restoring the Taliban to power as Mansour and Siraj.

Two other possible successors include Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, and Omar’s brother, Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund. Both were appointed to key Taliban leadership positions last month in the group’s executive council as a way to smooth over any lingering discontent. Omar’s kin opposed the appointment of Mansour and Yaqoub was rumored to have sought the seat to replace his father. It took nearly two months after the change in leadership for Yaqoub to swear allegiance to Mansour in September 2015.

By that point, it was already clear Mansour had navigated through turbulent times. In August 2015, Mansour accepted the oath of allegiance from al Qaeda emir Ayman Zawahiri, as well as pledges from “Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe.” Mansour’s public acceptance of Zawahiri’s fealty above all others signaled the new face of the Taliban had no intention to break longstanding ties with al Qaeda. The reconciliation with Omar’s family was a final piece to the puzzle. His apparent unification of Taliban ranks did not keep Mansour out of the crosshairs, however. In December, Mansour released an audio statement denying reports of his death, which he said were floated by his enemies to divide his group.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

 

India Tells China To Close-Up Shop In Kashmir

Srinagar , dna

India has formally asked China to stop the construction activities on the other side of Line of Control (LoC) in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

This follows reports of China being involved in construction and upgradation of numerous roads, bridges and hydro power projects in PoK. The Chinese links with Pakistan through PoK have lent credence to the Sino-Islamabad nexus, sparking security concerns for India.

“The government has conveyed its concerns to China…and asked them to cease such activities,” said Colonel SD Goswami, defence spokesman at Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command.

China’s Gezhouba Group Company Ltd has been building a Jhelum-Neelum 970MW hydel power project in PoK since 2007. The project is likely to be complete this year.

China is also constructing an all-weather road, connecting Karakoram Highway with Gilgit-Baltistan, and is also involved in a 46-billion dollar China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), that will also pass through Karakoram Highway.

Barack Obama and a quarter-century of US wars

Barack Obama and a quarter-century of US wars

 

world socialist

 

In a front-page article published on May 15, the New York Times calls attention to a significant milestone in the presidency of Barack Obama: “He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.” Obama overtook his predecessor on May 6. But with eight months still to go in the White House, he is on target to set yet another record. The Times writes: “If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term—a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria—he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.”

On the way to setting his record, Mr. Obama has overseen lethal military actions in a total of seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The list is expanding rapidly, as the United States escalates its military operations in Africa. The efforts to suppress the Boko Haram insurgency involve a buildup of US forces in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Mark Landler, the author of the Times article, notes Obama’s status as a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2009 without any sense of irony. Rather, he portrays the president as “trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate…” Obama “has wrestled with this immutable reality [of war] from his first year in the White House…”

Landler informs his readers that Obama “went for a walk among the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery before giving the order to send 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.” Landler recalls a passage from his 2009 speech accepting the Nobel Prize in which Obama wearily lamented that humanity needed to reconcile “two seemingly irreconcilable truths—that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”

During the Obama years, folly has clearly held the upper hand. But there is nothing that Landler’s hero can do. Obama has found his wars “maddeningly hard to end.”

The recent death of Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles Keating IV in a firefight with ISIS forces has contradicted Obama’s account of what the US forces are doing in Iraq. The Times, choosing its words carefully, writes that Keating’s death “made the administration’s argument that the Americans were only advising and assisting Iraqi forces seem ever less plausible.” To state the matter bluntly, Obama has been lying to the American people.

Aside from its intrinsic dishonesty, the Times’ portrayal of Obama lacks the essential element required by genuine tragedy: the identification of the objective forces, beyond his control, that determined the actions of the president. If Mr. Landler wants his readers to shed a tear for this peace-loving man who, upon becoming president, made drone killings his personal specialty and turned into something akin to a moral monster, the Times correspondent should have attempted to identify the historical circumstances that determined Obama’s “tragic” fate.

But this is a challenge the Times avoids. It fails to relate Obama’s war-making record to the entire course of American foreign policy over the past quarter-century. Even before Obama entered office in 2009, the United States had been at war on an almost continuous basis since the first US-Iraq War of 1990-91.

