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Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
Stanley McChrystal arrives in Kabul with teams of counterinsurgency staff within days of his nomination to replace General David McKiernan (see May 11, 2009) as top commander in Afghanistan. Military and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry will later report that McChrystal “commandeers” McKiernan’s headquarters on arrival in Kabul. McChrystal’s teams then fan out all over the country to assess the need for a large increase in US troops to fight a strengthening insurgency. “They absolutely flooded the zone,” a US development officer will tell Perry. “There must have been hundreds of them. They were in every province, every village, talking to everyone. There were 10 of them for every one of us.” Perry will also cite a White House official who asserts that McChrystal and his team use the period before his official confirmation to the top post to begin building a case for more US troops. “From the minute that McChrystal showed up in Kabul, he drove the debate,” the White House official will say. “You’ll notice—from May on it was no longer a question of whether we should follow a military strategy or deploy additional troops. It was always, ‘should we do 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000, or even 80,000’? We weren’t searching for the right strategy; we were searching for the right number.” [Asia Times, 12/10/2009]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. [Fox News, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Ed Reeder, Green Berets, Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Special Operations Command, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
US military leaflet dispersed to villages in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan. [Source: CBS]The US military blankets at least two southeastern Afghan villages with leaflets made at Bagram Air Base that threaten to “target” villagers with aggressive measures if a US soldier who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the area is not freed. Villagers tell CBS News that aircraft drop the leaflets over a period of several days, and that the papers are found stuck in trees and scattered on rooftops. One side of the leaflet shows a US soldier with his head bowed and the message, “If you do not free the American soldier, then…” The message continues on the other side: “… you will be targeted” (or “hunted,” according to one translation) over an image of Western troops kicking down a door to break into a house. Military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias later confirms that the leaflets are produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region. She will contradict the villagers’ account, however, saying they were distributed by hand, not by aircraft. Mathias then explains that another, non-threatening leaflet was dropped from aircraft in the region. This leaflet informs locals that a US soldier is missing and requests information on his whereabouts. Mathias’ colleague, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, says no threats were made in this air-dropped leaflet, which, according to the US military’s translation, reads: “One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home.” The leaflet includes a phone number and shows a US soldier sitting among smiling Afghan children. Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin tells Reuters that US forces have been harassing Afghans in Paktika and Ghazni provinces over the kidnapping. “They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill [the kidnapped US soldier],” Sangin says by telephone. [CBS News, 7/16/2009; Reuters, 7/16/2009]
Winning over and Protecting the Local Population? - The US military launched a major operation in the southern province of Helmand on July 2 (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) under US President Obama’s recent troop escalation and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that new US commander Stanley McChrystal has said is intended, in part, to “win over” and protect the Afghan people. “At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” McChrystal tells the New York Times. [New York Times, 7/15/2009]
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. [Boston Globe, 7/31/2009]
Anders Fogh Rasmussen. [Source: Publicity Photo]NATO will stay in Afghanistan “for as long as it takes,” according to the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes—let me repeat that, for as long as it takes,” Rasmussen says in a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Opening his remarks with a moral argument, Rasmussen says, “Anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women’s rights, should support this mission.” He also states that NATO’s immediate goal is to ensure “credible elections,” which are scheduled for later in the month. Rasmussen, who has just replaced Jap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO chief, explains NATO’s longer-term goal in terms of handing over the lead in security to the Afghan National Security Forces, with NATO stepping back into a support role. “The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans,” he says. [CNN, 8/3/2009; NATO, 8/3/2009]
The British general in line to become the UK’s next head of the Army states that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years. “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years,” General Sir David Richards says in an interview with the London Times. Richards, who was a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasizes that British troop involvement there should only be needed for the medium term, but insists that there is “absolutely no chance” of NATO pulling out. “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner—development, governance, security sector reform—for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, responds that 30 to 40 years in Afghanistan is untenable and unaffordable. “Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy,” he says. General Richards adds that Western forces need to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an exit strategy that should not be understood as an abandonment of the region. In fact, the general insists that Western forces will stay on to demonstrate their commitment to the region and to prove “opponents” wrong. “We need now to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Just as in Iraq, it is our route out militarily, but the Afghan people and our opponents need to know that this does not mean our abandoning the region. We made this mistake once. Our opponents are banking on us doing it again, and we must prove them wrong,” he says. [London Times, 8/8/2009] Richards will later seek to clarify his comments, stating that British military involvement “along current lines” would be needed for a much shorter period than broader international engagement in development, governance, and security sector reform. [Reuters, 8/17/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offers no timeline for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and states that the length of US combat engagement there is a “mystery.” When asked at a press conference how long he thinks American combat forces will be fighting active war in Afghanistan, Gates, a former CIA director, responds: “[I]n the intelligence business, we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and mysteries.… Mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long US forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.” When pressed further, he reasserts the unpredictability of the proposition, but guesses that “a few years” may be required to defeat the insurgency militarily, and that the larger enterprise of institution-building and economic development will require US engagement for decades. Responding to a question concerning a statement made by incoming British Army Chief General Sir David Richards that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years (see August 8, 2009), Gates replies that he does not agree that troops will be committed in combat operations for that long, but agrees with Richards’s later distinction that wider engagement in areas such as economic development and governance will be a “decades-long enterprise.” Joining Gates at the press conference is Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright. Cartwright backs Gates’s “mystery” assessment, but he links the possibility of force withdrawal to the political situation and handing over competencies to the Afghan National Security Forces. [Associated Press, 8/13/2009; U.S. Department of Defense, 8/13/2009]
