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Bobby Charles. [Source: State Department]Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles, who runs the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), has been growing increasingly concerned about the worsening drug crisis in Afghanistan. He starts warning his superiors that unless the problem is dealt with, it could “devour” the Afghan government. Charles pushes for a multi-faceted counter-narcotics program. One controversial aspect of his program would involve aggressive aerial spraying of Afghan poppy fields using a diluted solution of the pesticide known commercially as Roundup. To minimize Afghan opposition to the spraying, the program would be combined with an informational campaign asserting that the pesticide is safe and an aid package for alternative agricultural development. Further, the US military would begin counter-narcotics missions such as destroying drug labs. Secretary of State Colin Powell presents Charles’ program to President Bush and other top officials shortly after Bush’s reelection. Bush completely agrees with the program, even saying that he is determined not to “waste another American life on a narco-state.” However, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is firmly opposed to the program and, as author James Risen notes, “Time and again in the Bush administration, Rumsfeld simply ignored decisions made by the president in front of his war cabinet, according to several senior administration officials.” One month later, with Powell losing power as he leaves the Bush administration, Rumsfeld decreases support for the program, effectively killing it. Charles is told that he is now “highly inconvenient” and is pushed out of his job by the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in early 2005. [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162]
In the opening hours of the US assault on the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah (see November 8, 2004), Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brandl tells his troops: “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah and we’re going to destroy him.” [Guardian, 11/10/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 325]
The Washington Post reports that several thousand shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), once under the control of Saddam Hussein’s government, are now missing. Their disappearance prompts US military and intelligence analysts to dramatically increase their estimate of such weapons that are missing and may be in the hands of insurgents. US analysts report that as many as 4,000 SAMs are unaccounted for, raising the total of such missiles unaccounted for to around 6,000. Exact figures are uncertain. “We don’t have a good estimate,” says a senior defense official. “Some have put forward some figures, but there is none that the Defense Intelligence Agency has confidence in.” When the US invaded Iraq, it did not secure many weapons depots, and hundreds of thousands of tons of munitions were looted. Since then, some have undoubtedly been sold to terrorist organizations. It would be a relatively simple matter to use SAMs to shoot down military or commercial aircraft, and in several instances, insurgents have used such missiles to shoot down American military helicopters. [Washington Post, 11/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 325]
A Marine walks past several corpses strewn in a Fallujah street. [Source: Al Jazeera]The US military undertakes Operation Phantom Fury in an effort to retake the city of Fallujah from Sunni insurgents. During the more than two-week long offensive, Iraqi NGOs are prohibited from delivering humanitarian aid to residents of the besieged city. A representative for the Iraq Red Crescent Society (IRCS), Muhammad al-Nuri, will estimate that at least 6,000 Iraqis are killed in the offensive. The Iraqi government’s own studies will suggest that 70 percent of Fallujah’s buildings are destroyed by the fighting. [IRIN, 4/4/2004; Washington Post, 11/9/2004; IRIN, 11/26/2004] In the ensuing battle, the city’s water, power, and food supplies are completely cut, actions later condemned as violations of the Geneva Conventions by a UN special rapporteur, who accuses the US of “using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.” At least 200,000 civilians flee Fallujah, many ending up in squatters’ camps with no basic facilities. “My kids are hysterical with fear,” says one Iraqi father. “They are traumatized by the sound [of fighting] but there is nowhere to take them.” The US military bars the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and journalists from the area. All males between the ages of 15 and 55 are forced to stay in the city (see November 10, 2004). Over 100,000 civilians are trapped in the city during the US siege, forced to endure a pitched battle between US forces and between 600 and 6,000 insurgents.
US Targets Civilians - The city’s main hospital is the first target (see November 9, 2004), picked because, as the New York Times reports, “the US military believed it was the source of rumours about heavy casualties.” An AP photographer documents US helicopters killing a family of five trying to ford a river to safety. A Lebanese photographer will say, “There were American snipers on top of the hospital shooting everyone.” The photographer, Burhan Fasa’am, adds: “With no medical supplies, people died from their wounds. Everyone in the street was a target for the Americans.” Another Fallujah citizen will later recall: “I watched them roll over wounded people in the streets with tanks. This happened so many times.” A third citizen will later recall: “They shot women and old men in the streets. Then they shot anyone who tried to get their bodies.” US forces use incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus (see Mid-November 2004). When asked about the use of such controversial weaponry, Captain Erik Krivda explains, “Usually we keep the gloves on, [but] for this operation, we took the gloves off.” Just before the operation commences, a Marine commander tells his troops: “You will be held accountable for the facts not as they are in hindsight but as they appeared to you at the time. If, in your mind, you fire to protect yourself or your men, you are doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter if later on we find out you wiped out a family of unarmed civilians.” [Weinberger, 2005, pp. 63-64; Guardian, 11/10/2005]
Marine Casualties - The suffering and death are not one-sided. Lieutenant Commander Richard Jadick, a Navy doctor who volunteered to go to Iraq to help ease the shortage of doctors there, finds himself in the middle of pitched battles, doing his best to save Marines wounded in battle, many with horrific injuries. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Winn will estimate that without Jadick, his unit would have lost at least 30 more troops. Jadick will receive the Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor for his efforts. “I have never seen a doctor display the kind of courage and bravery that [Jadick] did during Fallujah,” Winn later recalls. [Newsweek, 3/20/2006]
Widespread Destruction - By the end of operations, around 36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes are destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines. US casualty figures claim that about 2,000 Iraqis die in the fighting (Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will claim that no civilians died in Fallujah), but Iraqi human rights organizations and medical workers claim the number is somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000. A Fallujah housewife will finally return to her home to find a message written in lipstick on her living room mirror: “F_ck Iraq and every Iraqi in it.” Mike Marquesee of the human rights organization Iraq Occupation Focus, will later write that the US and British media offers a “sanitized” version of events. “[C]ivilian suffering was minimized and the ethics and strategic logic of the attack largely unscrutinized,” Marquesee will observe. The siege is inconclusive at best: for the next year, Fallujah will remain essentially under lockdown, and heavy resistance and violence will spread to other cities, including Tal-Afar, Haditha, and Husaybah. [Weinberger, 2005, pp. 63-64; Guardian, 11/10/2005] Reporter Hala Jaber, the last reporter to leave Fallujah before the military assault begins and the first to return to that devastated city months later, will write over a year after Operation Phantom Fury: “The bitter truth is that the actions of US and Iraqi forces have reignited the insurgency. Anger, hate, and mistrust of America are deeper than ever.” [London Times, 12/18/2005]
Entity Tags: Operation Phantom Fury, Richard Jadick, US Department of Defense, Muhammad al-Nuri, Hala Jaber, Mark Winn, Burhan Fasa’am, Mike Marquesee, Erik Krivda, Iyad Allawi, Geneva Conventions, United Nations
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
The New York Times reports on the Pentagon’s efforts to develop its own internet, or “war net,” which the Pentagon calls the Global Information Grid (GIG). The GIG would, among other things, allow soldiers to download high-resolution imagery of the places where they are fighting. The “essence of net-centric warfare is [the]… ability to deploy a war-fighting force anywhere, anytime,” says John Garing, strategic planning director at the Defense Information Security Agency, who is quoted in the article. The newspaper reports that “[a]dvocates say networked computers will be the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal” and that “fusing weapons, secret intelligence and soldiers in a global network… will…. change the military in the way the Internet has changed business and culture.” The article quotes several officials and people in private industry who are involved in GIG. For example, Robert J. Stevens, chief executive of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, says that the DoD’s objective is to provide troops in the field with a “a picture of the battle space, a God’s-eye view” which he says will give the military “real power.” Linton Wells II, director of the Office of Networks and Information Integration, says that net-centric principles (see July 27, 2001) are becoming “the center of gravity” for war planners and that the “tenets are broadly accepted throughout the Defense Department.” The article also reports that skeptics of the program doubt that the Pentagon will succeed in its project because it will require excessive amounts of bandwidth—enough to download “three feature-length movies a second.” The Times reports that the program has a projected cost of $120 billion—roughly 5 times the total cost, in today’s dollars, of the Manhattan project to build the atomic bomb. [New York Times, 11/13/2004]
US forces use white phosphorus (WP) gas munitions as incendiary weapons against human targets during their seige of Fallujah, Iraq (see November 8, 2004). [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003; Daily Telegraph, 11/9/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004; Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] White phosphorus—also known as Willy Pete or Whiskey Pete—is used by the military for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. White phosphorus munitions, upon explosion, distribute particles over a wide swath of area. They burn spontaneously in the air and will continue to burn until all white phosphorus particles have disappeared. The smoke easily penetrates clothing and protective gear and can burn a person’s flesh to the bone. [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 11/9/2005] According to Jeff Englehart, a US soldier involved in the seige of Fallujah, “Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone.… Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.” [Independent, 11/8/2004]
Iraqi Witnesses Allege Use of Incendiary Weapons - “Poisonous gases have been used in Fallujah,” 35-year-old trader from Fallujah Abu Hammad tells reporter Dahr Jamail. “They used everything—tanks, artillery, infantry, poison gas. Fallujah has been bombed to the ground.” Another resident, Abu Sabah, from the Julan area, explains: “They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud. Then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them.” He says the pieces then explode into large fires that burn the skin even when water is applied. “People suffered so much from these,” he adds. [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003] Corroborating their accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that some “Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.” Kamal Hadeethi, a physician at a regional hospital, tells the newspaper, “The corpses of the mujahedeen which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004]
Alternate Explanation - Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, in November 2005, will deny that US troops used white phosphorus gas against people in Fallujah. “I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus,” he tells Democracy Now. “White phosphorus is used for obscuration, which white phosphorus produces a heavy thick smoke to shield us or them from view so that they cannot see what we are doing. It is used to destroy equipment, to destroy buildings. That is what white phosphorus shells are used for.” He insists that the pictures showing melted corpses with clothing still intact is not proof of white phosphorus attacks. “That can happen from numerous ways and not just from white phosphorus attacks. That can happen from massive explosions. If you look at the car bombs that the terrorists use today, you have the same effects from car bombs from suicide vests. I have personally witnessed these things here in Baghdad.” [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005]
Pentagon Confirms Use of White Phosphorus against 'Enemy Combatants' - The Pentagon, however, does not deny that the weapon was used against human targets. On November 14, 2005, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venables says that white phosphorus was used to “fire at the enemy.” He adds: “It burns.… It’s an incendiary weapon. That is what it does.” [Independent, 11/15/2005] “It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.” [BBC, 11/16/2005]
Against US Army Policy - In 1980, the Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of incendiary devices, like white phosphorous, in heavily populated areas. The United States was one of the few countries that refused to sign the agreement (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983). Even so, an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas states that “it is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.” [Independent, 11/19/2005]
First-Hand Accounts - There are a number of first-hand accounts of the battle, as well as video footage and photographs, suggesting the use of white phosphorus against human targets.