The pretext for the first Gulf War was Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait in August 1990. But the violent US reaction to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s dispute with the emir of Kuwait was determined by broader global conditions and considerations. The historical context of the US military operation was the imminent dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was finally carried out in December 1991. The first President Bush declared the beginning of a “New World Order.”

The product of the first socialist revolution in 1917, the Soviet Union had functioned—especially following the conclusion of World War II in 1945—as a restraint on the deployment of American military power. Moreover, the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949—which, in historical terms, was bound up with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia—placed further obstacles in the path of US imperialism.

The Stalinist regimes pursued essentially nationalistic policies, and systematically undermined and betrayed working-class and anti-imperialist movements all over the world. But to the extent that the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China provided limited political and material support to anti-imperialist movements in the “Third World,” it denied the US ruling class a free hand in the pursuit of its own interests. These limitations were demonstrated—to cite the most notable examples—in the US defeats in Korea and Vietnam, the compromise settlement of the Cuban missile crisis, and the acceptance of Soviet domination of the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.

In the final analysis, the existence of the Soviet Union and an anti-capitalist regime in China deprived the United States of the possibility of unrestricted access to and exploitation of the human labor, raw materials and potential markets of a large portion of the globe—including, and especially, much of the Eurasian land mass. It also compelled the United States to compromise to a degree greater than it would have preferred in negotiations over economic and strategic issues with its major allies in Europe and Asia, as well as with smaller countries that exploited the tactical opportunities provided by the US-Soviet Cold War.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union, combined with the unrestrained restoration of capitalism in China following the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989, was seen by the American ruling class as an opportunity to carry out a massive restructuring of global geopolitics with the aim of establishing the hegemony of the United States. The overwhelming support for this operation within the elites arose from the belief that the United States could reverse the protracted erosion of its global economic position through the ruthless utilization of its overwhelming military power.

The Defense Policy Guidance drafted by the Department of Defense in February 1992 unambiguously asserted the hegemonic ambitions of US imperialism: “There are other potential nations or coalitions that could, in the further future, develop strategic aims and a defense posture of region-wide or global domination. Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

The 1990s saw a persistent use of US military power, most notably in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The brutal restructuring of the Balkan states, which provoked a fratricidal civil war, culminated in the US-led 1999 bombing campaign to compel Serbia to accept the secession of the province of Kosovo. Other major military operations during that decade included the intervention in Somalia (which ended in disaster), the military occupation of Haiti, the bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, and repeated episodes of bombing attacks on Iraq.

The events of September 11, 2001 provided the opportunity for the launching of the “War on Terror,” a propaganda slogan that provided an all-purpose justification for military operations throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and, with increasing frequency, Africa. The military strategy of the United States was revised in line with the new doctrine of “preventive warfare,” adopted by the US in 2002. This doctrine, which violated existing international law, decreed that the United States could attack any country in the world that was judged to pose a potential threat—not only of a military, but also an economic character—to American interests.

The administration of the second President Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. In speeches that followed 9/11, Bush used the phrase “wars of the twenty-first century.” In this case, Bush spoke with great precision. The “War on Terror” was, from the beginning, conceived as an unending series of military operations all over the globe. One war would necessarily and inevitably lead to another. Afghanistan proved to be a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Iraq. The scope of military operations continuously widened. New wars were started while the old ones continued. The cynical invocation of human rights was used to wage war against Libya and overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The same hypocritical pretext was employed to organize a proxy war in Syria. The consequences of these wars, in terms of human lives and suffering, are incalculable.

The strategic logic of the US drive for global hegemony has led to conflicts that extend beyond bloody neocolonial operations in the Middle East and Africa. The geopolitical ambitions of the United States have led to increasingly dangerous confrontations with China and Russia. In fact, the ongoing regional wars are becoming transformed into component elements of the rapidly escalating conflict of the United States and its European and Asian allies with Russia and China.

