Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Desert Ox

As the New York Times reports, former Iraqi prime minister and U.S. sock puppet Iyad Allawi’s apparent victory in his country’s recent election sets up a "period of uncertainty" that may "threaten plans to withdraw American troops." Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq who reminds one of John Candy’s character in the film Stripes, is likely creating seismic events as he jumps for joy.

Odierno, Gen. David Petraeus’ pet lummox, has been publicly pushing for an extended stay in Iraq since February 2009, when Petraeus canonizer and former journalist Thomas E. Ricks quoted him in the Washington Post as wanting to see a U.S. presence of "30,000 or so" U.S. troops in Iraq until 2015 (or so). Odierno’s statement to Ricks was part of a multimedia campaign to sell Ricks’ then-new book, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008,which itself was part of the ongoing propaganda campaign to extend the Iraq war for as long as humanly possible.

As Ricks inelegantly admitted in The Gamble, when Petraeus took charge of the Iraq surge strategy in early 2007 he did, in fact, "betray us." In 2007, Petraeus told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “We’re after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage.” His plan, however was to pave the way for the Pentagon’s Long War, to buy the American public’s patience through artificially lowering violence statistics by bribing militantsand cooking the numbers.

In Fiasco, Rick’s first book on the Iraq war, published in 2006, Odierno comes off like a blob in a china shop, his "heavy-handed tactics" singularly responsible for the calamity the Iraq project flopped into after U.S. psych warfare operators staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue. By the timeThe Gamble hit the shelves in 2009, Odierno had undergone a "transformation."

Determined to "operate differently" in his second tour in Iraq, according to the Ricks narrative, Odierno "became the lone senior officer in the active-duty military to advocate a buildup of American troops in Iraq." Odierno communicated "almost daily by phone with retired general Jack Keane, an influential former Army vice chief of staff and his most important ally in Washington." Odierno conducted "his own strategic review," bypassing his superiors to launch a "guerrilla campaign for a change in direction in Iraq that eventually reversed almost every tenet of U.S. strategy."

Crediting Odierno with the intellectual capacity to have pulled off such a feat may be the premier example of journalistic humbuggery to emerge from our woebegone war on terror. Ricks characterizes Odierno as "the best of the Army’s conventional thinkers." If that’s true, it speaks tomes about the dismal quality of Army thinking, conventional or otherwise.

In The Gamble, Odierno admits to Ricks that when he left Iraq after his first tour, he "thought this thing was going well." It’s bad enough for him to have thought that, worse still to admit it to Ricks for public consumption after he’d supposedly undergone his "transformation."

Odie has said many things on the record that indicate he has the strategic acumen of the dog in a certain popular comic strip, but none so illustrative as his reaction to a memorandum written by Col. Timothy Reese in July 2009. Reese, who at the time was chief of the Baghdad Operations Advisory Team, noted that Iraq’s government and security forces are aswarm with corruption, laziness, nepotism, ineffectiveness, and a host of other malignancies. Odierno dismissed Reese’s concerns as mere "tactical issues."

Babe Odierno is smart about one thing though; he can test the winds and shift with them faster than any other general or flag officer I’ve ever seen. One minute he’s saying conditions may cause a delay in our scheduled withdrawal from Iraq, the next minute he’s saying the drawdown is still on schedule. I guess it depends on whom he talked to last, his war mongrel comrades who want him to talk up staying the course forever or somebody from the White House like Rahm Emanuel who threatens to turn his rear end into road pizza the next time he openly defies the commander in chief’s policies.

In my day we called that sort of thing "talking out both sides of your mouth." Now its nomenclature is "Information Operations."

Now that slut puppy Allawi may be coming back into power, Pavlov’s dogs of war are foaming at the mouth again. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is contesting the vote count, and accusations of fraud are coming from many corners, but Odierno and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill are applauding "the overall integrity" of the election. And well you might expect them to. Maliki had a nasty penchant for reminding the U.S. that they had to get their forces out of his country by the end of 2011. They won’t even have to buy Allawi dinner to get him to beg us to stay.

In a recent interview, Odierno told reporters he would meet President Obama’s deadline to reduce the U.S. troop level to 50,000 by the end of this August, but that "We have to stay committed to this past 2011."

