Profile: US Military
US Military was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US begins flying spy planes over Serbia and Bosnia. In March 1994, the CIA begins flying Gnat-750 drone aircraft from Glader, a remote Albanian air force base in north-central Albania. [Associated Press, 5/7/1994] In December 1994, the CIA begins flying more drone aircraft from the Croatian island of Brac. [Associated Press, 2/3/1995] In July 1995, the US begins using the Predator remote spy drone over Bosnia, from the Glader base. [Associated Press, 7/21/1995] Such surveillance information is allegedly shared with Croat and Muslim forces, allowing them to bypass Serb defensive positions in battle. The US officially denies the existence of all these flights since the US is supposed to be neutral in the war. [Observer, 11/5/1995]
Bernard Janvier. [Source: Dani]Roughly around this time, a new airport is completed in the Muslim Bosnian town of Visoko, northwest of Sarajevo. UN soldiers frequently report seeing C-130 transport planes landing there, and they say the runway is constantly being improved to handle more aircraft. One UN soldiers later says to the British newspaper the Observer, “Why don’t you write about Visoko airport? Planes land there all the time and we think they’re American.” [Observer, 11/5/1995; Schindler, 2007, pp. 184-185] Visoko is said to be the logistics center of the Bosnian army and the airport and area is run by Halid Cengic. Author and former NSA officer John Schindler will later call him head of the “fanatical and thievish Cengic clan.” He is said to make great profits on the materiel coming through the airport. He is also the father of Hasan Cengic, who is one of the key figures smuggling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia through the Third World Relief Agency, a charity front tied to Osama bin Laden and other radical militants (see Mid-1991-1996). [Observer, 11/5/1995; Schindler, 2007, pp. 195] By March 1995, General Bernard Janvier, commander of UN forces in Bosnia, reports to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the Visoko airport is in operation and illegal supply flights are landing there. The report notes that the airport was built by Hasan Cengic with help from Iran. Canadian peacekeepers allege that unmarked flights coming into Visoko are American. However, this UN report is not made public. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 184-185] According to the Observer in November 1995, some Bosnian politicians say that the US is the “number one donor of all weapons into Bosnia” and British political sources say the Visoko airport was built with US help. Furthermore, UN officials complain that they frequently report flights into Visoko, but these flights are never cited as violations of the no-fly zone over all of Bosnia. One UN source says, “The Awacs (air warning and control systems planes) have sighted only two flights into Visoko in the last five months. There have been dozen of flights reported from the ground.” These UN officials believe that these flights in Visoko take place on days when Awacs flights are manned by all US crews instead of NATO crews. Another UN source says, “Only the US has the theater control to put certain aircraft in the air at certain times.” [Observer, 11/5/1995]
In 2001, the US military budget is $293 billion a year. This is more than the combined budget of the next 15 largest militaries in the world. The US budget grows steadily in the years after 9/11, rising 40 percent to $427 billion in 2006. In 2008, it rises still further to $647 billion. This is considered about the same as what all the other countries of the world combined spend on military expenditures. [Rashid, 2008, pp. l]
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. [Reuters, 5/12/2011] The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
The Observer publishes an article entitled, “Secret US Plan for Iraq War.” It states that the US is planning to remove Saddam Hussein from power by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces. It also says that President Bush has ordered the CIA and US military to prepare plans for a military operation that could start “within months.” The plan calls for “a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations while US forces assist opposition groups in the north and south of the country in a stage-managed uprising,” and one version of the plan would have US forces fighting on the ground. The trigger for the attack would be Iraq refusing to allow UN inspectors back in. The article notes that justification for a war based on alleged Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks is fading, but US officials believe they can make a case based on Iraqi possession of WMDs instead. One European military source who recently returned from General Tommy Franks’s headquarters in Florida says: “The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment.” [Observer, 12/2/2001] The claim that the US is planning a “stage-managed uprising” will later be borne out. Right around this time, some CIA planners come up with a plan code-named Anabasis to create an uprising in Iraq (see Late November 2001 or December 2001).