The New York Times provides not so much as a hint of the deeper objective causes, lodged in the contradictions of American and world imperialism, that made the Obama presidency a time of unending war. Nor does it forewarn its readers that the next administration, regardless of who occupies the White House—whether the president’s name is Clinton, Trump or, for that matter, Sanders—will offer not only more of the same, but much worse. The issue of war remains the “great unmentionable” in this election year.

But this silence must be broken. The alarm must be sounded. The working class and youth within the United States and throughout the world must be told the truth. If war is to be stopped and a global catastrophe averted, a new and powerful mass international movement, based on a socialist program and strategically guided by the principles of revolutionary class struggle, must be built.

David North

Why Has Obama Ended Afghanistan’s Air Support?

Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban

 

Wall Street Journal

 

Incredibly, even though much U.S. blood and treasure was sacrificed in Afghanistan, we won’t bomb the militants trying to take over the country.

NATO-led International Security Assistance Force helicopters over Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, in 2013. Photo: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
By David Petraeus and
Michael O’Hanlon

In any counterinsurgency campaign, foreign forces helping another country must strike a balance. They must wean local forces off their dependency on outside help as rapidly as possible. But they also must not rush the job and lose what has been gained along the way—especially when a part of their core mission is to build up the indigenous police and military forces to which they seek to pass the baton.

For 10 years U.S. leaders have understood the need for this delicate balancing act in Iraq and Afghanistan, though both the Bush and Obama administrations did, in certain cases, hand off to indigenous forces and draw down more rapidly than was advisable. We are at risk of doing that again now in Afghanistan.

The immediate issue is how we are using American and broader NATO air power. There is a great deal of it—many dozens of combat aircraft at bases from Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south to the cities of Khost and Jalalabad in the east to the capital region of Kabul and points north. But we continue to handcuff those deploying these jets, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Existing U.S. and NATO policy generally allows them to strike targets on the ground only when hostile forces can be identified as al Qaeda or ISIS loyalists, when they pose an imminent threat to NATO personnel, or, reportedly, when a strategic collapse is imminent.

The rules of engagement mean that the indigenous Afghan and Pakistani Taliban generally get a pass. Yet it was the Taliban that allowed al Qaeda the sanctuary in Afghanistan in which the 9/11 attacks were planned, and which presumably would make the Taliban a legitimate target under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

And it is the Taliban that now seek to overthrow the unity government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. They seek as well to jettison the progress in education and human rights that has been achieved since 2001. The Taliban also aim to cut off the cooperation with the international community that Afghanistan still so badly needs to recover from a generation of war.

This is the same group that also enjoys the sworn support of al Qaeda’s senior leadership—following al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s endorsement of the new head of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour. And it is the same quasi-terrorist movement that, in alliance with the Haqqani network based in Pakistan, has recently carried out the horrific bombings in Kabul.

The Taliban have taken back large swaths of Helmand province and areas in eastern provinces such as Nangarhar and Kunar over the past several years. This happened after the sizable NATO troop drawdown that began in 2011 and that, by last year, had reduced the alliance’s strength in Afghanistan by some 90% relative to its peak. (Total foreign forces peaked at around 150,000 uniformed personnel in early 2011 and are now down to about 15,000.) The Taliban also seized the northern city of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest, for a stretch last fall and may attempt a similar endeavor this year.

Yet the Taliban are not invincible. Though they took Kunduz, they were soon driven out by an Afghan-led operation. They do not hold any other major cities or major transportation arteries, though security on the “ring road” that connects the country’s major cities is again tenuous. The Taliban are broadly despised by the majority of the Afghan people. Without the sanctuaries they enjoy in Pakistan, it is doubtful that they could mount an organized threat to the country, even if they remained—in cahoots with drug dealers and other criminals—a threat to individual communities and citizens.

In other words, we have a real fight on our hands in Afghanistan, but not a hopeless one. And in this context, even modest U.S. and NATO military contributions have the potential to make a considerable difference.

Which brings us to the Obama administration’s policy that seeks to minimize U.S. and allied involvement in the war. Per this policy, NATO aircraft dropped only about 1,000 bombs in Afghanistan in 2015, very few against the Taliban. That was a fivefold reduction from the war’s peak level of activity. So far, 2016 looks similar, with 300 bombs dropped in the first three months.