Odie made noise to reporters as if he meant “committed” with something other than troop presence, but how does he suppose we’re going to stay committed without troops? By continuing to pour money into a nation that Transparency International ranks among the top five most corrupt countries in the world? There’s no way on earth we can stick a bunch of civic-minded civilians into Iraq for the purpose of rebuilding it without sending along a bunch of troops to protect them. Petraeus himself admits there are still roughly 20 attacks per day against U.S. troops in Iraq. Incredibly, Petraeus was actually bragging, implying that his surge was a success because U.S. troops are only attacked 20 times a day. Imagine the mayor of Chicago boasting that his police officers only get jumped by hoodlums 20 times a day.

Odierno, whom a senior military official describes as "a pit bull on a poodle," says we should take advantage of our opportunity to establish "overall stability in the Middle East." We’ve spent the last eight years blowing Middle East stability to smithereens. How does Odie reckon we’re going to fix things now?

Where do we find such men? (Answer: West Point, Md.)

Desert Ox Odierno says, "People have to get past why we came here." Odie and his confederates would love for people to forget why we invaded Iraq. As the September 2000 neoconservative manifesto “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” stated, the purpose was to build a centrally located military base of operations so we could play "a more permanent role in Gulf regional security."

Everyone who has been tracking Iraq knows that a permanent military presence in Iraq is still the objective – even Tom Ricks. In a Feb. 25 piece at ForeignPolicy.com, he offered a "signed copy of any of my books" to whoever guesses closest as to how many troops we’ll still have in Iraq in 2014.

The correct guess can only be one of two things: "zero" or "too many."

And 2014 is a mighty long time to wait for a signed copy of anybody’s books, much less one of Tom Ricks’.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unwarranted Influence

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
President Dwight David Eisenhower, 1961

Michael D. "Mike" Furlong has, to all appearances, established himself as the premier military-industrial scumbag of the New American Century, an eye-watering accomplishment considering the competition in this category.

Furlong is the prototypical American war mongrel. During his 25-year military career he ingratiated himself into the circles of power through tours in Washington, and he managed to transition upon retirement from active duty into the upper levels of the defense industry, where he exploited his expertise in information operations (IO). As a defense contractor, Furlong established U.S.-government-funded propaganda broadcast networks in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. As an "on-site contractor for the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy," according to his bio at the official U.S. Air Force Web site, he "received the Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Award for his strategic influence work following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

The official Air Force Web site doesn’t mention that the undersecretary of defense for policy at the time was neoconservative luminary Douglas J. Feith, who was also in charge of the Office of Special Plans and the Office of Strategic Influence, the infamous sub-ministries of truth created by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to concoct a case for invading Iraq. With credentials and connections like that, it’s little mystery how Furlong bagged a senior-level executive government billet as the Strategic Planner and Technology Integration Adviser for Joint Information Operations Warfare Command at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

And with the amoral fiber that made him so useful to Feith and Rumsfeld, it’s no wonder at all how Furlong managed to parlay his experience as a government big shot into defense contracts for all his friends to sell information to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) mob of Central Command assassins.

According to Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, Furlong "hired contractors from private security companies that employed former CIA and Special Forces operatives" who "gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action."

There isn’t room in a column-length essay to fully explain all the things that are wrong with this arrangement, but we’ll hit the highlights.

The core sin that should land Furlong and his confederates (named by the Times as contractor Robert Young Pelton, former CIA official Duane Clarridge, and ex-network news executive Eason Jordan) in perdition is the assassination program itself. For the jackal’s share of a decade now, we’ve had people running amok in the western slice of Asia knocking off "suspected" terrorists on the say-so of local sources who couldn’t pass even the most cursory background check. Whenever we run these assassination raids, whether we do it with manned aircraft or drones or platoons of dudes with rifles and night-vision goggles, we tend to not get the alleged evildoer we were going after or we never find out for sure if we got him, and even if we’re sure we got him, we’re not all that sure he did any evil. He might just have been a lifelong enemy of the scumbag we paid to finger him. We can, however, be pretty sure that all the women and children we rubbed out in the process of offing the ostensible bad guy didn’t do any evil at all, so we’ve got that going for us.