Jeff Englehart, who is in a tactical attack center about 200 meters from where a lot of the explosions that are happening [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005] , later recalls: “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it’s known as Willy Pete.… I saw the burned bodies of women and children.” [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005]
Photographs provided by the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] include numerous high-quality, color close-ups of bodies of Fallujah residents, some still in their beds, whose clothes remain largely intact but whose skin has been dissolved or caramelized by the shells. [Independent, 11/8/2004]
A documentary, titled Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre, broadcast on Italian news channel RAI a year after the assault shows helicopters launching white phosphorus munitions directly into the city. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] According to the RAI film, the US has attempted to destroy filmed evidence of the alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Falluja. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005; BBC, 11/8/2005]
A March 2005 US Army report written by three US artillery men who participated in the siege will confirm that white phosphorus was used against human targets during the siege. “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive weapons]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.” [Field Artillery, 3/2005 ; Independent, 11/15/2005]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visits Kabul, Afghanistan. During his visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai consents to Washington’s decision to establish nine more permanent military bases in the country. The bases, to be manned by 2,200 troops, will be constructed in Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia. In the provinces of Khost and Paktia, there will be two bases. [News Insight, 3/5/2005] Observers note that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had little choice in the matter given that his government’s continuing existence is dependent upon the private security forces provided by the US. [Asia Times, 3/30/2005]
Congress passes a law forbidding US troops in Colombia, who are there advising the government in its struggle against Marxist rebels funded by drug money, from engaging in any combat against the rebels except in self-defense. The law also caps the number of American soldiers deployed in Colombia at 800. President Bush issues a signing statement that only he, as the commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces. Therefore, the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
In 2005, the CIA gives President Bush a secret slide show updating him on the hunt for bin Laden. Bush is taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former intelligence officer will later tell Newsweek that Bush asks, “Is that all there are?” In fact, the CIA had recently doubled the number of officers in the area, but many are inexperienced and raw recruits. Most veteran officers are involved in the Iraq war instead. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] However, rather than increase the staff working on bin Laden in response to Bush’s complaint, later in the year the CIA will close Alec Station, the unit hunting bin Laden (see Late 2005).
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. [New York Times, 7/8/2007; Newsweek, 8/28/2007; New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007] It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Special Forces, Porter J. Goss, Pervez Musharraf, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ryan C. Crocker, Central Intelligence Agency, Navy Seals, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s recently departed Executive Director, says in an interview that the world may be better off if bin Laden remains at large. Krongard had been Executive Director, the CIA’s third most senior position, from 1998 until six weeks before this interview. He states, “You can make the argument that we’re better off with him [at large]. Because if something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.” The London Times notes that, “Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial.” However, Krongard is the only senior official to say so publicly, and this position completely contradicts the rhetoric of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed that catching bin Laden remains a top priority. [London Times, 1/9/2005]
A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir]The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. [Asia Times, 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 433] Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. [New York Times, 7/25/2007] The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. [Washington Post, 1/18/2008]
The Joint Chiefs of Staff publish a classified draft document, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, laying out the rationale for the US’s use of nuclear weapons. It includes the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used during preemptive assaults on nations (see January 10, 2003) or even non-national organizations such as al-Qaeda. The draft states that nuclear weapons can be used:
Against an adversary intending to use WMD against US, multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations;
In the event of an imminent attack by biological weapons that only nuclear weapons can safely destroy;
To attack deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons or the command and control infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a WMD attack against the United States or its allies;
To counter potentially overwhelming adversary conventional forces;
For rapid and favorable war termination on US terms;
To ensure the success of US and multinational operations.
In essence, the document gives a green light for the US military, as ordered by President Bush, to use nuclear weapons under almost any circumstances, against much less powerful adversaries. Author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “The Bush administration was blurring, if not erasing, the line between conventional and nuclear weapons and lowering the threshold at which the nation would go nuclear, proposing an array of tactical uses for weapons that were supposed to only be used in strategic conflicts. The Bush Pentagon was effectively acknowledging that the United States might use nuclear weapons first, against a nonnuclear state, before any hostilities had taken place.” The document actually replaced the term “nuclear war” with “conflict involving nuclear weapons” because the first phrase implies that both sides in a conflict were using nuclear weapons, and in all likelihood any nuclear weapons deployed under the conditions envisioned in the document would only be American. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 180-181]
The India Daily reports that two US Navy aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Carl Vinson, appear to be heading toward the Middle East where they will be joined by a third carrier group. The newspaper notes that the convergence of three carriers in the region would send a strong signal to both Syria and Iran. [India Daily, 3/12/2005] There is speculation that Iran may face a US naval blockade. [India Daily, 3/15/2005]
Fox News interviews two retired US military generals and a military expert and asks them to discuss the Bush administration’s military options for dealing with Iran. [Fox News, 4/24/2005] They offer four possible scenarios:
Covert action - The Bush administration could send CIA agents or commandos to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Naval blockade - The US could implement a naval blockade at the Strait of Hormuz and halt Iranian oil exports.
Surgical strikes - The US could launch cruise missiles at Iran’s nuclear facilities. “e are moving some aircraft carrier groups into the Persian Gulf as we speak,” notes retired Army Major Gen. Paul Vallely. “They will be positioned to launch any aircraft from the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.” After the cruise missiles, F-117 stealth fighter jets would destroy the country’s radar system and B-2 bombers would drop 5,000-pound laser-guided bunker busters on buried targets like the Natanz enrichment site or the deep tunnels in Isfahan.
All-out assault - An all-out assault involving ground troops, according to the experts interviewed by Fox, would be the least likely scenario.
Emiliano Santiago. [Source: Elliot Margolies]Oregon National Guardsman Emiliano Santiago’s lawsuit against his forcible redeployment back to Iraq begins in a Seattle, Washington, appeals court. Santiago spent eight years in the Guard, and his term of duty expired in June 2004. But four months later, the Army ordered him to ship out to Afghanistan. It also reset his military termination date to December 24, 2031. (The 26-year extension was explained by Army lawyers as being made for “administrative convenience.”) Santiago refused to go, and filed a lawsuit naming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the defendant. The lawsuit, Santiago v. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is the highest court review of the Army’s controversial “stop-loss” policy (see November 2002, November 13, 2003, Early January, 2004, and June 2, 2004) to date. Army lawyers say that under the November 2002 “stop-loss” policy, President Bush can “suspend any provision of the law relating to promotion, retirement or separation” of any soldier who is deemed essential to national security in times of crisis. Santiago’s lawyers say in a written statement: “Conscription for decades or life is the work of despots.… It has no place in a free and democratic society.… If the government can break its promises to young men and women like Santiago, then the bedrock of our all-volunteer army—trust in the government’s promises—will crumble.” Many legal observers believe that if Santiago loses in the appeals court, he and his lawyers will push the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ironically, Santiago is slated to be redeployed to Afghanistan within a week, and may not be on hand to hear whether he wins or loses his case. [Seattle Times, 4/6/2005] Santiago says it is not a matter of politics for him, but of fairness. “If I still had two years or one year left of my contract, I would say, ‘I signed up for it, I’m in,’” he says. “This is not right. [The Army is] not doing what they told me they were going to do.… It’s crazy.” Santiago recalls being told by his recruiter in 1997 that there was virtually no chance of his being sent overseas for active duty. According to Santiago, the recruiter told him, “The only reason the National Guard would get deployed is if there was, like, a World War III.” [Seattle Weekly, 3/30/2005] Santiago will lose the lawsuit, and will redeploy to Afghanistan (see April 15, 2005). [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006]
An appeals court rules unanimously that Sergeant Emiliano Santiago must redeploy to Iraq under the military’s “stop-loss” program. Santiago filed a lawsuit to prevent his forcible redeployment, saying that he had already fulfilled his eight-year enlistment (see April 6, 2005). He unwillingly returns to Afghanistan today. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006] Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rejected Santiago’s request for his case to be reviewed by the Court. In defense of Santiago, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) told the House: “His case—his plight—should be known, and feared, by every high-school junior and senior across the country. The ugly little secret in the Pentagon is that Emiliano Santiago’s voluntary service is now involuntary.” [Seattle Times, 4/15/2005]
Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]
A US Army intelligence officer comes forward, saying he was involved with a secret military intelligence unit, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers by mid-2000. He says the unit, called Able Danger, had tried to meet with agents at the FBI’s Washington field office that summer to share its information, but was prevented from doing so by military lawyers (see September 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served as a liaison officer between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the first military officer associated with Able Danger to publicly acknowledge his involvement with the unit. Shaffer says that, had they been allowed to alert the FBI to Mohamed Atta being in the US, they might have been able to prevent 9/11. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005; New York Post, 8/18/2005] A week prior to Shaffer’s coming forward, Able Danger was brought to the public’s attention in a New York Times front page article (see August 9, 2005). Shaffer says he met privately with staff from the 9/11 Commission in Afghanistan in October 2003, and explicitly mentioned Atta as a member of the “Brooklyn” al-Qaeda cell (see October 21, 2003).