These figures stand in contrast to what we are doing in Iraq and Syria. According to Pentagon data, we dropped 6,000 bombs there in 2014, almost 30,000 in 2015, and almost 7,000 in the first three months of this year. Modern air power—when combined with a suitable ally on the ground that can seize the advantage created by the bombing of enemy positions, camps and supply routes—is impressive. ISIS has lost about 40% of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria and stands to lose more.

By contrast, while exact figures are hard to come by, a reasonable unclassified estimate is that the Taliban now hold 5% to 10% more of Afghanistan—as measured by the population under their influence—than they did a few years ago before the drawdown of allied forces. Civilian fatalities from the continuing war in Afghanistan, while still far less than in many battle zones (including Iraq and Syria), have been moving upward as well.

Some might reasonably ask, after 15 years of war in Afghanistan, why do we need to keep at it? The answer is simple—because Afghanistan, effectively the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight against extremist forces, still matters. We went there to take away from al Qaeda the sanctuary in which the 9/11 attacks were planned. We have stayed to ensure that this remains the case.

And we also must remain for now to deny sanctuary to the nascent ISIS force in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. forces in-country today are far smaller than they were before, our casualties are relatively few, and the burden on our nation’s military as well as its checkbook is far less than it once was. But that doesn’t mean that we should allow the Taliban to regroup and turn back the clock on the progress.

When the international effort in Afghanistan began after 9/11, that country had been decimated by a generation of warfare in which we helped brave local fighters defeat the Soviet Union, only to see America and other Western powers desert the nation once Soviet forces were defeated and withdrawn. Thus, it is no surprise that the country, always poor and struggling even in the best of circumstances, will need more time to recover.

Bear in mind as well that for the first seven or eight years of this fight, we devoted very few American resources to the problem, even though Afghanistan didn’t have a sizable army or police force of its own. We only began to build up the Afghan air force seriously in the last two years or so.

This is because forging a viable Afghan army and police force were the more urgent tasks for the NATO mission once we finally did devote substantial resources to the fight, including at the time one of us commanded that operation in 2010-11. It will take perhaps two more years for the Afghan air force, still training pilots and still receiving aircraft, to reach its intended strength.

The bottom line is simple: While we also need to keep a focus on whether U.S. and NATO forces are adequate in size for the current mission, we need to take the gloves off those forces already in-country. Air power in particular represents an asymmetric Western advantage, relatively safe to apply, and very effective against massed (or even individual) enemy forces and assets.

Simply waging the Afghanistan air-power campaign with the vigor we are employing in Iraq and Syria—even dropping bombs at a fraction of the pace at which we are conducting attacks in those Arab states—will very likely make much of the difference between some version of victory and defeat.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired Army general, commanded coalition forces in Iraq (2007-08) and in Afghanistan (2010-11) and later served as director of the CIA (2011-12). Mr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of research in its Foreign Policy program.

The Crime of Aggression

The State of Play on the Crime of Aggression

LAWFARE

By David Bosco
I’ve written here previously on the possible activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Twenty-eight of the requisite thirty countries have now ratified the amendments agreed to at the 2010 Kampala conference. It appears likely that the additional ratifications will arrive in a matter of months (Iceland, the Netherlands, Chile, and Senegal are among the countries that may push the amendment over the finish line). In following developments, however, I missed this illuminating debate between former U.S. State Department legal adviser Harold Koh and German academic Claus Kreß. Their exchange highlights several key dynamics.

First, Koh’s comments make clear that the United States remains deeply concerned about activation of the aggression amendments. Because the United States is not an ICC member, its senior officials will not be exposed to prosecuction. But Washington clearly worries that the specter of aggression prosecutions might dissuade close allies from participating in joint operations. And Koh suggests that the United States, working with like-minded ICC member states, will likely push for a full-blown review conference to resolve existing ambiguities. These issues include whether humanitarian intervention is adequately safeguarded from prosecution and whether the leaders of ICC member states that have not ratified the aggression amendments could still be subject to prosecution (there is a disagreement about what Article 121(5) of the Rome Statute means on that point). While a two-thirds vote of member states is all that is required to activate the amendments, skeptical states will likely argue that something this momentous should not proceed without consensus.