That the U.S. government is conducting this kind of barbarism in the name of its people is bad enough, but it’s doing it in such a way as to distance itself from the crime. In the case of Furlong’s racket, we have retired guys who can no longer be held responsible for anything who, for all anyone knows, pull their "intelligence" out of their rear ends. They pass this information along to the "officials" who assign the wet work to a bunch of sorry suckers who have to answer to a chain of command and a code of justice. When things go to hell in a handcar, it’s not the guys who are getting both retirement pay and contract blood money from Uncle Sam who get in trouble; it’s the guys who won’t ever see a government retirement because they’ll be out on their ears with bad discharges long before they qualify for one. These guys will have trouble getting decent jobs on the outside because of their criminal records and will drift into killing unarmed civilians for mercenary outfits like Blackwater, but that’s a separate trail of military-industrial slime.

The slime trail we want to follow on this story is the one that leads to the upper tiers of the food chain, where bags even scummier than Furlong are trying to skulk away from the scene of the crime without getting sucked into the dragnet.

Read Adm. Gregory Smith, a career bull-feather merchant who is McChrystal’s chief propaganda and information warfare officer, says there are nine international media venues under employ of the U.S. military in Afghanistan doing "routine jobs in administration, information processing, and analysis." Whatever any other international media employees might be doing in Afghanistan, Smith has no idea about, and whatever they were up to, he certainly wasn’t responsible for their actions, he told Filkins and Mazzetti of the Times. But, Smith added, whatever they might have been doing, he was against it and he didn’t want them to do it any more. So there.

Filkins and Mazzetti also tell us "American officials don’t know" who "condoned and supervised" Furlong’s "off-the-books spy operation." Moreover, Filkins and Mazzetti say, despite the fact that Furlong is known to have "extensive experience" in psychological operations and has "plied his trade" in Iraq, the Balkans and elsewhere, officials don’t know exactly when Furlong’s "activities" began. The officials do know, however, that those activities "seemed to accelerate" in the summer of 2009.

Filkins and Mazzetti don’t tell us that summer of 2009 is when McChrystal took command of the mess in Afghanistan, and that before that, he and his SOCOM assassination team answered directly to Dick Cheney, that bosom pal of Doug Feith and Donald Rumsfeld. If Filkins and Mazzetti had mentioned those things, it might be impossible for anyone to avoid the conclusion that McChrystal has been the head culprit in Furlong’s shenanigans from the get-go.

When you get down to it, Furlong’s part in this scandal was that of a functionary, not of a co-conspirator. How he became the fall stooge is a bit of a mystery. In my time we’d have said that he must have knocked up some big shot’s wife or daughter, but these days that sort of thing is paltry.

Maybe they talked him into wearing the goat collar by promising him a house in the Hamptons and a VP slot with Lockheed Martin when he gets out of the can.

And they’ll probably make McChrystal CEO.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy Retired, writes at Antiwar.com and Pen and Sword. His novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global hegemony, is on sale now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lawyers, Guns and Blackwater

It’s shameful enough for the country that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined to hire mercenaries to fight its woebegone wars; the mercenaries we hire are hooligans who we kicked out of our overpriced military.

As Tim McGlone of The Virginian-Pilot reported on March 8, two Blackwater "workers" – Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Texas – got themselves escorted to the front gate with other-than-honorable discharges shoved up their pockets over a shopping list of infractions. Drotleff and Cannon are now ex-workers of Blackwater because in May 2009 they shot three unarmed Afghan civilians, which, to be fair to Drotleff and Cannon, is a relatively small number of unarmed civilians to shoot by Blackwater standards, and what’s more, only two of them were killed, for cripes’ sake. The third civilian was just wounded and is probably grateful to still be alive.

Not surprisingly, Blackwater didn’t have either of these hooligan’s military records on file even though they were required to by contractual agreement. The contract also required Blackwater to review the hooligans’ records before hiring them, which Blackwater probably did, and that’s probably why the records weren’t on file, so Blackwater could plead ignorance when the hooligans pulled a stunt like shooting unarmed Afghan civilians.