Author and journalist Melik Kaylan writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal advocating the mining of the entire Iraqi border—all 2,250 miles of it. Kaylan writes that if the US turned the entire Iraqi border into a minefield, the Iraqi insurrection could not be replenished with manpower and materiel from Syria and other sources. “Why has nobody publicly debated this idea?” he asks, and says the reason might be “the shock-horror-gasp factor” along with the late Princess Diana’s attempts to ban mines and bad memories of US mining efforts in Vietnam. However, he writes, “once tempers have cooled, it should become clear that of all the unpleasant products of war in Iraq, mining the border offers the least unpleasant.” The 2,250 mines can be laid out according to a strict plan, Kaylan advocates, and removed once hostilities have ended. “The point here is that a precisely ordered minefield is a weapon of peace, rather than war, a deterrent and a stabilizer,” he writes. “When done right, its aim is not to kill or maim but to take a swatch of territory out of the conflict—and to give relief to innocent border-area residents forced, at the point of a gun, to collaborate with infiltrators.” The proposal will not be given serious consideration by US or Iraqi war planners. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2005; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Pakistanis hold up a piece of the missile that allegedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]The US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia with a missile fired from a Predator drone. Rabia is killed with four others in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region. Apparently, a Predator missile strike in the same region missed Radia on November 5, 2005, but killed eight others. Anonymous US officials say Rabia, an Egyptian, was head of al-Qaeda’s foreign operations. It is speculated that he recently replaced Abu Faraj al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s number three leader after Faraj was captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/4/2005; Fox News, 12/5/2005] However, very little had been reported on Rabia’s supposed importance prior to his death, although an FBI official said in 2004, “If there is an attack on the US… Hamza Rabia will be responsible. He’s head of external operations for al-Qaeda—an arrogant, nasty guy.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] But there was no reward for him, there are no known public photos of him, and he had not been on any most wanted lists. Some experts dispute Rabia’s importance. For instance, counterterrorism expert Christopher Brown says Rabia was probably a local senior member of al-Qaeda, but was far from being its number three leader. He points out that Saif al-Adel is clearly more important, and probably just behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The global intelligence firm Stratfor contends that neither Rabia nor his supposed number three predecessor Faraj were very high ranking. Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann says that the whole practice of assigning numeric rankings “doesn’t make any sense.” He adds, “This isn’t a Fortune 500 company with clearly defined roles,” and says assigning numbers is just “a way to sell a story to media.” [CNS News, 12/16/2005]
For “much of 2006,” US intelligence has been tracking high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. Sheik Saiid al-Masri) in the mountains of Pakistan. US commanders have been pressing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an operation to capture al-Yazid. However, Rumsfeld is reluctant to approve the mission. He is reportedly worried about US military casualties and a popular backlash in Pakistan. Finally, in early November 2006, Rumsfeld approves a plan for Navy Seals and Delta Force commandos to capture al-Yazid in Pakistan. But several days later, on November 8, Rumsfeld resigns one day after Republican losses in the US congressional mid-term elections (see November 6-December 18, 2006). The operation is put on hold again. The New York Times will reveal this in 2008 but will not explain why the operation was not tried later, or why the US did not at least attempt to fire a missile from a Predator drone at al-Yazid. It is also not explained if, when, and/or how US intelligence ever loses track of him. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Al-Yazid has been a member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council) since the group was formed in 1988. In May 2007, al-Qaeda will release a video naming him as the group’s commander of operations in Afghanistan. He allegedly has played a major role in managing al-Qaeda’s finances since at least the early 1990s, and continues to do so. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007]
The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a Pakistani village named Damadola, in the tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Apparently, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is targeted but not killed. Thirteen civilians, including women and children, are killed. Pakistani officials say four al-Qaeda operatives may have been killed as well, including bomb maker Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri), who has a $5 million bountry on his head. After the attack, villagers insist no members of al-Qaeda were anywhere near the village when it was hit. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] US and Pakistani officials later say that no al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike, only local villagers. It appears that the intelligence tip that led to the strike was bad, and al-Zawahiri and the others were never there in the first place. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] The attack leads to a surge in support for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, including many marches of support near the targeted area. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemns the attack as a violation of sovereignty and says it “was definitely not coordinated with [Pakistan].” [Washington Post, 1/31/2006] Al-Zawahiri appears in a video later in the month, taunting the US for failing to kill him in the raid. [BBC, 1/30/2006]
Ronald Neumann. [Source: US State Department]The Taliban carry out their largest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001. Suicide bombings increase four-fold to 141 and roadside bombings double (see 2004-2007). 191 US and NATO soldiers die in 2006, making it nearly as statistically dangerous to fight in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But US assistance to Afghanistan drops 38 percent from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $3.1 billion in 2006. Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against the cut. He also warns in a February 2006 cable to his superiors that the Taliban is planning a strong spring offensive. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and some US military officials make similar warnings. But despite such warnings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will later say, “There was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.” The US will boost aid to $9 billion in 2007 in response to the offensive. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits that the US has committed “thousands” of “tactical errors in Iraq,” but made “the right strategic decision” to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. “This could have gone that way, or that could have gone this way,” she says of the war and the subsequent occupation. “I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration,” she says. “I know we’ve made tactical errors—thousands of them, I’m sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions. I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam [Hussein] had been a threat to the international community long enough.”
Retired General 'Outraged' - Retired General Greg Newbold calls Rice’s statement “an outrage,” and says, “It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting” (see April 9, 2006). [BBC, 3/31/2006; CNN, 4/1/2006]
Rice Backpedals - When asked to give specific examples of those “tactical mistakes,” Rice backpedals, saying: “First of all, I meant it figuratively, not literally. Let me be very clear about that. I wasn’t sitting around counting.… The point I was making… is that, of course, if you’ve ever made decisions, you’ve undoubtedly made mistakes. The important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right, and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy is the right decision.… The other point I was making to the questioner is that I’m enough of a historian to know that things that looked brilliant at the moment turn out in historical perspective to be mistakes, and the things that look like mistakes turn out to have been right decisions.” [CNN, 4/1/2006]
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, until October 2002 the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is another in a small but vocal group of current and retired generals voicing public dissent against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Newbold writes an op-ed for Time magazine, and leads off by saying that after Vietnam, he and other career military officers determined never again to “stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.” But, Newbold writes, it happened again. He takes responsibility for his own actions in planning for the invasion of Iraq, but notes that “[i]nside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots’ rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda.” Newbold retired from the military in late 2002, “in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I’ve been silent long enough.” The cost of the Bush administration’s “flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood,” he writes, and that blood debt drives him to speak out.
A Justifiable War - Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, Newbold says, to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And though invading Iraq was unnecessary and wrong, he says, the US cannot now just withdraw precipitously: “It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists’ message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.”
Outrage - Newbold writes of his deep anger at the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently said that “we” made the “right strategic decisions,” but made thousands of “tactical errors” (see March 31-April 1, 2006). Newbold calls that statement “an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.” Instead, he writes: “What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.… My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.” Many of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking generals bear their own blame, Newbold writes, in “act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military’s effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction.” Some few actually believed the rationale for war, others were intimidated, and many believed that their sense of duty and obedience precluded their speaking out. “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.” Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, “defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight.” Many media reporters, editors, and pundits ignored the warnings and instead played up the rationale for war.
New Visions, New Strategies - The first thing to do, says Newbold, is to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with “many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” The US owes their troops, living and dead, a debt of gratitude and the responsibility to “construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it.” More generals and others in positions of leadership need to speak out, Newbold concludes, and make sure that we as a nation are not “fooled again.” [Time, 4/9/2006]
Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2006]
“Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years: “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2006] A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
Daily Telegraph defense correspondent Thomas Harding reports that American defense officials in the operations and planning staff at the Pentagon, with the backing of the George W. Bush administration, are requesting a “prodigious quantity” of ammunition from Russia to supply the Afghan National Army. The order is reported to include more than 78 million rounds of AK47 ammunition, 100,000 rocket-propelled grenades, and 12,000 tank shells, equivalent to about 15 times the British Army’s annual requirements. The order also suggests the Afghan Army will be equipped with T62 tanks, Mi24 Hind attack helicopters, and Spandrel anti-tank missiles. Harding’s diplomatic sources believe that the US may be offering an estimated $400 million for this “decade’s worth” of ammunition, including transport costs. All of the material will come from Rosoboronexport, the sole Russian state intermediary agency for military exports. “This is a request for a price indication from the Pentagon to the Russians,” says one arms source connected to Russia. “After that comes back they will look at their budget and turn it into an order—and it will be an order of huge magnitude.” American officials are said to be pressing for rapid processing of the order so that exports may begin before the end of this year, according to the report. Harding reports that White House “insiders” fear that Afghanistan could “drift,” and consequently want to arm President Hamid Karzai’s government before the 2008 US presidential election, especially in the event of a Democrat becoming president. The Telegraph report also indicates that some British officials and arms experts are privy to the deal. One senior British officer is quote as saying: “The point of getting Afghanistan up and running is so they can take on their own operations. This deal makes sense if we are going to hand over military control to them.” Harding’s arms industry source tells him that the Pentagon wants to “stack the country up” with arms. “It’s the equivalent of buying yourself a plane to fly to Le Touquet for lunch and you get yourself a 747 jumbo instead of a light aircraft,” he remarks. [Daily Telegraph, 5/22/2006]
Map showing concentrations of US-allied troops after the NATO redeployment. [Source: BBC]Beginning in July 2006, NATO troops begin taking control of the leadership of military operations against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. By October 2006, NATO assumes responsibility for security across all of Afghanistan, taking command from a US-led coalition force. Previously, NATO only controlled security around the capital of Kabul (see August 2003). [BBC, 5/15/2007] There are about 37,000 NATO troops from 37 countries. Most of the fighting is done by troops from the US (17,000), Britain (7,000), Canada (2,500), and the Netherlands (2,000). Troops deployed to safer areas include those from Germany (3,000), Italy (2,000), Turkey, Poland, and France (1,000 each). In addition, the US-led coalition under the banner of “Operation Enduring Freedom” continues a counterterrorism mission involving an additional 8,000 soldiers, mainly Special Forces. [BBC, 6/23/2007; BBC, 7/10/2007]
Senior British diplomat William Patey, meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair after returning from a tour of Iraq, tells Blair that Iraq is closer to civil war and partition along sectarian lines than it is to democracy. Patey tells Blair in a confidential telegram that “the prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy. Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq—a government that can sustain itself, defend itself, and govern itself, and is an ally in the war on terror—must remain in doubt.” The situation “is not hopeless,” he continues, but for the next decade Iraq will remain “messy and difficult.” Blair will later claim that Patey is merely reiterating Britain’s determination to succeed in bringing about its “vision of the Middle East based on democracy, liberty, and the rule of law.” [BBC, 8/3/2006; New York Times, 8/4/2006] The memo is soon leaked to the BBC. [Independent, 8/4/2006]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, and the commander of US forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, participate in a sometimes-contentious hearing with the Senate Armed Forces Committee (see August 3, 2006). The three then take part in a closed-door session with some members of Congress. After the two meetings, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) calls on President Bush to accept Rumsfeld’s resignation. [New York Times, 8/4/2006] Rumsfeld will resign three months later (see November 6-December 18, 2006).