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 359]
US and Pakistani forces search for Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, but are unable to find him. A mosque owned by Haqqani is raided at night by about 200 Pakistani soldiers and 25 US Special Forces, who arrive by helicopter. Haqqani had been a CIA asset in the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviets (see (1987)). While his link to the CIA apparently ended at some point, he has continued to be an asset of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see May 2008). He was a minister in the Taliban government in the 1990s. This apparently is the last time the US or Pakistan will target Haqqani for many years. In the years after this raid, he will build up his own semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, known as the Haqqani network, and will launch many attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 4/28/2002; New York Times, 6/17/2008]
An aerial photo of the Khurmal training camp, actually in the nearby village of Sargat. This image was shown during Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003. [Source: Public domain, via National Security Archive]US intelligence determines that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has recently moved to a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and his militant group has set up a chemical weapons lab there. The lab, located near the town of Khurmal, allegedly produces ricin and cyanide. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] By early 2002, al-Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based on intelligence that he ran an important training camp in Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and had already unsuccessfully attempted plots against Israeli and European targets. CIA intelligence indicates al-Zarqawi is in the camp, along with many al-Qaeda fighters who had recently fled from US air strikes in Afghanistan. Additionally, there are preparations and training in the camp for new attacks on Western interests. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] The US military draws up plans to attack the site with cruise missiles, and the plans are sent to the White House. However, NBC News will later report that, “according to US government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Officials involved in the planning expect a swift decision, but are surprised when weeks go by without any response from the White House. Finally, information is somehow leaked to the media in Turkey that the US is considering targeting the camp, and intelligence shows that al-Zarqawi and his group flee the camp soon thereafter. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004]
US intelligence concludes that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is planning to use ricin in attacks on civilians in Europe. Several months earlier, the US had determined the location of his main training camp and chemical weapons lab, located in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and decided against attacking it with cruise missiles (see June 2002). [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] By this time, al-Zarqawi is known to have masterminded the assassination of a senior American diplomat in Jordan the month before. Al-Zarqawi had his group had fled the camp several months before, but new intelligence indicates that he has reoccupied it. At the time, he is using a satellite telephone, and intercepts of his communications show that he is frequently calling from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] In light of the new intelligence, the US military draws up a second attack plan on the camp, but the White House again decides against it. Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
British police discover a ricin lab allegedly connected to a militant training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Six suspects are arrested in London. The US has known about the camp and its ties to chemical weapons production for months, and twice the US military has drawn up plans for a strike upon it, and twice the White House has decided against taking action (see June 2002 and November 2002). Based on these new developments in London, the US military draws up a third attack plan against the camp, but again the White House rejects taking action. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Communications intercepts indicate that al-Zarqawi is still making calls on his satellite phone from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command at the time, will later say that the training camp “was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] However, in March 2003 shortly after the Iraq war begins, the camp will actually be hit by air strikes and not the land attack indicated by DeLong (see March 20, 2003). NBC News will later comment, “Military officials insist their case for attacking al-Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the [Bush] administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam [Hussein].” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] President Bush will secretly decide around early March 2003 not to attack the camp until the US invasion of Iraq is underway later that month (see Early March 2003).
On the second day of a US invasion of Iraq, the US military conducts an airstrike against the training camp in Northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The camp is territory controlled by Kurdish rebels and it is believed that a chemical weapons lab is there. Prior to the start of the war, the US drew up three separate plans to attack the camp with air strikes, but each time the plans were rejected by the White House. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] More than 40 cruise missiles hit the camp near the town of Khurmal, destroying what Gen. Tommy Franks calls a “massive terrorist facility.” But Saddam Hussein had been given an ultimatum before the start of the war, which meant the timing of the start of the war had been announced several days in advance. Not surprisingly, by the time the camp is hit, al-Zarqawi and many of his followers had already left it. One of al-Zarqawi’s top lieutenants, Abdul Hadi Daghlas, a.k.a. Abu Taisir, is killed. Al-Zarqawi will release an audio message several months later lamenting his death. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2004] Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
The US establishes a loose network of prisons and detention centers in Iraq where Iraqi prisoners of war are held and interrogated. Iraqis detained by Coalition Forces are usually first brought to facilities at US military compounds where they are subjected to initial and secondary interrogations, ranging from a period of one week for initial interrogations up to one month for secondary interrogations. During this period, the detainees are not permitted to contact relatives or seek legal counsel. The prisoners are then sent to one of ten major Coalition prison facilities, at which point their names and information are supposed to be entered into the Coalition’s central database. The major facilities include:
Abu Ghraib Prison (Baghdad Central Correctional Facility or BCCF), the largest.
Camp Bucca, in Umm Qasr.
Talil Air force Base (Whitford Camp), located south of Baghdad.
Al-Rusafa (formerly the Deportations’ Prison or Tasfirat), in Baghdad.
Al-Kadhimiyya, in Baghdad, for women only.
Al-Karkh, in Baghdad, for juveniles only.