Drotleff and Cannon’s boss at Blackwater was no altar boy either. Johnnie Walker (supposedly that really is his name) was a two-fisted, double-barreled, heat-seeking disaster. A senior Blackwater executive wrote an internal memo that said Walker’s management at Camp Alamo in Kabul “cultivated an environment that indirectly” led to the May shootings, and he described Walker as “an exceptionally ineffective” manager who habitually blew off meetings with Department of Defense and NATO officials. The Blackwater executive also mentioned that Johnnie Walker was a Hemingway-class drinker and characterized him as having “no regard for policies, rules, or adherence to regulations in country.”

Local military brass weren’t enamored of Walker’s Wild West show. Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica at one point wrote a memo to the Camp Alamo’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Brian Redmon, demanding that he get the Blackwater cowboys under control, but there wasn’t much Redmon could do about them. The mercenaries weren’t in his chain of command, and they weren’t subject to discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Redmon wrote to his superiors asking for clarification as to just what his responsibilities regarding the Blackwater workers were, but he never heard back.

Walker had a deal worked out where Blackwater employees had access to the weapons arsenal at Camp Alamo, even though the weapons were for use by the Afghan police and the U.S. Army only. One Blackwater worker checked out weapons under the name "Eric Cartman," which is the name of the fat kid on the TV show South Park. Sometimes the Blackwater workers didn’t bother to sign for the weapons as Stan or Butters or any of the other kids on South Park, or as anybody at all, for that matter.

The Blackwater workers managed to get hundreds of guns from a Navy buddy of theirs identified as Chief Warrant Officer Sailer (another allegedly real name) with no paperwork or receipts of any kind to document the transition. In a teleconference interview with Senate Armed Services Committee staffers investigating the weapon-custody shenanigans, Sailer allowed as how yeah, he’d given guns to Blackwater guys, but he didn’t remember the circumstances. Sailer also said in response to written questions that he did "not recall ever having a conversation with anyone picking up weapons … regarding the intended use of the weapons." He probably didn’t recall bothering to ask what their intended use was either, nor did he likely recall why he thought it was no big deal to hand over weapons without getting any documentation. Chief Warrant Officer Sailer needs to become Seaman Recruit Sailer for as long as it takes the military legal system to turn him into Mr. Sailer, at which time he’ll no doubt use his other-than-honorable discharge to get a civilian job with Blackwater.

The musical gun monkey business led to an "accident" in December 2008 in which one Blackwater worker shot another worker in the head. As Johnnie Walker told Senate committee staffers, some of his workers determined they needed "learn how to shoot" from a vehicle. One of the workers decided it would be a good idea to get on the back of a moving car with an AK-47 and "ride it like a stagecoach." The car hit a bump and the gun went off and shot one of the other workers in the head.

The worker who got shot in the head suffered brain damage and is partly paralyzed. Even though the incident involved "unauthorized activities" and, in Walker’s words, "poor judgment," Army and Blackwater supervisors allowed the reindeer games to continue, and that led to the May shooting of Afghan civilians by Drotleff and Cannon. On the day of that shooting, Drotleff, Cannon, and Walker attended a party of the sort that in my day we called a "DRUNK-EX." Hey, who doesn’t need a little liquid courage before they go out and plug a few unarmed civilians?

Days after the deadly incident, Walker, still tight as a tick, made a phone call to his superiors at Blackwater and threatened to pull his entire security team out of Afghanistan if he were fired. In retrospect, Blackwater probably wishes it had taken him up on the offer. Raytheon, the primary contractor, fired Blackwater from the job last summer. Now renamed "Xe" in an effort to clean up its image but still referred to by the entire known universe as "Blackwater," the company is trying to get a new contract for $1 billion to do the same job it was doing before it got the ax from Raytheon, which is training Afghan police. Yikes. With security forces trained by the likes of Walker and Drotleff and Cannon, who needs insurgents?

Xe Vice President Fred Roitz says the bad old Blackwater days are over, that the company has cleaned up its act now. Roitz doesn’t mention that the new management and policies were already in place when the May killings occurred, or that the killings were merely the latest chapter in a long litany of bad behavior displayed by mercenaries who we’re ostensibly paying to fight terrorism, not to practice it.

