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A CIA-controlled Predator drone operating in Pakistan mistakenly attacks the residence of a pro-government tribal leader six miles outside the town of Wana, South Waziristan. Its missiles kill the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of whom is only five. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
More than 30 people are killed in a CIA drone attack in Pakistan. According to reporter Jane Mayer, 25 of them are “apparently members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though none [are] identified as major leaders.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy and an influential authority on counterinsurgency strategy warns that the White House is dangerously shortchanging efforts to create a viable Afghan Army. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, says he is worried that the Obama administration’s commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasn’t given enough emphasis in the president’s AFPAK strategy announcement speech a few days earlier (see March 27, 2009). Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington, Nagl asserts, “The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan National Army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not.” He adds that the Afghan National Army, as the country’s most respected institution, must be expanded to 250,000 troops, which closely resembles a reported Pentagon plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 260,000 troops (see March 18, 2009). Nagl refers to Obama’s troop increase and trainer push as a “down payment” on what’s needed to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan. [Military.com, 4/3/2009]
A strike by a CIA-controlled Predator drone near the town of Makeen in South Warizistan, Pakistan, kills between two and six people. According to reporter Jane Mayer, the men are “unidentified militants.” Makeen is home to Baitullah Mahsud, a key Pakistan Taliban leader. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009] CIA drones will also attack the funeral for these men later in the day, killing dozens (see June 23, 2009).
CIA-controlled drones attack a funeral in Makeen, a town in South Warizistan, Pakistan, that is home to Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. Deaths number in the dozens, possibly as many as 86, and an account in the Pakistani News says they include 10 children and four tribal elders. The funeral is for two locals killed by CIA drones earlier in the day (see June 23, 2009), and is attacked because of intelligence Mahsud would be present. One eyewitness, who loses his right leg during the bombing, tells Agence France-Presse that the mourners suspected what was coming, saying, “After the prayers ended, people were asking each other to leave the area, as drones were hovering.” Before the mourners could clear out, the eyewitness says, two drones start firing into the crowd. “It created havoc,” he says. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help.” Then a third missile hits. Sections of Pakistani society express their unhappiness with the attack. For example, an editorial in The News denounces the strike as sinking to the level of the terrorists, and the Urdu newspaper Jang declares that US President Barack Obama is “shutting his ears to the screams of thousands of women whom your drones have turned into dust.” Many in Pakistan are also upset that the Pakistani government gave approval for the US to strike a funeral. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
National Public Radio reports that Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, has probably been assassinated by the US in Pakistan. The assassination was performed by a Predator drone, using Hellfire missiles. Saad was not the intended target of the missiles and was not a missile target at all, but was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to a counterterrorism official. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] US drones are operated by the CIA in Pakistan. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Uncertainty about Death and Role - The exact date of Saad’s death is unclear, and it is reported only as “sometime this year.” The death is also not completely certain, as the US does not obtain a body to conduct tests on. However, a senior US counterterrorism official will say the US is “80 to 85 percent” certain that Saad is dead. Saad had escaped from house arrest in Iran around December 2008 or January 2009 (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] The relatives with whom he was imprisoned in Iran will indicate he had no involvement with terrorism during the seven years he was held in Iran. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the counterterrorism official says Saad was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player. “We make a big deal out of him because of his last name,” he adds. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009]