General John Abizaid testifies before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. [Source: Washington Note]General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
The White House releases a new National Space Policy that contrasts sharply with the space policy statement issued ten years earlier by the Clinton administration. According to the new policy, Washington’s top goals in space are to “strengthen the nation’s space leadership and ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further US national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives” and to “enable unhindered US operations in and through space to defend our interests there.” It says the US reserves it right to reject any arms-control agreement that would potentially limit US flexibility in space and says it will deny any country access to space that is considered “hostile to US interests.” It also encourages private enterprise in space and says that privately owned space assets should be protected by the US military. The new policy marks a substantial shift from the policy that was outlined under the previous administration. In 1996, the Clinton White House said its top goals were to “enhance knowledge of the Earth, the solar system and the universe through human and robotic exploration” and to “strengthen and maintain the national security of the United States.” The new policy statement raises concern among critics that the Pentagon intends to weaponize space. However a senior administration official rejects that view, telling the Washington Post, “This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space. Period.” The new policy statement will be released on October 6, the Friday before the Columbus Day weekend, at the close of business, with no public announcement. [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 8/31/2006 ; Space (.com), 10/7/2006; Washington Post, 10/18/2006]
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]
Neoconservative academic Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, says the problem with the Iraq war is that it is confined to Iraq. “It’s a mess, isn’t it?” she says. “My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don’t give it a regional context.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 344-345]
Ronald Neumann, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, discusses the worsening security situation in Afghanistan in separate interviews. Neumann is quoted in the New York Times as saying that the United States faces “stark choices” in Afghanistan, adding to the recent chorus of dire warnings being expressed by US officials in Washington on the deteriorating security situation there and the failure of the government in Kabul to project authority. Neumann says that plans drafted in 2002 to train the Afghan army and police force needed to be revamped, and that the country’s security forces need to be expanded, better supplied, and better equipped. He says that the overall effort would take “multiple years” and “multiple billions,” warning that failure to do so would lead to fragmentation of the country. In an interview with Der Speigel, Neumann states that efforts to extend security beyond Kabul and push back the insurgency will “easily” take 10 years. When asked about the next steps to be taken, he replies: “We have to put more guns in the field. Afghans have to believe they can survive in their home at night.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/26/2006; New York Times, 11/5/2006]
US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. [BBC, 12/2007]
Sir Richard Dannatt. [Source: Associated Press]The London Times later reports that British forces in Afghanistan have cut a secret truce with the Taliban around this time, ceding authority in a portion of the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan to Taliban forces and agreeing to withdraw entirely from the region. The region centers around the town of Musa Qala, where British forces have sustained heavy losses attempting to defend a government outpost. Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has recently warned that British troops in Afghanistan were stretched to their capacity and can only “just” cope with the demands placed on them. According to the truce, both Taliban and British forces will withdraw from the region, but few believe the Taliban will adhere to the agreement. A British officer concedes, “There is always a risk. But if it works, it will provide a good template for the rest of Helmand. The people of Sangin are already saying they want a similar deal.” One British officer sent a recent e-mail, published days earlier, saying in frustration, “We are not having an effect on the average Afghan. At the moment we are no better than the Taliban in their eyes, as all they can see is us moving into an area, blowing things up and leaving, which is very sad.” [London Times, 10/1/2006]
Omar al-Faruq in an al-Qaeda propaganda video filmed not long before his death. [Source: Public domain]An al-Qaeda leader who escaped from a US prison the year before is killed in Iraq. Omar al-Faruq is killed in a pre-dawn raid by British soldiers in the city of Basra. About 250 soldiers wearing night vision goggles attempted to take al-Faruq alive, but he is killed in a shoot-out. Al-Faruq was born to Iraqi parents and grew up in neighboring Kuwait. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz comments: “It’s surprising for someone like him to be able to make it to Iraq, where everyone knows how he looks. The guy has long al-Qaeda records.” Experts are especially surprised to find he was in Basra, a heavily Shiite area not friendly to Sunni militants like al-Faruq. A neighbor says that al-Faruq arrived about a month earlier and had relatives in a nearby Sunni enclave. Al-Faruq escaped from the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan in July 2005 (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 9/26/2006]
The BBC reports on a leaked report about Pakistan from a senior officer at the Defence Academy, a think tank run by the British Ministry of Defence. The author remains anonymous, but he is said to be a man with a military background linked to the MI6, Britain’s external intelligence service. The Ministry of Defence and British government in general say it does not represent their official views. The paper has the following conclusions about Pakistan and the war on terrorism:
Pakistan is not stable, and in fact is on the edge of chaos.
The Pakistani government, through its ISI intelligence agency, has been indirectly supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and attacks overseas, such as the 7/7 London bombings.
Western governments have been turning a blind eye towards Pakistan’s instability and indirect protection of al-Qaeda.
The US and Britain cannot hope to win against Islamist militant group until they identify the real enemies and seek to implement a more just vision. This will require Pakistan to move away from military rule and for the ISI to be dismantled and replaced.
Time is running out for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The US is likely to withdraw his funding and possibly even his protection. Without US support, he is unlikely to stay in power for long.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not gone well. The war in Iraq in particular has been a great recruitment tool for extremists across the Muslim world.
A secret deal to extricate British troops from Iraq so they could focus on Afghanistan failed when British military leaders were overruled by their civilian leaders.
The enemy the West has identified—terrorism—is the wrong target. As an idea, it cannot be defeated. [BBC Newsnight, 9/28/2006; BBC, 9/28/2006]
The West’s fight against extremism is going nowhere with no end in sight.
Britain should use its military links with Pakistan’s army at a senior level to persuade Musharraf to step down, accept free elections, and dismantle the ISI.
The report’s author traveled to Pakistan in June 2006 as part of a delegation on a fact-finding visit. He held interviews with the Pakistani officials and academics to prepare a report about the country and the global war on terror. [London Times, 9/28/2006] Musharraf rejects the report’s conclusions. He tells the BBC, “There is perfect co-ordination going on” between Pakistan and Western countries on terrorism, and there is “intelligence and operational co-ordination at the strategic level, at the tactical level.” He rejects the idea that the ISI should be dismantled. “I totally, 200% reject it. I reject it from anybody - [Ministry of Defence] or anyone who tells me to dismantle ISI.” [BBC, 9/28/2006]
The US commander for Europe, General James Jones, confirms that he made a damning quote to author Bob Woodward. In Woodward’s September, 2006 book State of Denial, Jones is quoted as saying that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had “systematically emasculated” the military’s leadership. Jones confirms to a Washington Post reporter that he indeed said those words to Woodward. According to the book, Jones, formerly the Marine Chief of Staff, called the war in Iraq a “debacle,” and added, “The Joint Chiefs have been systematically emasculated by Rumsfeld.” According to the book, Jones also told Marine General Peter Pace, who was about to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “You should not be the parrot on the secretary’s shoulder.” Pace has denied that Jones made such a remark to him. Jones says that the quotes are correct—though he now says Iraq is less of a “debacle” than a “big problem”—but adds, “[H]ad I seen [the book], I probably would have suggested that the tone was more critical than I intended it to be.” Jones says: “I do not associate myself with the so-called revolt of the generals. I believe that general officers, both active and retired, have an obligation to let their views be known,” but should do so in a “helpful” way. Of his comments about Rumsfeld, he says, “We’re a team, we’re together, we have occasional family disagreements.” [Washington Post, 10/5/2006; Roberts, 2008, pp. 158, 247]
The chart presented during the CENTCOM briefing. [Source: New York Times]A briefing by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Iraq is sliding towards a complete breakdown of order. The briefing features a chart used by the military as, in the words of New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, “a barometer of civil conflict.” Gordon describes the slide as providing “a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.” The briefing was prepared by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate, overseen by Brigadier General John Custer. The slide contains a color-coded bar chart titled “Index of Civil Conflict,” which tracks the sharp rise in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in February (see February 22, 2006), and documents a subsequent rise in violence despite US efforts to contain conflicts in and around Baghdad. Gordon describes the chart as tracking, among other factors, “the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures,” and not so much more traditional factors like “the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.” The chart shows Iraq moving quickly away from “peace,” the ideal condition on the far left of the chart, to a point labeled “chaos” on the right side. Gordon notes, “As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.” A CENTCOM official says, “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side.” [New York Times, 11/1/2006]
Army Times logo. [Source: Army Times / Grantham University]An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” [Army Times, 11/6/2006] The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 11/5/2006] Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).