Al-Diwaniyya Security Detainee Holding Area.
the Tikrit detention facility.
the Mosul detention facility.
and MEK (Ashraf Camp), near al-Ramadi. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
In late April 2003, the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad, Iraq, after US-led forces took over the city. As many as sixty civilian flights and seventy military flights arrive at Baghdad International Airport, all of them filled with supplies to replenish the US military effort and for Iraq’s reconstruction. The US military officers in charge of the airport, such as US Air National Guard Major Christopher Walker have no idea how private supply contracts were made or with whom, but they note that most of the pilots appear to be from Russia and various Eastern European countries, flying rugged Russian-made aircraft. On May 17, 2004, the Financial Times reports that many of the planes delivering supplies to US troops in Iraq are actually owned by a Russian named Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. The United Nations has placed a ban on all dealings with Bout, due to his links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and many other militant and rebel groups around the world. Walker has never heard of Bout, but he is tasked to look into the allegations by his superiors. He quickly concludes that many of the planes flying into Baghdad daily are owned by Bout’s front companies, and that such Bout flights have been taking place over since the US reopened the airport. Bout’s companies have contracts flying in tents, food, and other supplies for US firms working for the US military in Iraq, including a large contract to fly supplies for Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company once run by Vice President Cheney. Bout’s companies also fly for US Air Mobility Command. Walker is reluctant to stop the flow of vital supplies, and leaves the issue to US military contracting officials to hire planes not linked to Bout. [Financial Times, 5/17/2004; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 214-224] However, the US military does not stop hiring and using Bout’s planes until about 2007 (see Late April 2003-2007). Walker will later speculate, “If the government really wanted him bad they could have come up with a pretext and seized his planes. But I guess they looked at Victor Bout and figured this guy’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole, so let’s keep him in business.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 251]
Beginning in late April 2003, when the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad (see Late April 2003), through at least 2007, Victor Bout front companies fly supplies into Iraq for the US military. Bout is the world’s biggest arms dealer, with links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militant and rebel groups around the world. The United Nations has banned all business dealings with his companies since before 9/11. Around October 2003, the CIA apparently learns that Bout’s planes have been flying into Iraq, but this warning does not lead to any action to stop such flights. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 232]
Bout Flights Exposed by Media - Starting in May 2004, various newspapers occasionally report on how Bout front companies are supplying the US military. Some actions are eventually taken against him. For instance, on July 22, 2004, President Bush signs an executive order declaring Bout a “specially designated person,” permanently freezes his assets, and bans all US business with his companies. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225, 237]
Continued Collaboration - But the US military continues to hire Bout’s companies for Iraq supply flights. One Bout front company alone is estimated to make about 1,000 flights into US controlled air bases in Iraq by the end of 2004. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 225] A Pentagon spokesman will later confirm that the US military gave at least 500,000 gallons of free airplane fuel to Bout’s pilots. US government contractors pay Bout-controlled companies roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] Journalist Stephen Braun will later claim, “The US military insisted they had no responsibility for Bout’s hiring, because, as [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz said, he was a ‘second-tier contractor’-in other words, hired by, say, [Kellogg, Brown, and Root] or FedEx, not directly by the Army or the Marines. But there were other reports of direct contracts. [The Defense Department] made no effort to put Bout on a no-fly list early on, and made only perfunctory follow-up efforts to find out the backgrounds of the companies flying for them.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007]
Bout Flights Continue - In early 2006, it will be reported, “The New Republic has learned that the Defense Department has largely turned a blind eye to Bout’s activities and has continued to supply him with contracts, in violation of [Bush’s] executive order and despite the fact that other, more legitimate air carriers are available.” [New Republic, 1/12/2006] In 2008, Douglas Farah, who co-wrote a 2007 book with Braun about Bout, will tell ABC News that Bout may have worked on behalf of the US government as recently as 2007. [ABC News, 3/6/2008]
Outrage - Gayle Smith of the National Security Council will comment in 2007: “It’s an obscenity. It’s contrary to a smart war on terror. Even if you needed a cut-out (to transport supplies) why would you go to the one on the bottom of the pile, with the most blood on his hands? Because he worked fastest and cheapest? What’s the trade-off? Where’s the morality there?” National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky, who led a US effort to apprehend Bout before 9/11, will similarly complain, “It befuddles the mind that the Pentagon would continue to work with an organization that both the Clinton and Bush White Houses actively fought to dismantle.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 237]
Theories - Some officials and experts believe the US military is simply being incompetent by repeatedly hiring Bout. Others suggest there was some kind of secret deal. For instance, one senior Belgian Foreign Ministry official involved in efforts to try to arrest Bout comments: “Not only does Bout have the protection of the US government, he now works for them as well. It’s incredible, amazing. It has to be the only reason why he is still around and free.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 224-225] In 2006, Bout’s companies will supply weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon (see July 2006) and an al-Qaeda linked militant group in Somalia (see Late July 2006). Bout will finally be arrested by US agents in Thailand in March 2008 (see March 6, 2008).