At a more conceptual level, the exchange between Koh and Kreß highlighted stubborn divisions about the importance of criminalizing aggression. Koh evinced no enthusiasm for prosecuting aggression and framed the issue mostly as a potential distraction from the ICC’s core mission: investigating and prosecuting mass atrocities. Echoing other U.S. officials, Koh sketched a scenario in which concern about aggression prosecutions prevents states from taking steps necessary to save lives.

Suppose it is determined that to establish a humanitarian corridor in Syria or to protect people in Aleppo from being barrel bombed by Assad you need to create a no fly zone within Syria which would [would not] receive a Security Council resolution because of a Russian veto. If your country allows a plane to take off to participate in that no fly zone, can your constitutional leader by subjected to the crime of aggression in due course? That’s a question. If you don’t know the answer to that question, it needs to be clarified and resolved.

For his part, Kreß insisted that aggression itself should be thought of as an atrocity crime, and he forcefully resisted the notion that prosecuting it is somehow less important than pursuing perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes. Even a conflict conducted fully within the laws of war, Kreß pointed out, kills people and shatters lives. Implicit in his view is the notion that armed conflict itself is the enemy, and that prosecuting those who initiate it is an essential task for the court. For all the apparent headway made at Kampala, the gap between these perspectives remains wide.

Seeing Humanity in ‘Enemy’ Eyes

[Human Nature Is the Enemy of the State]baghdad-shock-and-aweAt the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”

Seeing Humanity in ‘Enemy’ States

consortium

Official Washington’s propagandistic view of the world sees “good guys” and “bad guys,” a simplistic and dangerous dichotomy that ignores the common human elements, as ex-State Department official Matthew Hoh observes.

 

By Matthew Hoh

Last month, I had the privilege of answering an interview request from an Iranian research agency dedicated to studying acts of terror carried out against the Iranian people. By their count 17,000 Iranians have been killed in acts of terror over the last 3 1/2 decades. Quite an astounding number, isn’t it?

I have no reason to believe this number is inflated or exaggerated, but, even if the real count is only a tenth of the pronounced figure of 17,000, it would still signify a horrendously systematic attack of political violence on a people that, as recent elections Just as many of us do not embody in our personal lives, in our beings and in our souls the worst aspects of our American government, our wars overseas and our mass incarceration at home, so too are the Iranian people not representative of their government’s acts of militarism and repression. I  know, I know. Such a trite and cliched thing to say.

But then why would so many in the U.S. not know of the thousands killed by terrorism in Iran and why would many Americans say that those dead Iranians and their devastated families deserve it? If not for such a binary and Manichean way of looking at the world, we are good and they are bad, we could understand and communicate with one another better, and then, maybe, as a united and common people we could lead this world to prosperity and health, rather than to war, climate change and poverty.

The interview can be found here and is copied below:

Full text of Habilian’s interview with Matthew Hoh, Ex-US State Department Official
Sunday, 01 May 2016 09:51 Habilian

“…in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups.”

In an exclusive interview with Habilian Association, Iranian Center for Research on Terrorism, Matthew Hoh has answered the questions about the U.S. military interventions in the Middle East following 9/11 attacks in the name of “fighting against terrorism” and its implications for the people of the region, terrorism developments in the Middle East after 2001, America’s role in the empowerment of terrorist groups in the region, U.S. imperialism around the world, relationships between the media and government in the U.S., and Machiavellian view of American leaders to terrorist groups such as MeK. Below is the full text of the Habilian Association’s interview with Hoh:

Habilian: At the beginning of the interview, please tell us when you did join the Army? Would you speak about your motives in wearing the Army Uniform?

Hoh: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1998 for a number of reasons. I was bored with the work I was doing (I was working for a publishing company in New York  Habilian: Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a speech at joint session of Congress, in which “War on Terror” was declared. In that speech, Bush raised some questions quoted from American peoples, including who attacked the US and why; and how Americans can punish them. Now, after more than 15 years of American interventions in the region that led to death of more than one million civilians, if you, as an American journalist, have an interview with Bush, what questions will you ask him about the war?