Mercenary work is an ugly business that new vice presidents and new policies won’t make any prettier. It’s the kind of work done by the Drotleffs and Cannons and Walkers of this world, and for every Johnnie Walker you fire or bring to justice, there’s a Jim Beam and a Jack Daniels and an Old Granddad or two from Vietnam days who are ready, willing, and able to knock down fast money for behaving like homicidal sociopaths.

Blackwater is under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department over more sins than you can throw a grand inquisitor at, and that’s fine, but the best way to get mercenaries to stop running amok is to quit hiring them. That alone, however, won’t stop our national rampage, because, as horrible as it is to admit, our mercenaries haven’t killed the tiniest fraction of innocent civilians that our official uniformed military has.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Truth Blurts

Individuals in the upper level of the Pentagon and media polloi are beginning to commit a cardinal sin. They’re blurting the truth – sort of. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s senior spin surgeon (his father was a Hollywood publicity agent), says that "Afghans are in the lead" of the Marjah offensive. But not everybody involved in writing the narrative is willing to tell a lie that big.

New York Times journalist C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, was among the first mainstream media voices to shoot down claims the Afghan army was leading the operation. In a Feb. 20 article posted from Marjah, Chivers reported that Marines were doing the "heavy lifting" while the Afghans lagged behind. They lagged so far behind, Chivers noted, that the Marines coined a new acronym: WOA (waiting on the Afghans).

"Statements from Kabul have said the Afghan military is planning the missions and leading both the fight and the effort to engage with Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and the newly arrived troops," Chivers wrote. "But that assertion conflicts with what is visible in the field. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops."

In response to truth-outs like Chivers’, unnamed "senior military officials" tell us via NPR that the U.S. definition of "in the lead" means the Afghans are "planning the operation" and are "sitting down with Afghan elders in mosques or in meetings known as shuras."

If the Afghans are sitting down with elders in mosques, it’s because U.S. planners told them to go find another babysitter. Planning a military operation like the Marjah madness involves a lot of things; talking to old civilians isn’t really one of them.

The logistical complexity of moving and equipping and feeding a force the size of the one Gen. Stanley McChrystal drove into Marjah is something far beyond anything the Afghans are capable of. Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson blurted to NPR that the quality of Afghan troops and police is so poor that "probably 3 to 4 out of every 10 we have probably need to really go home.”

That assessment jibes with a Jan. 31 60 Minutes report on U.S. Army Green Berets attempting to train Afghan commandos. These Afghan commandos were supposedly the best of the best recruits the Afghan army has, um, recruited. On top of that, the Afghan commandos received three months of "advanced training" before coming to the Green Berets for graduate-level studies. The best of the best Afghan soldiers turned out to be a battalion of Sad Sacks. One night one of the Afghan commandos accidentally shot the unit’s American medic in the leg. The next night one of the Afghan commandos shot himself in the foot, a haunting analog of what we’re doing to ourselves in Afghanistan.

Frustrated, the Green Berets began retraining the Afghans in basics of loading their rifles and carrying them safely. When the best-of-the-best Afghan troops couldn’t even handle that, the Green Berets put them back in "boot camp," attempting to teach them by yelling at them, by making them do strenuous exercise until they vomited, and probably by roughing them up a considerable bit (60 Minutes didn’t show the roughing-them-up part).

James Danly, a retired Army officer who trained Iraqi forces, told NPR, “You don’t forge armies out of nothing." That’s disheartening, since it sounds like "nothing" is precisely what we’re trying to forge the Afghan army out of. It’s not a simple thing, Danly says, "for units to become cohesive" and to learn to do tasks like load and carry their rifles tasks properly. “It could take a long time,” Danly says.

It could take forever. Afghan forces are starting from prenatal stage compared to where Iraq’s security force started – prior to the Iraqi Freedom invasion, Iraq had an actual army that had won an actual war with one of its neighbors – yet the Iraqis haven’t progressed much past the Gomer Pyle level themselves.