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. [U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/26/2009] In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. [Washington Times, 8/24/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
In his biggest break from Bush administration policies to date, President Obama announces his abandonment of Pentagon plans to build a missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic. During a July Moscow visit, Obama indicated that he would order a 60-day review of the project. The findings since then are said to conclude that Iran’s long-range missile program is progressing more slowly than previously thought; the resulting report also cites US officials’ belief that Iran’s short- to medium-range program poses a more potent and immediate danger. Therefore, the system is to be replaced by other facilities, placed closer to Iran. Obama says that the new approach offers “stronger, swifter, and smarter defense” for the US and its allies. He adds that the move will more readily focus on the threat posed by Iran’s proliferation of short- and medium-range missiles, as opposed to its intercontinental nuclear capabilities. “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems to offer greater defenses to the threat of attack than the 2007 European missile defense program,” he says.
Russian Reaction - Russia had asserted that the undertaking was aimed against Russia and threatened to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian region of Kaliningrad, just inside the European Union. However, now it suggests that Obama’s decision will not garner swift or generous concessions on its part, but a foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, describes the move as “obviously a positive sign for us” while assuring that the decision was unilateral by Washington alone. Nesterenko says that there have been no deals with Moscow on Iran or any other issues. “That would disagree with our policy of resolution of any problems in relations with any countries, no matter how difficult or sensitive they may be.” Recently, however, analysts said that the decision would assist Obama in securing Moscow’s cooperation with a possible new sanctions package against Iran as well as further the president’s desire to reset relations with Moscow after a bleak period under the Bush administration. “Obama has taken a step in the direction of improving US-Russian relations. This will definitely help build a partnership,” Yevgeny Miasnikov, a senior research scientist at Moscow’s Centre for Arms Control, says. “Russia will also now make some concessions, maybe on strategic talks over nuclear arms reduction or maybe over Iran. Moscow will try to catalyze the process of improving US-Iranian relations and will facilitate dialogue between the two sides. I don’t think threatening Iran is the way to solve this problem,” he adds.
Prior Notification to Allies - The night before his announcement, Obama telephoned leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic to tell them he had dropped plans to construct missile interceptors and a radar station in their respective countries, telling them that his decision was prompted by advances in missile technology and new intelligence about Iran’s existing missile capabilities. He said that “updated intelligence” on Iran’s existing short- and medium-range missiles showed they were “capable of reaching Europe,” adding that the US would continue its efforts to end Iranian attempts to develop an “illicit nuclear program.”
Reaction of Poland and Czech Republic - While many Western European leaders cheer the US’s decision, the Czech Republic and Poland express disappointment with the White House’s reversal following six years of intricate negotiations. Senior government sources in the two countries say they will insist that the US honor pledges made last year by the Bush administration to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in exchange for agreeing to the missile defense deployment plans. Former Czech deputy prime minister and Washington ambassador Alexandr Vondra, who was intimately involved in the negotiations, says: “This is a U-turn in US policy. But first we expect the US to honor its commitments. If they don’t they may have problems generating support for Afghanistan and on other things.” According to Miasnikov, the US may now consider ways of mollifying Poles and Czechs, which might include providing Patriot interceptors that are capable of shooting down short- and medium-range missiles. [Guardian, 9/17/2009]
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, top US diplomat for East Asia, says the Obama administration believes that policy continuity is critical in preserving ties with Japan’s new government, which desires more equitable relations with the US. According to Campbell, both countries have agreed to close and replace Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base, the hub of airpower in the Pacific. The two countries have agreed to relocate Kadena on the overpopulated southern Japanese island of Okinawa, but Okinawa citizens would like the base completely removed from their homeland. The removal of Kadena Air Base is also supported by government members of brand new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has expressed a desire to review US military presence in Japan, although the prime minister has carefully emphasized that the US, Japan’s major military ally and trading partner, shall remain the keystone of Japan’s foreign policy. Just recently, Campbell returned from Tokyo where he met with the new government. “The Obama administration will be very clear about how important it is to respect each other as equals, although we support a strong and independent Japanese foreign policy. As an alliance partner and a strong friend of Japan, at this early stage, we cannot be in a position to dictate,” he said, adding that, “In private, we will, however, underscore areas where we think continuity in policy is important.” The new Japanese government also would like to end its country’s Indian Ocean naval refueling operation in support of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, although the US says it would like Japan to continue cooperating. [Taragana, 9/21/2009; Associated Press, 9/21/2009]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/6/2009; Marines.mil, 10/7/2009]
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/2009] These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).