Hoh: The first question I would ask President Bush is why he is not remorseful. Does his desire for a positive view of his legacy preclude his ability to empathize with the millions who have suffered because of these wars? Secondly, I would ask him why can he not be humble and admit his policies were wrong and counter-productive. I would not be asking him to say the terror of 9/11 was not horrific and I am not asking him to compare himself with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but to simply recognize that the wars he launched and the wars that are still ongoing have made the world worse and not better. Two simple truths: the number of dead in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other places number well past one million since September 12, 2001. Millions more have been wounded and are refugees from their homes. Those who suffer the horribly debilitating psychiatric and moral effects of the wars number in the tens of millions. And none of those wars are close to ending. The second truth is that, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and based upon documents found in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda only consisted of approximately two hundred members in 2001. Now the organization has thousands of members in countries across the globe. Of course the Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001 and only came into existence because of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly American policy in the Middle East has failed. I would ask President Bush how he ignores such truths. To be fair, I would ask President Obama the same.

Habilian: In the mentioned speech, George Bush had said that Americans are asking him what is expected of them, then listed his expectations of American people: “to live your lives, and hug your children”, “to uphold the values of America”, “to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. If we go back to September 20, 2001 and you had an opportunity to speak in Congress and announce your expectations from the government, what would you said?

Hoh: I am not sure if anything anyone said would be listened to. In 2001, we did have people in the United States counseling against acting on fear and anger. In Congress, however, we had only one member, Barbara Lee, from California, who voted against giving the President unlimited authority to carry out war, an authority that President Obama still utilizes nearly 15 years later. Out of 535 members of Congress only one had the wisdom, the intelligence and the courage to say that war was not just the wrong approach to terrorism, but that it would be foolhardy and prove to be counter-productive. Americans at that time were scared and angry. Politicians were scared and angry as well, but, more so, they were eager to capitalize on the public’s emotions for their own political advantage and security. So, sadly, I don’t think my stating my expectations of my government to follow the dictates of morality, justice and rule of law would have been listened to.

Habilian: On February 14, 2003, George W. Bush released “The United States’ strategy for combating terrorism” in which the US administration’s objectives in the War on Terror had been listed. The core of that strategy were weakening and isolating terror networks such as Al Qaeda. Regarding the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its violent ambitions, do you believe that the announced goals of these wars have been achieved? In your opinion, are Al Qaeda typed groups stronger or weaker now?

Hoh: Terror groups are much stronger now than in 2001. The greatest recruitment for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups was not the murders of Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, torture of prisoners by American guards, and the bombing of Muslim peoples throughout the world by the West. Remember, in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups. Of course, this is all a consequence of American military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. As an American I have to understand that much of what we are seeing now in the Middle East is a consequence of decades of American backed coups, American backed dictatorships, American military interventions, American backed wars, unlimited American support for Israel, American arms sales and the American formation of religiously inspired cadres to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, one of which famously became al-Qaeda. However, I do not believe the wisest among us in the United States, of which I must admit I was not a part of in 2001, ever thought our policies would prove to be so disastrous.

Habilian: Why despite the American intelligence agencies’ estimation that the ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States, Obama administration decided to send the country on a military campaign against that group, knowing that such a war may take several years?

Hoh: There are a few different reasons for this. I think there are some in the US government that do believe the United States has an interest in trying to bring about stability to Iraq and Syria and that military means are the only, or the predominant, manner of doing so. I believe those assertions to be wrong, that those assumptions are not based on history or experience, but I do understand them to be sincere.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other reasons why President Obama is intervening militarily in Syria and Iraq. The most important is political. President Obama, and the Democratic Party, is afraid of being viewed as weak. It is that simple. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for an American politician to say he or she is wrong or made a mistake. American politicians would rather see more American soldiers killed, more American families devastated as a result of those losses, and more innocent civilians destroyed than to admit they are wrong. Again, it is just that simple.