In July 2009, five years after "King" David Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the U.S. Army’s Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, blurted a memo lambasting the Iraqis’ lack of combat readiness. Corruption in the Iraqi officer corps is "widespread," Reese said. Enlisted men are neglected and mistreated. Cronyism and nepotism are "rampant." Laziness is "endemic." Lack of initiative is "legion." Iraq’s forces are "unable to plan," and their "near total effectiveness" prevents them from becoming self-sustaining.

After Iraq’s fourth election since U.S. psychological operations forces staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad nearly seven years ago, violence is once again rampant and the hapless Iraqi forces are helpless to stop it. Conditions in Iraq are so bad that Petraeus’ pet ox, "Babe" Odierno, who always makes me think of John Candy’s character in the film Stripes, is again echoing the mantra that he may have to delay the timeline for sending combat troops home. (Lean-mean-fightin’ Odierno has been the official mascot of the Long War Society since February 2009, when he went on record with Petraeus hagiographer and former journalist Thomas E. Ricks as wanting to scrap President Obama’s withdrawal plan and keep 30,000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq until 2015 or whenever.)

As investigative correspondent Gareth Porter notes, the main purpose of the Marjah offensive was not to gain a military advantage over the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan. The operation was geared to influence U.S. public opinion. In operational art, this sort of thing is called an incremental victory, a success (usually a meaningless one) designed to dupe the folks on the home front to continue to support an unjustifiable war.

Ricks blurted in a February Washington Post piece clearly aimed at pleasing the war mafia that Petraeus, as commander of the surge in Iraq, never had any intention of "creating conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage,” as he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Petraeus’ intention was to use cherry-picked violence statistics and other incremental victory stratagems to make Congress and the public think he was making progress so the Pentagon could make its Long War longer.

The modus is the same in Afghanistan. Marjah is a "test" that will tell us if the much-touted clear-hold-build counterinsurgency strategy will work. Marjah will pass the test, of course. At least, it will in the press releases McChrystal’s psyops czar Rear Adm. Gregory Smith hands out to the mainstream media’s stenography pool. And in Smith’s version of history, the Afghan army will have led the victory, no matter how many people blurt that they did so from their safe haven in the rear echelon.

Petraeus himself did a bit of blurting recently on Meet the Press when he explained that the Marjah offensive was "just the initial operation of what will be a 12- to 18-month campaign." That would put the campaign right up against President Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning to withdraw troops, a deadline that the Petraeus mob is taking as seriously as it’s taking Obama’s Iraq deadlines. Petraeus also noted that the 12- to 18-month campaign has been "mapped out" by Gen. McChrystal and his team. Petraeus apparently didn’t get the memo about how he’s supposed to say the Afghans are doing all the planning now.

Tsk, tsk, General.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oops, Our Bad

Among the worst Orwellian deceptions being exposed by the Pentagon’s Marjah offensive is the ludicrous notion that we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan in order to protect Afghan civilians. The recent U.S. Special Forces air strike in the Marjah area that killed 27 or more civilians, including four women and a child, is a prime example of a cognitive disconnect that has been endemic in U.S. military operations throughout our misnamed war on terrorism.

The Feb. 21 air strike occurred in an area under Dutch control. The Dutch are durn-burnit het up about that, because the day before, the Dutch government collapsed over an initiative to extend the deployment of the country’s 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. (We could learn something from the Dutch on how to throw a peace movement, couldn’t we?)

A Dutch Defense Ministry spokesmodel, who talked to the press at the Hague on what the New York Times described as "customary anonymity," said it wasn’t any Dutch boy who called in that air strike. The Dutch Defense Dude wouldn’t say who did call in the air strike, and unidentified NATO officials didn’t say who ordered the strike in either. Sadly, it’s just possible that nobody knows who called in the air strike. If that’s the case, though, the operations types running the show over there are bigger screw-ups than I thought they were, and I already thought they were colossal screw-ups.

The NATO officials did, however, release a statement that said, "After the joint ground force arrived at the scene and found women and children, they transported the wounded to medical treatment facilities." It’s a good thing the NATO guys made sure everybody knows they took care of the civilians they wounded; otherwise, the Afghans might have gotten mad about all the civilians they killed.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head hatter of the Marjah madness, expressed his "sorrow and regret" over the civilian deaths to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This happened moments after McChrystal won two out of three falls from a crocodile in a crying contest. Dead civilians? Oops, my bad.