Missed Intelligence Opportunity - Others point out that Saad might have been much more valuable if he’d been captured alive, if only because of what he knew about his father. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former adviser to the National Security Council, claims that the US had several opportunities to interrogate Saad during the years he was in Iran (see Spring 2002 and Mid-May 2003). She says, “The Iranians offered to work out an international framework for transferring terror suspects, but the Bush administration refused.” She adds: “We absolutely did not get the most we could. Saad bin Laden would have been very, very valuable in terms of what he knew. He probably would have been a gold mine.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone kills Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud in the hamlet of Zanghara, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Prior to the attack, officials at CIA headquarters watched a live video feed from the drone showing Mahsud reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house with his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the images showed that Mahsud, who suffers from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip. After the attack, all that remains of him is a detached torso. Eleven others die: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards. According to a CNN report, the strike was authorized by President Obama. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik will later see the footage and comment: “It was a perfect picture. We used to see James Bond movies where he talked into his shoe or his watch. We thought it was a fairy tale. But this was fact!” According to reporter Jane Mayer: “It appears to have taken 16 missile strikes, and 14 months, before the CIA succeeded in killing [Mahsud]. During this hunt, between 207 and 321 additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. [News (Islamabad), 9/30/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore), 8/19/2010] In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 10/2/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009]
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. [The Telegraph, 12/26/2009; New York Times, 12/26/2009]
WikiLeaks publishes a 2008 Pentagon report about itself. The report was recently leaked to WikiLeaks, but was drafted after WikiLeaks began publishing US Army information and analysed the apparent threat the organization posed to the Defense Department (see 2008). The Army confirms the document’s authenticity. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes light of the report’s speculation that his organization is supported by the CIA. “I only wish they would step forward with a check if that’s the case,” he says. [New York Times, 3/17/2010]
Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is apparently the source of much material released by Wikileaks, is arrested by US Army Criminal Investigation Division officials at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad. [Wired News, 6/6/2010]
Dakota Meyer, an inactive reserve Marine sergeant (see May 2010), goes to work for AUSGAR Technologies in June 2010 and stays there until March 2011, at which time he goes to work for BAE Systems OASYS, LLC (see March 2011). His work at AUSGAR largely consists of training troops to locate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with thermal imaging and optical equipment, tools that are most often used by snipers. [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
Charges are filed against Bradley Manning, a US soldier formerly based in Iraq accused of leaking much material to WikiLeaks. The charges cover the leaking of a video of a 2007 US attack in Iraq that killed innocent people as well as 150,000 diplomatic cables. Manning is officially charged with four counts of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for disobeying an order or regulation, and eight counts of violating Article 134, a general charge for misconduct, which in this case involves breaking federal laws against disclosing classified information. Manning now faces an Article 32 investigation, the military’s equivalent of a civilian grand jury, into charges that he mishandled classified information “with reason to believe the information could cause injury to the United States.” That investigation could lead to administrative punishments or more likely, given the gravity of the charges, a court-martial. [New York Times, 7/6/2010]
Vice Admiral William McRaven. [Source: CBS News]Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, meets with intelligence officials at CIA headquarters and is shown photographs and maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. McRaven is one of the first military officers to be told the highly classified intelligence. He begins planning options on how the US could kill or capture bin Laden (if bin Laden is in the compound). McRaven assigns an unnamed Navy captain from SEAL Team 6 to work on the options. The captain will work daily with CIA officials on the plans. McRaven and his associates will come up with three main options on how to raid the compound (see March 14, 2011). [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
The US military prepares a Special Forces helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). On March 29, President Obama tasked Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, with preparing the raid (see March 29, 2011). McRaven picks members of Red Squadron, one of four squads on Navy SEAL Team Six, to take part in the raid. The team members chosen have relevant language experience and are veterans of secret operations into Pakistan. On April 7 and April 13, the SEALs stage two rehearsals in the US on a replica of the compound. The participants still do not know the target of the planned raid. On April 19, McRaven briefs President Obama on how the plan is developing (see April 19, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Less than a month later, the strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Inactive reserve Marine sergeant and employee of BAE Systems Dakota Meyer (see March 2011) learns from his supervisor Bobbie McCreight that BAE plans to sell advanced thermal optics scopes, PAS-13s, to Pakistan. Meyer will send McCreight an email detailing his objections on April 29, 2011 (see April 29, 2011). [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011]