Slate’s war reporter, Fred Kaplan, publishes an online editorial in response to the morning’s Army Times editorial calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6, 2006). Kaplan’s editorial is published just hours before Rumsfeld resigns (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Kaplan calls the editorial “fairly astonishing.” He explains the use of the word “fairly” by noting that the Army Times, and its brethren Military Times Media Group publications Navy Times, Air Force Times, and Marine Corps Times (all of which publish the Army Times editorial) are privately owned and published by the Gannett Corporation. Had the official Defense Department publication Stars & Stripes published the editorial, Kaplan writes, “it would be prelude to insurrection.” Kaplan notes that the Military Times audience is almost all military personnel; and the reporters and editors “are nearly all veterans with close ties to the senior officer corps.” The publications are, Kaplan writes, “essentially trade papers, covering issues from the perspective of the men and women of the armed forces.” The Military Times publications “would not run an editorial like the one in today’s editions unless they knew that it reflected a broad and deep consensus among high-ranking, active-duty officers across the military establishment,” he writes: “That’s the remarkable thing about the editorial—that the military’s disaffection from the war, and from its civilian leadership, has grown so widespread that even the editors of the Military Times newspapers fear no backlash from amplifying the chorus.” Kaplan adds his own voice to the Military Times’s call for Rumsfeld’s firing, writing: “Rumsfeld chose the strategy for this war. As the Defense Department’s chief civilian authority, he had every right to overrule his military commanders and impose his own notion of how to fight the war. But once his way proved disastrous, he should have been held accountable. The only person who can hold him accountable is the president. Most presidents fire a Cabinet officer whose judgment is no longer deserving of trust.” [Slate, 11/6/2006]
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden, appearing before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government’s outreach and provision of security to the country is inadequate. Hayden stresses that the key to making progress in Afghanistan is bolstering security, stating, “The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population—especially security.” He notes that there are not enough properly trained, equipped, or well-paid security forces in Afghanistan. “Even though the Afghan National Army continues to become larger, stronger, and more experienced, progress has been slow and little progress has been made in constructing an effective Afghan National Police force,” reads his prepared statement. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/15/2006 ]
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, holds an early-morning breakfast session with senior officials of the Bush administration, including President Bush, to discuss its 79 recommendations for the future conduct of the Iraq war. The White House essentially ignores the report (see December 2006). ISG member Lawrence Eagleburger will later say of Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions” during the meeting.
Former Senator's Recollection - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, another ISG member present at the breakfast meeting, later recalls: “It was an early-morning session, seven a.m., I think, breakfast, the day we trotted it out. And Jim and Lee said, ‘Mr. President, we will’—and Dick was there, [Vice President] Cheney was there—‘just go around the room, if you would, and all of us share with you a quick thought?’ And the president said fine. I thought at first the president seemed a little—I don’t know, just maybe impatient, like, ‘What now?’ He went around the room. Everybody stated their case. It just took a couple minutes. I know what I said. I said, ‘Mr. President, we’re not here to present this to vex or embarrass you in any way. That’s not the purpose of this. We’re in a tough, tough situation, and we think these recommendations can help the country out. We’ve agreed on every word here, and I hope you’ll give it your full attention.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will.’ And I turned to Dick, and I said, ‘Dick, old friend, I hope you’ll gnaw on this, too. This is very important that you hear this and review it.’ And he said, ‘I will, I will, and thanks.’ Then the president gave an address not too far after that. And we were called by [National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley on a conference call. He said, ‘Thank you for the work. The president’s going to mention your report, and it’ll be—there will be parts of it that he will embrace, in fact, and if he doesn’t happen to speak on certain issues, you know that they’ll be in full consideration in the weeks to come,’ or something like that. And we all listened with a wry smile. We figured that maybe five of the 79 recommendations would ever be considered, and I think we were pretty right.”
Hamilton's Recollection - Hamilton has similar recollections of the meeting and the administration’s response to the report: “Cheney was there, never said a word, not a—of course, the recommendations from his point of view were awful, but he never criticized. Bush was very gracious, said we’ve worked hard and did this great service for the country—and he ignored it so far as I can see. He fundamentally didn’t agree with it. President Bush has always sought, still seeks today, a victory, military victory. And we did not recommend that. The gist of what we had to say was a responsible exit. He didn’t like that.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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]
A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
According to some administration insiders, President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) may actually be a behind-the-scenes rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (ISG). In December 2006 the ISG reported that the US should withdraw almost all of its combat troops by early 2008 and instead open diplomatic dialogs with Iran and Syria in an attempt to regain political stability in the region (see December 2006). Bush ignored almost all of the ISG’s recommendations, and indeed began reshaping his policy in a more aggressive manner, going directly against the ISG’s recommendations. Some members of the National Security Council began pushing the idea of a new troop escalation in part because it went against the ISG’s findings, though administration officials say that the NSC staffers support a surge in order to shore up Iraq security. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] When Bush received the report in late December 2006, a White House spokesman told the press, “Jim Baker can go back to his day job.” The only remnant of the ISG’s findings in the new Bush policy is the remade ISG slogan, “the way forward,” which Bush now calls his “new way forward.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells the military to minimize its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002), which forces US soldiers to remain on active duty long after their terms of service have expired. While US Army spokespersons have defended the policy as essential for keeping units intact, critics say it hurts morale and has strong, adverse effects on recruiting and retention (see September 15, 2004). Gates gives each branch of the military until February 28, 2007, to suggest how it intends to minimize stop-loss deployments for both active and reserve troops. [National Guard, 2/2007] Gates’s order will have little real impact (see May 2008).
The Bush escalation plan will involve up to 50,000 troops being sent to Iraq, not the 21,500 as touted by Bush and his officials. The 21,500 are actual combat troops, but logistical and support troops will also need to accompany the combat troops into Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says, “Over the past few years, [the Defense Department’s] practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. [This] puts the cost of the president’s decision in even starker terms. If the president proceeds with his plan, thousands more US troops will be at risk, billions more dollars will be required, and there will be a much more severe impact on our military’s readiness.” House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (D-SC) adds,“These additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone—$4 billion to $7 billion more than the administration’s estimate.” Spratt says such an increase in troop levels will be difficult for the US military to maintain; the abnormally high deployment levels for the past four years have “taken a toll” on the military. House Armed Services committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) says the report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “appears to conflict with the estimate given by the chief of staff of the Army in his testimony. We will want to carefully investigate just how big the president’s troop increase really is. Is it 21,500 troops, or is it really closer to 33,000 or 43,000?” Martin Meehan (D-MA), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations that has launched a review of Iraq-related costs, says he also is concerned: “I am disturbed that the administration’s figures may not be fully accounting for what a true force increase will entail; if combat troops are deployed, their support needs must not be shortchanged.” [Army Times, 2/2/2007]
A report by a nonpartisan British think tank, the Oxford Research Group, warns that military strikes against Iran could actually accelerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The report says military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms. Frank Barnaby, the nuclear scientist and arms expert who authored the report, says, "If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity it is doing so relatively slowly, most estimates put it at least five years away." But an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would almost certainly lead to a fast-track program to develop a small number of nuclear devices as quickly as possible." It "would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory." Western powers have threatened to expand sanctions on Iran; the US has not ruled out using force against Iran, but says it wants to give diplomacy a chance. [BBC, 3/5/2007]
Aftab Khan Sherpao. [Source: Associated Press / Army Times]A document by Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao warns that the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups are growing in strength in Pakistan. They are spreading beyond their strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the Afghanistan border and without “swift and decisive” action, they could destabilize the entire country. Sherpao narrowly escaped a suicide bombing in April, near the city of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. The attack on his life caused him to reconsider the government’s policy of appeasing militant groups. The Interior Ministry report is presented to the US National Security Council on June 4 with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in attendance. The report says: “The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan. There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.” A Western diplomat familiar with the report says it is the first acknowledgment from Pakistan as to the danger of the militant threat. The diplomat calls it “an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart. It’s tragic it’s taken so long [for Pakistan] to recognize it.” [New York Times, 6/30/2007] The report’s gloomy predictions will quickly be proven correct as the raid on the Red Mosque one month later greatly increases militant violence throughout Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007).
Dan McNeill. [Source: US Department of Defense]Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticizes the rising number of civilians killed by NATO and US-led troops. “Innocent people are becoming victims of reckless operations,” he says. He says his Western allies are using “extreme” force without coordinating with his government first. He says, “You don’t fight a terrorist by firing a field gun [24 miles] away into a target. That’s definitely, surely bound to cause civilian casualties.” It is believed more civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in 2007 so far by Western allies than have been killed by the resurgent Taliban. [BBC, 6/23/2007] The Observer reports that senior British soldiers have expressed concerned that Gen. Dan McNeill, the new head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, is “‘a fan’ of the massive use of air power to defeat insurgents and that his favoured tactics could be counter-productive.” He has been dubbed “Bomber McNeill” by his critics. One British officer who recently returned from Afghanistan says, “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban. It’s a tough call when the enemy are hiding in villages, but you have to be very, very careful.” [Observer, 7/1/2007]
An aerial view of the Red Mosque compound. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) has long been a prominent center of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.
ISI Ties Slowly Weaken - Located in Islamabad, just two miles from the president’s residence and half a mile from ISI headquarters, the mosque has long-standing ties to the ISI. For instance, the mosque housed the orphans and relatives of suicide bombers who had died in the disputed region of Kashmir; the ISI worked closely with militant groups in Kashmir for many years. The mosque is run by two brothers, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who also have long-standing ties to the ISI and Pakistani military. But feeling safe due to their government links, the Ghazi brothers had been acting increasingly assertive, seizing land around the mosque and slowly turning it into a large complex of madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) housing thousands of students.
Armed Standoff Slowly Develops - Militants from the mosque began threatening and sometimes even kidnapping nearby citizens for being insufficiently religious. An increasing number of militants come to the mosque with weapons, turning it into a heavily armed compound. In April 2007, the Ghazi brothers threaten civil war if the government refuses to implement Sharia law, a strict Islamic legal code. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was clear that the movement was out of control, the Ghazi brothers had overstepped their limits and gotten carried away, and the militants were no longer listening to their ISI handlers.” A Pakistani army brigade surrounds the estimated 10,000 students and militants barricaded inside the mosque compound. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] The crisis comes to a head in late June 2007, when activists from the mosque kidnap a six Chinese women and three Chinese men from a nearby acupuncture clinic. The activists claim the clinic is really a brothel and they will hold them until they are reeducated. [Agence France-Presse, 7/24/2007]
Army Attacks and Takes Over - On July 3, 2007, there is an initial clash between the army and the militants, and several thousand inside escape or surrender. On July 8, the army begins a full scale assault against those remaining. It takes three days of heavy fighting to clear out the mosque and surrounding complex. Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi is killed while Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi is arrested while trying to flee as a woman. The government claims that 102 militants and/or students and 10 soldiers were killed, but the militants claim that hundreds in the complex were killed.
Effects of Raid - Up until this time, there has been a loose alliance between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in Pakistan, despite a continuing friction. But with the Red Mosque siege, the militants essentially launch a civil war against the government (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Twenty-one attacks are launched in the next three weeks alone. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] Musharraf’s popularity is initially boosted after the raid, but this support dims after evidence comes out that a number of children were killed during the raid. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Some evidence suggests that al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri were secretly supporting the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007), and al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audio tape condemning the raid (see July 11, 2007).