McChrystal’s been wearing a bleeding-heart mask ever since his confirmation hearing in June 2009 when he fed the Senate Armed Services Committee that line of coke about how "the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence." McChrystal then turned around and, in his first major action as commander in Afghanistan, launched an offensive in Kandahar province designed to kill the enemy.

The Pentagon (i.e., Gen. David Petraeus and his minions) sold McChrystal to the Senate as a counterinsurgency expert. McChrystal was and is nothing of the kind. From 2003 to 2008, he commanded the Joint Special Operations Command, the super secret outfit that reported directly to Dick Cheney and that specialized in targeting, tracking, and assassinating suspected terrorists in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

You can bet a shiny new Missouri quarter that for the five years Stan the Man and his Howling Commandos were running amok in the west end of Asia they whacked a whole lot of mommies and babies more or less by mistake. McChrystal has more blood on his hands than Lady Macbeth. His apology to Karzai for the recent collateral deaths, like his confirmation hearing statement about protecting Afghan civilians, was a talking point crafted for him by the likes of Rear Adm. Gregory "Word" Smith, a career bull-feather merchant who is now McChrystal’s propaganda czar.

Smith no doubt had a lot to do with fabricating the "tactical directive" McChrystal promulgated in June 2009 that ordered a "new operational standard" to "minimize the use of deadly force" as a measure to protect Afghan civilians. Smith briefed the press that not only would McChrystal cut back the air strikes, but ground troops would refrain from "firing on structures where insurgents may have taken refuge among civilians" unless, of course, "Western or allied troops are in imminent danger."

The assertion made by Smith and other war merchants that we can separate the "enemy from the people" in a scenario like the one we have in Afghanistan is hallucinatory. The Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan didn’t invade the country. There may or may not be foreign fighters in theater looking for an opportunity to sock it to Uncle Sam’s infidels, but this insurgency, like pretty much all insurgencies, is a home-based enterprise. What’s more, just about everybody in Afghanistan and Pakistan is related to somebody who totes a gun for the guerillas, so separating the "civilians" from the insurgents would involve splitting genetic material. As one Pentagon planner has aptly noted, “It’s harder to separate the enemy from the people when they are the people.”

Hence, when you bump against insurgents, you bulldoze civilians, and if the insurgents are fighting you, you are bound by the U.S. Standing Rules of Engagement that command you to defend yourself and your unit. And if you’re in danger, which you are the moment you’re in a firefight you can’t withdraw from, you call in an air strike to bail you out of it.

So the June 2009 order to limit air strikes didn’t limit air strikes at all. In fact, at the time the directive was issued, one of McChrystal’s advisers said the order didn’t mean the use of air power would be reduced. It just meant, as the Los Angeles Times related, that the "emphasis" would be on "protecting civilians rather than killing insurgents."

What kind of air strike emphasizes protecting civilians? The kind that drops leaflets that say "Have a Nice Day" in Pashto? And if the emphasis of an air strike isn’t to kill insurgents, why call it in to begin with?

McChrystal has now issued a new directive that will, as the Boston Globe puts it, "limit night raids on civilians." What in the wide world of sports are they conducting night raids on civilians for? McChrystal says, "We didn’t understand what a cultural line it was" to burst into civilian Muslims’ homes. We’ve been busting into Muslims’ homes for nearly a decade now to disastrous results. How could McChrystal or anyone not understand what a cultural line it is to cross? How could anyone not understand what a line it is to cross in any culture? Does McChrystal think maybe the Jews in Berlin liked it when the Gestapo kicked their doors in? Will Americans like it when Chinese bill collectors come for their high-definition TVs and bargain barn furniture?

Like the directive on air strikes, the directive on night raids is classified so we can’t see what it actually says, but Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a NATO spokesmodel, tells us it "does not limit the ability of troops to operate." It’s just that the emphasis of raiding civilian’s homes will now be to protect the civilians who live in them, not to kill insurgents.

It’s entirely possible that the personality disorders with life-support systems that run our military truly believe the lies they tell us, but that doesn’t excuse them. It merely makes them pathological liars, along with the other malignant things they are.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.