There are those who believe that these wars in the Middle East can simply be broken down into terms of good people versus bad people and we, the US, are on the side of the good people. There are philosophical, religious, nationalist, racist, and other reasons for such beliefs, but simple binary thinking, much like the thinking that under lay the assumptions of the Cold War, is prevalent in Washington, DC and throughout America.

There is a lot of money involved in Iraq. American companies have a good deal of interest in the oil fields of northern Iraq and the US government is keen to see those oil fields in Kurdish control, while projected sales of weapons to the Iraqi government range from 15-30 billion dollars over the next one or two decades. Such money has enormous influence in Washington, DC and the fear of the loss of such money would motivate an American President to act militarily.

Finally, the United States has an empire around the world that it must maintain. This is different in appearance or in kind than say the British or Roman Empires of the past, but it is nonetheless an empire. The United States has over 800 military bases around the world, has client states across the globe, many of which are the worst human rights violators in power, depends upon weapons sales as one of the leading aspects of the American export economy, and spends approximately one trillion dollars a year in total in support of this complex. Any threat or challenge to this established system must be confronted. In this established system in Washington, DC, as well as in American universities and corporations, it is seemingly impossible to understand any other option for the world; in fact this world view of the United States being “responsible” for the rest of the world is taken as a praiseworthy virtue and any deviance from this view is considered naïve, ignorant or silly. Combine that with America’s cultural and religious view of itself as an “exceptional nation” or as a nation with divine purposes and you can understand why America is so quick to use its military tens of thousands of miles from its borders. It is worth noting only the Western allies of the US act similarly so far from the borders; no other nation behaves this way, with the exception of the recent limited Russian involvement in Syria.

Habilian: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce”. Why the US media are advertising this story?

Hoh: Terrorism scares and angers people, and fear and anger make for good audiences for the US media. The media in the US depends on ratings for advertising revenue (US media is privately funded) and so stories about terrorism get people’s attention causing more people to watch, listen or read, which brings in more money for the media.

There are also informal relationships between the media, the US government and politicians that lead all three to work together to support one another. The media needs the support of people in the government and politicians to get the best stories and get the best interviews, while the government and politicians need the media to present the best views of themselves and their policies. It is a mutually supportive relationship between many members of the media, the government and politicians that many in the United States see to be corrupt. That is why the American public has incredibly low opinions of the media, government and politicians in the US (recent opinion polls show that only about 10% of the public trusts these institutions).

Finally, there is the ongoing narrative of the United States being a morally correct and righteous nation that is on the side of “good” overseas. I believe the media feels it would cost them their audiences, and so their revenue, if they tried to explain world events, including terrorism and the wars, in a more complex yet accurate manner.

I must say that there are many good media sources in the US, but they tend to be small and independent of the larger corporate media that most Americans depend upon for their news. These men and women are often unfairly characterized as un-American, ideological or overly politically partisan, yet they are often the ones with the journalistic integrity the larger corporate media lacks.

Habilian: To this day MEK terrorists have been carrying out attacks inside of Iran killing political opponents, attacking civilian targets, as well as carrying out the US-Israeli program of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists. In your opinion, how America’s government came to the conclusion that MeK no longer should be in the Terrorist List?

Hoh: The MeK has been very successful in the United States in paying American politicians and former government officials to represent the MeK. Along with the demonization with which the American government has colored Iran with since 1979, these political efforts by the MeK have succeeded in making many American leaders believe the MeK can be useful to US interests in the Middle East. Whether or not they know or care that the MeK has made many, many innocent Iranian people suffer is not something American leaders consider. I am quick to denounce the violent actions of my government, just as many Iranians are quick to denounce the violent actions of the Iranian government. Groups like the MeK and actions like the assassination of Iranian scientists serve only to prolong hostilities between the United States and Iran, hostilities that have gone on for far too long and which only serve the elites who hold power in both countries and which cause both the American and Iranian people to suffer.

Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy. A former State Department official, Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh served in Iraq. When not deployed, Hoh worked on Afghanistan and Iraq policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002-8.