US-operated drones kill 708 civilians in 44 Predator attacks targeting Pakistan’s tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009, according to statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities. Dawn reports that for each key al-Qaeda and Taliban militant killed by US drones, 140 Pakistani civilians also die. On average, 58 civilians are reportedly killed in drone attacks every month—about two people per day. [Dawn (Karachi), 1/2/2010] Other estimates of civilian-to-militant deaths over a longer time span vary greatly. Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution, citing analysis by journalist Peter Bergen and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that since 2004, drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen cites even more alarming statistics, acknowledging earlier Pakistani estimates that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009; New York Times, 5/16/2009] Bergen and Katherine Tiedmann will later report that new analyses of drone strike deaths in Pakistan from 2004 to March 2010 indicate that the civilian fatality rate is only 32 percent. Their study estimates that of the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the early months of 2010, between 834 and 1,216 people are killed, of whom around 549 to 849 are described as militants in press accounts. [Bergen and Tiedemann, 2/24/2010 ] Apart from the statistics, the controversial weapons are regarded by human rights and legal experts as legally-dubious instruments of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009]
In the evening, President Obama meets with his national security team to make final preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama meets with four advisers: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, and chief of staff Bill Daley. As the meeting begins, Obama tells them he has finally given approval for the raid. He says, “It’s a go.” The raid is planned to take place the next day. However, officials warn that because of cloudy weather, the raid probably will be delayed one day to May 1 (which is May 2 in Pakistan). That will turn out to be the case (see May 2, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Inactive reserve Marine sergeant and employee of BAE Systems Dakota Meyer (see March 2011), having learned from Bobbie McCreight that BAE plans to sell advanced thermal optics scopes—PAS-13s—to Pakistan (see April 2011), sends McCreight an email detailing his objections. In the email, Meyer states that BAE is planning to sell the better equipment to Pakistan while US troops are supplied with less effective equipment. He further states that the Pakistani military has been known to shoot at US soldiers and therefore it puts US soldiers at risk to sell Pakistan the better equipment. Meyer writes: “The reason I came on with BAE OASYS was to use the knowledge I had gained from the experiences I had while serving in combat operations to improve gear and make items to save the lives of US troops. This is where I could see me still ‘doing my part’ for the guys who are in the same situation I was in 18 months ago. I feel that by selling this to Pakistan we are doing nothing but the exact opposite. We are simply taking the best gear, the best technology on the market to date and giving it to guys that are known to stab us in the back.… These are the same people who are killing our guys.… I think that one of the most disturbing facts to the whole thing is that we are still going forth with the PAS-13 optic and issuing these outdated sub-par optics to our own US troops when we have better optics we can put in their hands right now but we are willing to sell it to Pakistan. This is very disturbing to me as an American and as a United States Marine.” [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011]
Inactive Marine sergeant and employee of BAE Systems Dakota Meyer (see March 2011) decides to resign from his job with BAE over the company’s intent to sell PAS-13 thermal optical scopes to Pakistan (see April 2011 and April 29, 2011). Meyer attempts to find a position with his previous employer, AUSGAR Technologies, Inc. (see June 2010 - March 2011), before resigning. He does find an open position and will later give two weeks’ notice to BAE (see May 31, 2011), but be told that his rehire has been blocked by the Pentagon (see June 1, 2011). [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2011]
Court papers are filed in Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Dakota Meyer’s (see September 15, 2011) defamation of character lawsuit in the district court of Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas (see After June 1, 2011). The suit is against Meyer’s former employer BAE Systems (a British-owned defense contractor that has contracts with the US government) and supervisor Bobbie McCreight. Meyer’s legal team writes in the court documents that the defamation came after Meyer expressed concern over BAE’s intent to sell PAS-13s (advanced optic scopes) to Pakistan (see April 2011 and April 29, 2011). The court filing also alleges that BAE prevented his hiring by another defense contractor, AUSGAR Technologies (see Before May 31, 2011 and May 31, 2011), by telling Pentagon program manager Robert Higginson on the phone that Meyer was mentally unstable and had a drinking problem. The phone conversation is said to have occurred at some point in the last 10 days of May 2011, according to the filing. [District Court of Bexar County, TX, 11/28/2011; BBC, 11/30/2011; Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2011; Washington Business Journal, 11/30/2011]
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