President Obama is briefed again on how the plan to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is progressing. Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, has been preparing a raid by Navy SEAL Team Six, and he updates Obama on the latest preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama mostly discusses the contingency plans for the many things that could go wrong. For instance, what if the helicopters transporting the SEAL team crash? Or what if the Pakistani military reacts quickly and attacks the team? McRaven says he plans to have a quick reaction force nearby to help extract the team if things go horribly wrong. Also, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to call General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, and implore him not to attack the team, if it looks like Pakistan is on the verge of doing so. But no one can be sure how Pakistan will react in such a situation. Nevertheless, plans for the raid continue to advance. [ABC News, 6/9/2011] Two weeks later, a Navy SEAL Team Six strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama says alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning “broke the law.” The remarks are made at a California fundraiser after Obama is interrupted by a group of protesters, who sing a song pleading for Manning’s release. Manning is currently in jail, but has not been found guilty. “I have to abide by certain classified information,” says Obama. “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law.… We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate.… He broke the law.” Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert at the Federation of American Scientists, will criticize Obama’s statement. “The comment was not appropriate because it assumes that Manning is guilty,” says Aftergood. “The president got carried away and misspoke. No one should mistake a charge for a conviction—especially the nation’s highest official.” President of the National Institute of Military Justice and military law expert Eugene Fidell adds, “Commenting on Manning’s conditions of confinement is one thing—I would have strongly advised him to not comment about Manning’s guilt.” However, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor will say that Obama was in fact making a general statement that did not go specifically to the charges against Manning. “The president was emphasizing that, in general, the unauthorized release of classified information is not a lawful act,” he will say. “He was not expressing a view as to the guilt or innocence of Pfc. Manning specifically.” In addition, Aftergood and Fidell will agree that Obama’s remarks will probably not affect whether Manning receives a fair trial. “It’s not that hard to ensure that unlawful command influence hasn’t in fact prejudiced the right to a fair trial,” says Fidell. “If the case goes to a court marshal, the military court will have to make sure that none of the members of the military jury have been influenced by the president’s stated belief that Manning broke the law.” [Politico, 4/22/2011] The remarks will be echoed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey the next year (see March 10, 2012).
President Obama meets with his national security team again as preparations to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near their final stages. The main concern remains contingency plans in case things go horribly wrong. It is decided to use four helicopters instead of two in the raid. (The two extra helicopters will be nearby in case of emergency.) US intelligence allegedly is still not 100 percent certain that bin Laden is at the compound, and Obama’s advisers have varying opinions:
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, who has been leading the raid preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011), tells Obama that he thinks the raid will be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] (McRaven participates remotely, because he is already in Afghanistan making last minute arrangements with the raid team.)
According to one account, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is skeptical, but finally comes out in favor of the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Another account says Gates still thinks the intelligence isn’t strong enough. [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says he thinks the odds are less than 50 percent that bin Laden is there.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan is in favor of going ahead with the raid.
CIA Director Leon Panetta also is in favor. He says the odds of bin Laden being there are between about 60 and 80 percent. He also says that the “red team”—analysts only recently brought in on the intelligence on the compound to get an outside opinion—agree that bin Laden is probably in the compound.