The New York Times reports that the US still rarely conducts missions inside Pakistan, where most of the top al-Qaeda leadership is assumed to be, out of consideration for the government of Pakistan. Such attacks could politically hurt Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A former Bush administration official says, “The Special Operations guys are tearing their hair out at the highest levels.” While there has not been good intelligence on the locations of the highest al-Qaeda leaders recently, there sometimes has been useful information on other figures. “There is a degree of frustration that is off the charts, because they are looking at targets on a daily basis and can’t move against them.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
John Kringen. [Source: CIA]A new threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” is presented to a House committee and then leaked to some reporters. It concludes that al-Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself. CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Kringen says that al-Qaeda appears “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” adding: “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2007] While the assessment remains classified, another official tells a reporter that it concludes al-Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago,” “has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” and has managed to create “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives.” A different official concludes that the group is “showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.” [Salon, 3/27/2008]
In the wake of the Pakistani government’s attack on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in early July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007), peace deals between the government and militant groups in Pakistan completely break down (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fires Ali Jan Orakzai, a regional military commander sympathetic to the Taliban who had been promoted to governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Then, on July 19, 2007, the Pakistani army formally launches an offensive in Pakistan’s tribal region. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to have their central leaderships there. There is no quick resolution, and fighting rages for months. Militants divert the army’s attention by launching suicide bombings and other attacks in other parts of the country. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 385]
A Rapid City Journal article uses interviews with the families of three soldiers to illustrate the harm and suffering inflicted on military personnel and their families by the Army’s controversial stop-loss program (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). One of the three soldiers is Sergeant Mason Lockey, who has been forced to redeploy to Iraq due to stop-loss. Lockey saw his daughter Brianna for the first time about three weeks after her birth, in November 2006; he took part in her delivery via cell phone from Iraq. He had planned on returning home on July 19, 2007, a year after his deployment, in time to help her learn to speak and walk. Instead, under stop-loss, Lockey is forced to remain in Iraq until at least October 15, and perhaps longer.
Three Sons in Service - Deb Halen-Boyd, whose two sons served in Iraq as Army troops, calls the stop-loss program an example of the government breaking faith with its soldiers. “You fulfill your obligation, you should be done,” she says. “They’ve done what they’ve signed up to do.” One of Halen-Boyd’s sons has had to remain in Iraq due to stop-loss. She had a third son in the Army who died in a truck accident in Minnesota; her fourth son has now enlisted in the National Guard, with the government’s promise that he wouldn’t be deployed. But Halen-Boyd doesn’t believe the government will keep its word. “Nothing with the Army is a guarantee,” she says.
Missing Daughter's First Three Years - Barb Pierce, whose son Ryan served in Kosovo and twice in Iraq as a member of his Army unit, agrees. “It should be fair.… They’ve done their part. Let them come home.” Sergeant Ryan Pierce has been forced to remain in Iraq due to the stop-loss policy until at least January 2008. Pierce missed the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife’s grandmother and aunt. He was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He has missed every wedding anniversary. He has missed two of his daughter’s three birthdays.
No Re-enlistments, Anger at Government - None of the soldiers cited in the Rapid City Journal article plan on rejoining the Army after they are finally allowed to come home. Vanessa Lockey, whose husband has six more years to go on his re-enlistment, says, “Mason and I are strong Republicans, but it is hard to support a government that is willing to do this to a family. How is it fair?… Mason’s very supportive of the military. We grew up military, we love the military lifestyle, and we were very pro-Bush and that, but the more you see them acting like these soldiers are nothing but a game to them… it’s just hard to support that and know that’s who you’re defending.… It really does feel like they forgot about us.… I’ll support [President] Bush when he sends his daughters to Iraq.” Barb Pierce echoes Halen-Boyd’s sentiments. She is proud of her son’s service as she is of other soldiers’ service. She is proud to be an American, she says. But, “I want to be proud of my country, too. And right now I’m not.” Halen-Boyd wears a bumper sticker on her car that reads, “‘We Love Our Troops. Bring Them Home.” [Rapid City Journal, 7/24/2007]
The CIA captures al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim in the summer of 2007. Rahim, an Afghan, is little known to the public, but he is said to have helped Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in late 2001. He is also known as a translator for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. CIA Director Michael Hayden calls Rahim “a tough, seasoned jihadist.” But Rahim is not on any US most wanted list and there are no known pictures of him. Only one Pakistani newspaper mentions his arrest around the time it happens, and reports that he is captured near Lahore, Pakistan, in late July 2007. He is kept in a secret CIA prison and is presumably interrogated. On March 14, 2008 the US finally announces his arrest and says he has recently been transferred to the Guantanamo prison. Only after that will he be treated in accordance with US and international law. He is the first person transferred from a secret CIA prison for over a year (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). [Associated Press, 3/14/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
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]
Fox News host Sean Hannity, in an interview with former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R-MD) and former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Davis, says that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is lying when he says “our troops are killing civilians, air raiding villages” in Afghanistan. As co-host Alan Colmes notes, Hannity is likely referring to Obama’s August 13 comment that “[w]e’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.” Actually, Obama’s statements are true; numerous media reports from multiple sources have shown that US air strikes in Afghanistan have killed a large number of Afghan civilians, and have prompted complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a British commander stationed in Afghanistan (see June 23, 2007). According to the Associated Press, “Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents.” During the same broadcast, Hannity further mischaracterizes Obama’s statements on foreign policy, falsely claiming that Obama “says he takes nukes off the table,” and that Obama has said he “is going to bomb an ally in the war on terror, [Pakistan President] General [Pervez] Musharraf, and possibly invade them.” Hannity concludes that by these statements, Obama is “finished” as a presidential contender. In reality, Obama has never said he would bomb or invade Pakistan. Instead, he has repeatedly said statements such as those he made in an August 1 speech: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Nor has Obama ever said he would not “take nukes off the table,” but instead said he would not use nuclear weapons “in any circumstance” to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Media Matters, 8/23/2007]
The Washington Post reports, “Pakistan’s government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.” Since the government’s raid on the Red Mosque in July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007), militants have gone all out in trying to overthrow the government, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been consumed by a struggle to stay in power (see October 6, 2007 and November 3-December 15, 2007) and has done little in return to fight them. Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, a top security official in the tribal regions until he retirement in 2005, says: “The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years—that is keeping everything on hold.” Militants not only control much of the country’s mountainous tribal regions, but they are increasingly moving down the hills to threaten larger towns and cities. A Western military official based in Pakistan says the militants have “had a chance to regroup and reorganize. They’re well equipped. They’re clearly getting training from somewhere. And they’re using more and more advanced tactics.” But this official says that Pakistan’s military are “not trained for a counterinsurgency. It’s not their number one priority. It’s not even their number two priority.” This person adds, “The sad thing about it is that a lot of these militants are better off than the Frontier Corps,” referring to the Pakistani paramilitary force guarding the tribal region. The militants “have rockets. They have advanced weapons. And the Frontier Corps has sandals and a bolt-action rifle.” The Post notes that although the US has given about $10 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, “the aid does not seem to have won the United States many friends here. Nor has it successfully prepared the Pakistani army to battle insurgents.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007]
Chart showing default rate since beginning of surge. [Source: Wall Street Journal]A Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist writes that according to economic indicators, the US military surge in Iraq is not working, and actually may be undermining US military efforts to bring order to that ravaged nation. Until now, few have tried to measure the success of the surge by using financial indicators, in part because of the lack of usable economic data available from Iraq, but Michael Greenstone of MIT’s economics department has made just such an attempt, using the long-term performance of Iraq state bonds to gauge how investors believe the prospects in Iraq are shaping up. Greenstone is not optimistic. “After the surge, there was a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds,” Greenstone writes. He judges the performance of Iraq state bonds and credit default swaps against benchmark performers such as the Lehman Brothers emerging markets bond index, and against bonds issued in Qatar. Greenstone draws the conclusion that the global market is betting more and more on the likelihood that Iraq will default on its bonds, and concludes, “This finding suggests that, to date, the surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/11/2007]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
The Associated Press reports that 2007 is the deadliest year yet for US troops in Iraq, though the death toll has dropped significantly in the last few months. The US military’s official count of US war dead for 2007 in Iraq is 899. (The previous high was 850 in 2004. The current death toll since the March 2003 invasion is 3,902.) The unofficial count for Iraqi civilian deaths in 2007 is 18,610. [Associated Press, 12/30/2007] CNN reports that there was a spike in US deaths in the spring as the “surge” was getting underway. There were 104 deaths in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June: the deadliest three-month stretch in the war for US troops. [CNN, 12/31/2007] The reasons for the downturn in US deaths are said to include the self-imposed cease-fire by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army, a grassroots Sunni revolt against extremists (see August 30, 2007), Iran’s apparent decision to slow down its provisions of aid for Shi’ite fighters, and the US “surge” (see February 2, 2007). General David Petraeus, the supreme commander of US military forces in Iraq, says: “We’re focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi troopers have accomplished in 2007. Success will not, however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days.” Security consultant James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation warns that the US is not out of the weeds yet. “The number of people who have the power to turns things around appears to be dwindling,” he says, referring to Iraqi extremists. “But there are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really bad days.… People have to be really careful about over-promising that this [decline in violence] is an irreversible trend. I think it is a soft trend.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2007]
The Canadian press reports that the casualty rate among Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is far higher than that of American and British soldiers in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Canadian troops are stationed in and around the city of Kandahar, one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers die at a rate of 2.6 to four times higher than their British and American counterparts in Afghanistan, and at a rate 2.6 times higher than American soldiers in Iraq. Proportionately, Canadians are dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than through most of World War II. Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Robertson, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says, “Kandahar province is very different from even Helmand province next door,” where British troops are stationed. “It’s a totally different threat environment. We are in the former heartland of the Taliban, and obviously they have resorted to tactics designed to force casualties among civilians and security forces whenever possible.” Some experts believe that the heavy casualty rates among Canadians is partly traceable to the Canadians’ lack of heavy-transport helicopters; as a result, they are forced to rely more on ground transportation, where the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes is constantly present. Canada has lost a total of 74 soldiers since joining the US and Britain in Afghanistan. [Canada National Post, 1/4/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Washington Post]On January 9, 2008, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden visit Pakistan and meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan agrees to allow the US to increase its use of Predator drones to strike at al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region. [New York Times, 2/22/2008] At least three Predator attacks follow in the next months (see January 29, 2008, February 28, 2008, March 16, 2008) after a year of few or no attacks. Previously, Musharraf had issues with such strikes, but now the US has his unofficial tacit approval. Newsweek reports that the US now has “virtually unrestricted authority to hit targets in the border areas.” The US has pushed for more strikes partly because al-Qaeda has been launching more attacks from the tribal regions. But also, US officials are concerned that Musharraf is losing power and the new leaders will be more hostile to US operations in Pakistan. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008] Some of the Predator attacks are launched from secret CIA bases near the Pakistani towns of Islamabad and Jacobabad. The bases are first publicly mentioned in February 2008, and next to nothing is known about them. [New York Times, 2/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Alasdair Roberts. [Source: Sunshine Week (.org)]Alasdair Roberts, a public administration professor and author of The Collapse of Fortress Bush, writes of what he views as the abject failure of the US government to plan and coordinate both the “war on terror” and the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Roberts writes that since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has consistently failed to plan for, and to deal with, consequences and ramifications of their actions. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-133]