The Washington Post reports that according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts, “more than 9,000 people are held by US authorities overseas… the vast majority under military control.” Najeeb Nuaimi, a former justice minister of Qatar, tells the Post: “The number of people who have been detained in the Arab world for the sake of America is much more than in Guantanamo Bay. Really, thousands.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2004] The Independent will similarly report a few days later that “almost 10,000 prisoners [are] held around the world in secretive American-run jails and interrogation centers.” [Independent, 5/15/2004]
Karl Eikenberry. [Source: NATO]In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 383] The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” [Time, 11/29/2007] The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. [New York Times, 2/23/2007] A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. [Washington Post, 1/8/2007; Time, 11/29/2007] By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. [Time, 11/29/2007]
In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]
UN rights envoy Philip Alston says that foreign intelligence agents leading Afghan units are operating with impunity in Afghanistan and are responsible for killing innocent civilians in numerous secret raids. Alston, a special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, slams the operations as “absolutely unacceptable,” and says that foreign officials have dodged responsibility when confronted on the allegations. “It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” says Alston. While not specifying the intelligence agencies involved, Alston implies American involvement, mentioning one raid in January conducted by Afghans and personnel from US special forces based in Kandahar that killed two Afghan brothers. Alston’s sources of information include senior government ministers, the chief justice, the Afghan intelligence chief, international military commanders, members of civic groups, and tribal elders. “Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/15/2008]
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” [Washington Post, 7/2/2008] The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
The 500th US soldier is killed in Afghanistan since the start of US military involvement there in late 2001. During the first three years of the war, about two-thirds of the US casualties were caused by non-hostile conditions such as illnesses and crashes. But since 2005, about 70 percent of casualties have taken place under hostile conditions. One hundred and eleven US soldiers were killed in 2007. This is the highest annual toll so far, but the rate for 2008 is much higher on average. Afghan security forces have suffered many more fatalities, but exact numbers are difficult to obtain. The Afghanistan Defense Ministry says nearly 600 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 2005 to March 2008. The Afghan Interior Ministry says 1,119 police officers were killed from March 2007 to March 2008. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
A US drone strike kills al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri). He is one of six people killed in the strike on a compound in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Mursi, an Egyptian, was considered a poisons and explosives expert, and was accused of training the suicide bombers in the 2000 USS Cole bombing. He also is believed to have run the Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan until it was abandoned during the US invasion in late 2001. The US had put a $5 million bounty on him. A statement by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid posted on the Internet about a week later will confirm his death. [Associated Press, 8/3/2008]
Jalaluddin Haqqani. [Source: New York Times]A US drone attack targets the Haqqani network in the tribal region of Pakistan. Pakistani officials will say that five missiles kill 23 people and wound 18 more. The missiles hit a compound in North Waziristan run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. It appears they are targeted, since family members arrived at the compound just a half hour before. However, neither Haqqani network leader is killed. Officials say one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s two wives, his sister, sister-in-law, and eight of his grandchildren are killed. The Haqqani network is considered a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. The US believes the Haqqani network has been involved in recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul (see July 7, 2008) and a failed assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). The Haqqani network is widely believed to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 9/10/2008]
Air Force, Navy, and other coalition warplanes drop a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during this month. Warplanes release a record 438 bombs according to Air Forces Central (AFCent) figures, marking the fourth consecutive month of increasing bomb drops. The Navy Times reports that the munitions are released during 2,110 close-air support sorties, and that the total number of air strikes is even higher because the AFCent numbers do not include attacks by helicopters and special operations gun ships. The numbers also do not include strafing runs or small missile launches. [Navy Times, 5/4/2009]
A US drone attacks a target in Pakistan that the CIA believes is Hakimullah Mahsud, a lieutenant of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. However, it kills 10 to 12 of his followers instead. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Sirajuddin Haqqani. [Source: State Department]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone aimed at Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but fails to kill him. Haqqani is believed to hold major responsibilities for the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. His father Jalaluddin Haqqani still technically leads the network, but is over 60 years old and ill. The US blames the Haqqani network for a role in a suicide bombing against a CIA base in Afghanistan in December 2009 (see December 30, 2009), as well as other attacks. Sirajuddin’s younger brother is killed, but this brother is believed to have little to no role in the network. Three others are also killed by the strike, which hits a village in North Waziristan. The Haqqani network is believed to have many fighters in Afghanistan combating US-led forces. It is also said to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 2/19/2010]
According to ABC News, beginning in August 2010, the US begins flying a stealth drone over the newly discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where intelligence experts have discovered Osama bin Laden is probably secretly hiding (see August 1, 2010). The drone is of a new type, and very little is known about it. Crucially, it is able to fly above Pakistan undetected by Pakistan’s air defenses, allowing the US to keep its interest in the town and compound a secret. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. [New York Times, 4/24/2011; New Yorker, 4/25/2011]
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011] McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011] The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
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