Obama reportedly puts the odds at about 55 percent. At the end of the meeting, he reportedly says, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now—I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he adds, “I’m going to make a decision soon.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the evening, President Obama meets with his national security team to make final preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama meets with four advisers: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, and chief of staff Bill Daley. As the meeting begins, Obama tells them he has finally given approval for the raid. He says, “It’s a go.” The raid is planned to take place the next day. However, officials warn that because of cloudy weather, the raid probably will be delayed one day to May 1 (which is May 2 in Pakistan). That will turn out to be the case (see May 2, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Inactive reserve Marine sergeant and employee of BAE Systems Dakota Meyer (see March 2011), having learned from Bobbie McCreight that BAE plans to sell advanced thermal optics scopes—PAS-13s—to Pakistan (see April 2011), sends McCreight an email detailing his objections. In the email, Meyer states that BAE is planning to sell the better equipment to Pakistan while US troops are supplied with less effective equipment. He further states that the Pakistani military has been known to shoot at US soldiers and therefore it puts US soldiers at risk to sell Pakistan the better equipment. Meyer writes: “The reason I came on with BAE OASYS was to use the knowledge I had gained from the experiences I had while serving in combat operations to improve gear and make items to save the lives of US troops. This is where I could see me still ‘doing my part’ for the guys who are in the same situation I was in 18 months ago. I feel that by selling this to Pakistan we are doing nothing but the exact opposite. We are simply taking the best gear, the best technology on the market to date and giving it to guys that are known to stab us in the back.… These are the same people who are killing our guys.… I think that one of the most disturbing facts to the whole thing is that we are still going forth with the PAS-13 optic and issuing these outdated sub-par optics to our own US troops when we have better optics we can put in their hands right now but we are willing to sell it to Pakistan. This is very disturbing to me as an American and as a United States Marine.” [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011]
Inactive Marine sergeant and employee of BAE Systems Dakota Meyer (see March 2011) decides to resign from his job with BAE over the company’s intent to sell PAS-13 thermal optical scopes to Pakistan (see April 2011 and April 29, 2011). Meyer attempts to find a position with his previous employer, AUSGAR Technologies, Inc. (see June 2010 - March 2011), before resigning. He does find an open position and will later give two weeks’ notice to BAE (see May 31, 2011), but be told that his rehire has been blocked by the Pentagon (see June 1, 2011). [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
After inactive Reserve Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer resigned from his job at BAE Systems over BAE’s intended sale of PAS-13 thermal optical scopes to Pakistan (see May 31, 2011) and is slotted to get a position with his former employer AUSGAR Technolgies (see Before May 31, 2011), he receives an email from an employee of AUSGAR stating that his re-hire has been blocked by Pentagon program manager Robert Higginson. [Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
After being informed that his rehire at AUSGAR Technologies has been blocked by program manager Robert Higginson at the Pentagon (see June 1, 2011), former Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer files a defamation lawsuit against BAE Systems, his former employer, and his supervisor at BAE, Bobby McCreight. [Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
President Obama presents Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Medal of Honor. [Source: Reuters]President Obama presents Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in combat against Pakistani insurgents (in some media accounts they are labelled simply as “Taliban”) in Ganjigal, Afghanistan (see September 8, 2009 and November 8, 2010). [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
Court papers are filed in Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Dakota Meyer’s (see September 15, 2011) defamation of character lawsuit in the district court of Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas (see After June 1, 2011). The suit is against Meyer’s former employer BAE Systems (a British-owned defense contractor that has contracts with the US government) and supervisor Bobbie McCreight. Meyer’s legal team writes in the court documents that the defamation came after Meyer expressed concern over BAE’s intent to sell PAS-13s (advanced optic scopes) to Pakistan (see April 2011 and April 29, 2011). The court filing also alleges that BAE prevented his hiring by another defense contractor, AUSGAR Technologies (see Before May 31, 2011 and May 31, 2011), by telling Pentagon program manager Robert Higginson on the phone that Meyer was mentally unstable and had a drinking problem. The phone conversation is said to have occurred at some point in the last 10 days of May 2011, according to the filing. [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; BBC, 11/30/2011; Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2011; Washington Business Journal, 11/30/2011]
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker of a large number of documents published by WikiLeaks, violated the law. Dempsey makes the remarks at a members’ town hall meeting at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in response to a question about whether Manning should be viewed as a political prisoner, whistleblower, or traitor. “We’re a nation of laws,” says Dempsey. “He did violate the law.”
Manning is awaiting court martial, but has not yet been found guilty. [Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 3/10/2012] President Barack Obama made similar remarks the previous year (see Shortly Before April 22, 2011).
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