Military Response to 9/11 Questioned - Roberts contends that the Bush administration’s military response to the 9/11 attacks was not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, possible response. In August 2006, a Washington Post op-ed observed that “[i]t was only natural that the military would take the lead in fighting terrorism after September 11.” Roberts writes that “this simple sentence [is] fraught with assumptions about the dynamics of post-millenial American government. Why is it ‘only natural’ that terrorism is a problem that should be handled only by the military? Other countries have dealt with decades-long terrorist threats and framed the problem in different ways,” with some approaching it as a law-enforcement problem, others from an intelligence perspective, and others by addressing internal security concerns. Few threaten to “take battle to the enemy,” as the Bush administration has done, for the obvious reason that they lack the ability to do so. Roberts posits that had al-Qaeda attacked Sydney in 2001, Australia would not have invaded Afghanistan. The Bush administration seized on a military response to the attacks almost immediately (see September 15, 2001), with the support of most Americans. “Impatience permeated its official statements,” Roberts writes of the administration. This is in part because, he writes, the military is the easiest, most powerful, and least legally constrained of al the tools at the president’s disposal. The US military’s “power, autonomy, and legitimacy heighten its attractiveness as a policy instrument.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-107]
Lacking in Fundamental Rationality - Both the administration and the Pentagon executed the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, quite well, he acknowledges, but once that was done, careful, logical planning and systematic execution gave way to ineffective bureaucratic thrashing. “An awareness of capabilities and risks is one of the signposts of rationality in decision-making,” he writes. It is also largely absent in the history of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. “The administration followed the rituals of planning, Roberts notes: accounts of its behavior in Iraq are replete with strategy statements, operational plans, priority lists, and ‘megabriefs.‘… Unfortunately, much of this talk and paperwork was administrative flotsam. In reality, the Bush administration did not plan. It could articulate ambitious goals but could not marshal the administrative capacities of its agencies so that their work contributed directly to those goals. It could not induce agencies with overlapping responsibilities to collaborate. It could not anticipate curves in the road. The administration’s problem, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, was that it ‘did not have a system of national security policy decision-making that ensured careful examination of the downside of major decisions.’”
'Worn Bromides' as Major Lessons - Roberts quotes a 2005 RAND Corporation study that found, “Unity of command and broad participation are both important to the success of stabilizing and reconstriction operations… An active NSC [National Security Council] interagency process [is] necessary to ensure that the State and Defense Departments are acting off the same sheet of paper and to bring forward debate of alternate views and subsequent decision-making on important issues. Policy differences need to be explained and adjucated, if necessary by the president, as the planning process goes forward… Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced.” Roberts writes, “It is a damning comment on the quality of governance within the Bush administration that worn bromides such as these could be presented as major lessons from the invasion.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 132-133]
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 16 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Toog in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region where al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be residing. The house is said to belong to an unnamed militant leader, and several militants are reportedly killed. However, details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Newsweek, 3/22/2008]
The US is unable to find more troops to send to Afghaninstan, due to the war in Iraq. On April 10, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tells a Congressional committee: “I’m deeply concerned. In this economy of force operation, we do what we can. Requirements exist that we simply cannot fill and won’t likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq.” The US would like to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing Taliban resistance there, but the US is unwilling to divert forces from Iraq due to renewed violence there, and NATO allies remain unwilling to send more troops as well. A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, reports that there were 704 insurgent attacks causing 463 civilian deaths from January through March of 2008, compared with 424 attacks causing 264 civilian deaths during the same months in 2007. US officials privately admit that their estimates are similar. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/2008]
Regardless of the intention of the military to “minimize” its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002 and January 19, 2007), which forces US soldiers to remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan for months after their term of duty has expired, the number of soldiers affected by the policy has increased by 43 percent in the last year, and Army officials say the stop-loss program will remain in effect through at least the fall of 2009. Some officials say that the number of troops affected by stop-loss orders will fall as “surge” troops (see January 10, 2007) redeploy. Currently, over 12,230 soldiers are being prevented from returning home even though their commitments to the Army have expired. That number was 8,540 in May 2007. Since 2002, about 58,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss policies. “As the [war zone] demand comes down, we should be able to get us weaned off stop-loss,” says Lieutenant General James Thurman. Stop-loss policies forbid active-duty soldiers within 90 days of retirement or obligated service from leaving the Army if they are in units alerted for deployment. Reservists and National Guard members are barred from leaving if their units have been alerted for mobilization. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Army and other branches of service to “minimize” their use of stop-loss, the number of soldiers affected has increased since Gates’s orders were issued in January 2007. [Army Times, 5/5/2008]
Mark Levin. [Source: 640 WHLO-AM]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin tells his listeners that presidential candidate Barack Obama “lied to” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when he “told them today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist group after voting against a bill designating them a terrorist group a year ago.” Fox News anchor Martha McCallum echoes the accusation a day later on her show The Live Desk, saying that Obama “seems to be changing his tune on the significant issue.” Both Levin and McCallum are misrepresenting Obama’s voting record. He has consistently voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and co-sponsored a November 2007 bill to do just that. Levin and McCallum are referencing a 2007 bill that Obama says he would have voted against, a bill that, Obama said, “states that our military presence in Iraq should be used to counter Iran.” Obama disagreed with that portion of the resolution, not another section that advocated for the designation of the Guards as a terrorist organization. The false characterization of Obama’s stance on the Guards may originate with Obama’s opponent John McCain, who says just before Levin’s broadcast that Obama “was categorical in his statement when he opposed that legislation. Then he goes before AIPAC and supports it. I know he’s changing on the surge, he’s trying to change on his pledge to negotiate with dictators without preconditions.” Levin flatly calls Obama “a liar… he’s a radical extremist and he’s a liar.” [Media Matters, 6/6/2008]
The New York Times publishes a long front-page analysis of the policy disputes and mistakes that have bogged down US efforts to combat al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The article reveals that the US effort has often been “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the CIA, including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.… [B]y most accounts, the administration failed to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem there, and never resolved the disagreements between warring agencies that undermined efforts to fashion any coherent strategy.” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state for President Bush’s first term and the administration’s point person for Pakistan, says, “We’re just kind of drifting.” Pakistan’s policy as led by President Pervez Musharraf has also been adrift and/or ineffective: “Western military officials say Mr. Musharraf was instead often distracted by his own political problems, and effectively allowed militants to regroup by brokering peace agreements with them.” The Times concludes, “Just as it had on the day before 9/11, al-Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States.” The camps are smaller than the ones used prior to 9/11, but one retired CIA officer estimates that as many as 2,000 militants train in them at any given time, up from several hundred in 2005. “Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
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]
Angry Afghani citizens march in protest against the US air strike at Azizabad. [Source: Reuters]A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. [Agence France-Presse, 8/24/2008; Financial Times, 8/26/2008] Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008] Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” [Financial Times, 8/26/2008]
A US Special Operations unit, possibly together with an Afghan unit, raids a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan and kills at least 15 people including women and children, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and officials in Pakistan. One eyewitness to the attack, area resident Habib Khan Wazir, will tell the Associated Press that the assault happens before dawn, after an American helicopter lands in the village of Musa Nikow in South Waziristan. He says “American and Afghan soldiers starting firing” at the owner of a home who had stepped outside with his wife. Khan says the troops then enter the house and kill seven other people, including women and children. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] (Geo TV reports that the owner of the house is local tribesman Taj Muhammad, and that “coalition forces” kill nine members of his family, with five women and four children among the dead.) [Geo TV, 9/3/2008] Khan says the troops also kill six other residents. Two local intelligence officials will confirm the account on condition of anonymity. Another official says that 19 people die in total. Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Army, will confirm that an attack did occur on a house near the Pakistan-Afghan border, but does not specify if Americans are involved. “We are collecting details,” he says. The US embassy in Islamabad declines to comment, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has not received any report on such an operation. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] Long War Journal reporter Bill Roggio suggests that the Special Operations unit alleged to be involved in the assault may be the secretive “hunter-killer” team known as Task Force 88. He suggests that such units can operate freely outside of any regular command in Afghanistan, giving the US military the option of plausibly denying that its forces are involved in such raids. Roggio writes that a raid of this nature—the insertion of a US Special Operations team inside Pakistani territory—is rare, and if confirmed, the assault would be the fourth cross-border attack since August 20, and the 10th confirmed attack this year, marking an overall increase in such raids. He notes that 10 such raids were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined. [Long War Journal, 9/3/2008] Journalists Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann will later refer to this incident, writing that US Navy SEALS are involved and that 20 people are killed. [New Republic, 6/3/2009]
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Anthony Cordesman. [Source: Voice of America]The Bush administration touted its “surge” of additional forces in Iraq (see January 10, 2007) as “a game-changer,” bringing what it described as “peace and stability” to the beleagured nation. In retrospect, national security expert Anthony Cordesman agrees to a point. “We can all argue over the semantics of the word ‘surge,’ and it is fair to say that some goals were not met,” he tells a reporter. “We didn’t come close to providing additional civilian-aid workers that were called for in the original plan. And often it took much longer to achieve the effects than people had planned. But the fact was that this was a broad political, military, and economic strategy, which was executed on many different levels. And credit has to go to General [David] Petraeus, General [Raymond] Odierno, and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker for taking what often were ideas, very loosely defined, and policies which were very broadly stated, and transforming them into a remarkably effective real-world effort. It’s important to note that we made even more mistakes in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq. We were far slower to react, but in both cases we were unprepared for stability operations; we had totally unrealistic goals for nation building; at a political level we were in a state of denial about the seriousness of popular anger and resistance, about the rise of the insurgency, about the need for host-country support and forces; and we had a singularly unfortunate combination of a Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] and a Vice President [Dick Cheney] who tried to win through ideology rather than realism and a Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] who essentially stood aside from many of the issues involved. And in fairness, rather than blame subordinates, you had a president who basically took until late 2006 to understand how much trouble he was in in Iraq and seems to have taken till late 2008 to understand how much trouble he was in in Afghanistan.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The US Defense Department admits that it lacks a strategy for victory in Afghanistan even as it prepares to deploy 17,000 additional troops to that beleaguered country, but it has made some recommendations to change the US strategy there. Last week, during President Obama’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama asked, “What is the end game” in the military’s strategy for Afghanistan? According to one military official present in the briefing, the response was, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” Senior military officials confirm that the Joint Chiefs have delivered a classified memo to Obama that recommends refocusing the military’s mission in Afghanistan to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and leaving the “hearts and minds” aspect of the war to other US agencies—particularly the State, Justice, and Agriculture Departments—and NATO. “This is a classic counnterinsurgency strategy, but the military cannot do it alone,” says one official. The officials admit that the Taliban “has definitely gained the upper hand” in some areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south, because there’s just too much territory and too few American forces to “clear and hold” an area. “The Taliban is no match” for US forces, the officials say, but once the Americans drive the Taliban from a region, then leave, the Taliban immediately filter back in and regain control. “In many remote areas, the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ and in some cases gained the confidence and support of the locals,” says an official. “We need a strategy that will convince the Afghan people [in the remote areas] that the Taliban’s extremism is no longer attractive as a government or a career,” the officials say. Such a strategy must increase Afghan security, then establish strong, fair local governments and create jobs and educational opportunities. “But that is not the military’s job,” one military official says. “We can build the schools, we can build the courthouses, but we cannot help them establish the good governance, justice and educations systems” that are needed. The new strategy also targets the Afghani drug trade, and loosens the previous rules of engagement that only allowed for eradication of poppy fields and confrontation with drug lords after it had been established that those activities were directly connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The new rules assume any drug activities help the insurgency and are, therefore, “fair game.” [MSNBC, 2/4/2009]
President Obama orders 17,000 additional US troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. He says that nation must be stabilized, and the US-led offensive there has suffered from years of neglect. The move effectively doubles the number of US combat brigades in the country, though both White House and Pentagon officials have been careful not to call the increase a “surge,” as the 2007 increase in US troops in Iraq was called (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007).
Answering Request from Months Before - Obama notes that a request for more troops had been made months before, by General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama says. [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009] “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Obama recognizes “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families,” but the deteriorating security situation in the region requires “urgent attention and swift action.” [Australian, 2/19/2009] Some 3,000 soldiers have already arrived in Afghanistan, where they are seeing combat near Kabul. [Associated Press, 2/17/2009]
Refocus on Afghanistan, Away from Iraq - During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to refocus American efforts onto Afghanistan and away from Iraq. A full strategic review of the US’s war plans in Afghanistan is still pending (see February 4, 2009). Military officials warn that without a commensurate reduction in troops deployed in Iraq, the already-critical strain on US troops will only increase. One Pentagon official says: “All we are doing is moving demand from Iraq to Afghanistan. This sustains and, to some degree, increases the demands on soldiers.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009]
Afghans Welcome Additional Troops - Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Is’haq Payman calls the deployment “a positive move,” and adds: “[W]e have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists.” [Taipei Times, 2/19/2009] Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the deployment; after discussing the move with Obama via telephone, he says that former tensions between the US and Afghanistan over the issue of US-inflicted civilian casualties (see August 22, 2008, September 7, 2008, September 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009) are finished. “The tension was over civilian casualties and uncoordinated operations by foreign troops,” he says. “From now on, no foreign troop operations will be uncoordinated with Afghan forces. The tension the Afghan government had with the US government is now over.” [Reuters, 2/18/2009]
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
The US military announces that 12,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by September 2009. “Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced,” says a Pentagon spokesman. US forces will also turn over a number of facilities to Iraqi control. Additionally, the remaining 4,000 British soldiers, stationed in southern Iraq, will also depart by that time. The US withdrawal is the first step in President Obama’s announced “drawdown” of troops from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Major withdrawals will not happen until after Iraq’s national parliamentary elections in December 2009. The “Status of Forces” agreement between the US and Iraq requires all American forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011; it also requires US forces out of all major Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009. Even in the face of increasing troop withdrawals, Major General David Perkins, a spokesman for the US command structure in Iraq, says the military is “by no means complacent.” Perkins adds: “We know that al-Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here.… When al-Qaeda senses that it is under extreme pressure and it is losing momentum, it works very hard to gain relevance and to regain momentum.” The remaining US forces will be redeployed around the country, most likely in areas such as the city of Mosul and Diyala province, both of which contain a still-fierce insurgency. “We will not leave any seams in regards to security,” Perkins says. “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we’ve reduced our forces.” [China Daily, 3/8/2009; Washington Post, 3/9/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/9/2009]
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. [New York Times, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Obama administration, Carl Levin, Afghan National Army, Afghan Ministry of Defense, Afghan Government, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Security Forces, Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, David Barno
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” [Foreign Policy, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Raymond Odierno, John McCain, Geoff Morrell, David Petraeus, Lindsey Graham, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, US Central Command, Robert M. Gates, Ryan C. Crocker, William Nash, Samuel Brownback, John Negroponte, Richard Lugar
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
American Delta Force commandos in Afghanistan reportedly net a “high ranking al-Qaeda official” in a secret raid that leaves five people dead, upsetting German military officials and intelligence sources who later tell Der Spiegel magazine that the US forces are actually used by a drug clan to execute an underworld rival. The secret raid, which the Germans describe as “unilateral,” takes place in Kunduz province where German forces are assisting with security and reconstruction. According to the Der Spiegel report, the operation commences when a US liaison officer asks a German reconstruction team to guard the Kunduz airport without informing the Germans of the impending operation. A Hercules transport aircraft then lands at the airfield together with a fleet of combat and transport helicopters, which then take off for the nearby town of Imam Sahib. There, the American commandos reportedly storm a guesthouse owned by the local mayor, killing his driver, cook, bodyguard, and two of his guests. According to the US military, one of those captured is the target of the operation, a “high-ranking” member of al-Qaeda, but Der Spiegel reports that the tip-off to the person’s location comes from a source in a rival drug clan close to a member of the Afghan government reputed to be deeply involved in the drug trade. High-ranking German commanders in Afghanistan are later understood to have alerted Der Spiegel to the mission and intelligence sources explain how the Americans are “set up.” There will be no immediate comment from the American military regarding the allegations. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/30/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/30/2009]
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” [The Atlantic, 3/24/2009]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report that says the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (see February 27, 2009) will be a “massive and expensive effort” that is likely to increase, rather than lower, Iraq-related spending for several years. The GAO report finds, “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,” withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs often rise in the short term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 US military installations in Iraq, “will likely be significant,” the report finds. Even smaller bases will take up to two months to close, and the largest facilities, such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 soldiers and support personnel, may take up to 18 months to shut down. The report also notes uncertainties surrounding civilian security, issues surrounding the US Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s ability to sustain basic services and infrastructure. Currently, the US Army plans on withdrawing eight of the 14 brigades deployed in Iraq by August 2010. All US forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. [Washington Post, 3/25/2009]
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 new neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI—see Before March 25, 2009) holds a conference entitled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success.” The focus will be, according to the organization’s website, a push to escalate US military efforts in that nation. The featured speaker is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 presidential candidate and a close friend of two of FPI’s founders, William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In February, McCain gave a speech at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) arguing for a new military “surge” in Afghanistan. Other speakers include AEI fellow Frederick Kagan, counterinsurgency expert Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, and Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), a foreign policy hawk. [Inter Press Service, 3/25/2009; Foreign Policy Initiative, 3/31/2009] Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress wryly observes: “[G]iven the heavy representation of Iraq war advocates [in the conference], I think a far better title would be ‘Afghanistan: Dealing With The Huge Problems Created By Many Of The People On This Very Stage.’ The broad consensus among national security analysts and aid officials is that the diversion of troops and resources toward Iraq beginning in 2002 was one of the main reasons the Taliban and al-Qaeda were able to to re-establish themselves in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, facilitating the collapse of the country back into insurgent warfare. Having failed to complete the mission in Afghanistan, Bush and the Iraq hawks handed the Obama administration a war that promises to be as difficult and costly as Iraq has been—if not more. It’s deeply absurd that some of the people most responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan would now presume to tell us how to deal with it.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
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 day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. [New York Times, 4/2/2009]
President Obama receives approval from NATO leaders on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Obama in turn heralds commitments from NATO allies, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more trainers and police to Afghanistan is “a strong down payment” toward securing the country. Obama is echoing a phrase delivered by counterinsurgency guru, retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a week earlier (see March 31, 2009). At the NATO meeting, leaders pledge to send 3,000 more troops on short-term assignments to boost security for the scheduled elections in Afghanistan on August 20, and some 2,000 additional personnel to train growing Afghan security forces. They also promise to send 300 paramilitary police trainers and provide $600 million to finance the Afghan Army and civilian assistance, according to Obama. He adds that these figures should not be considered a ceiling, suggesting that more could be sought at some point in the future. “We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he states. [Reuters, 4/4/2009; Associated Press, 4/4/2009]
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]
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