Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 104 Re-run

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Description: Interventions, Interference, and Invasions: Nate and Bill lead a world tour of the post-WWII history of countries entering other countries’ civil wars and uprisings, for good or ill, and what it means for the future. (We talk about Cuba, Angola, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, and many others.) People: Bill, Nate. Originally produced: October 20th, 2014. Re-edited and abridged: April 19, 2017.

Discussion Points:

– Kissinger’s plan to bomb Cuba and what the future of the embargo is
– CIA history: Why arming rebels has often failed and what it means for US plans in Syria now
– What does the future hold for international and unilateral military interventions in armed conflicts and crises? Is the UN still relevant?

Episode 104-Abridged (54 min)
AFD 104

Related links
Segment 1

NYT: Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show
AFD: Jimmy Carter’s Election Prevented a Disastrous War in Cuba

Segment 2

NYT: CIA Study Says Arming Rebels Seldom Works

Segment 3

AFD: Confusion in Libya as Egyptian jets bomb Benghazi
AFD: US suddenly surprised to find Mideast states acting unilaterally
AFD: Is the US-led Syria operation vs ISIS legal under international law?
AFD: France announces indefinite Sahel deployment
AFD: France: Back to Africa?

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Half a billion dollars of US spending evaporated in Syria

There’s one important fact to know in light of recent headlines about Russia’s Air Force bombing US-trained fighters in Syria, which I have pulled from the news from about two weeks ago…

AFP:

Only four or five U.S-trained Syrian fighters remain on the battlefield against ISIS militants, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East acknowledged Wednesday in the face of withering criticism from senators who dismissed the training program as a “total failure” and demanded a change of strategy.

Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is looking at better ways to deploy the Syrian forces, but he agreed that the U.S. will not reach its goal of training 5,000 in the near term.

Wall Street Journal:

If the Pentagon shifts course to focus on training small numbers of fighters, it would represent a reversal. The military has criticized the Central Intelligence Agency’s lackluster covert effort to train Syrian rebels as ineffective because it produced too few fighters.

When the Obama administration shifted the main training program to the Pentagon, the military sought to train 5,000 Syrian rebels by year’s end. But the program has been slow to get off the ground and the first group of 54 fighters to enter Syria this summer was quickly routed by rival fighters.

 
There’s a second important fact. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the cost of the failed program:

Under one proposal being crafted at the Pentagon, the $500 million train-and-equip program—a core component of the U.S. Syria strategy—would be supplanted by a more modest effort focused on creating specially trained militants empowered to call in U.S. airstrikes, defense officials said.

 
But at least we had wasted it *before* the Russians bombed the last few guys. Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front took care of that.

AP: US-backed Syrian rebels flee HQ after clash with Nusra Front

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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AP / Lebanon Daily Star: US-backed rebel group flees north Syria HQ after clash with Nusra:

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said members of the Division 30 faction fled to a nearby area controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia. Abu al-Hassan Marea, a Syrian activist who is currently in Turkey near the Syrian border, confirmed Saturday that Division 30 fighters have withdrawn from their headquarters.

Abdurrahman and Marea said Division 30 had less than 60 fighters and that on Friday alone the group lost five fighters and 18 others were wounded.
[…]
On Friday night the Nusra Front said it attacked Division 30 and abducted some of its members because they were trained by the CIA and vowed in a statement to cut off “the arms” of the American government in Syria.

A U.S. military official seemed to deny any American connection to Division 30, saying on Friday that no member of a U.S.-backed rebel faction had been abducted.

 
Despite the denial of connection, the U.S. military appeared to have responded directly to the situation as it unfolded, according to CNN, based on a policy implemented days earlier:

Syrian rebels backed by the United States will now have air cover if they come under attack after President Barack Obama signed off on the decision, a senior administration official confirms to CNN on Sunday.
[…]
This comes after the United States conducted airstrikes last week to protect two groups after they came under attack: U.S.-trained rebels and the U.S.-affiliated rebels of the 30th division.

U.S. aircraft came in after the attack on a compound where members of the New Syria Force, which is the U.S.-trained-and-equipped rebel group, were located as well members of the 30th division.

 


Previously from AFD on these topics:

Free Syrian Arms: The fall of the CIA’s Harakat Hazm force against Nusra Front
Will the U.S. become the Syrian rebels’ air force?
FT: “Syria rebels sceptical about Turkey’s plan to tackle IS”
U.S. agrees to clear a “safe zone” in northern Syria

CIA believes Iran will use new revenue at home, not abroad

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Haaretz (Israel): “CIA: Iran unlikely to significantly boost post-sanction funds on militant groups”

Iran will pump most of the revenue it receives from the lifting of international sanctions – expected to reach some $100 billion – into its limping economy and won’t significantly boost funding for militant groups in the Middle East, according to an intelligence assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency.
[…]
The CIA analysts concluded that even if Tehran increases its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi rebels in Yemen and the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the additional funding is unlikely to tip the balance of power in the world’s most volatile region.
[…]
The Obama administration is banking on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates in Iran’s leadership investing most of the anticipated money into domestic infrastructure and other social investments, to quell growing public frustration over unemployment, the high inflation rate and a shortage of imported goods.

 

The armed drones free-for-all at the CIA

Buried in a December 2014 New York Times article was this passage that has been knocking around in my head ever since:

During the presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama railed against the [Central Intelligence A]gency’s use of torture and secret prisons during the Bush administration, and shuttered the detention program during his first week in office. But he has empowered the agency in other ways — including allowing its director, not the White House, to make the final decisions about drone strikes in Pakistan.

 
In other words, an agency that has actively resisted Congressional oversight attempts (to the point of hacking Senate computers) now doesn’t even have Executive oversight — or oversight by any elected civilian — when blowing people away with missiles. The CIA drones program has the power the make literal life and death decisions day in and day out with nobody externally keeping track of it or authorizing individual strikes.

Worse, these strikes aren’t even targeting high-profile people most of the time. Or even any-profile people. The use of so-called “signature strikes” — where they bomb a physical or moving target that has the visual “signature” of something that might be terrorists — by the CIA has become commonplace. These strikes aren’t based on any actual intelligence suggesting someone worth targeting is there. The target just “fits a profile.” That’s how innocent wedding parties get bombed instead of terrorist convoys.

A recent op-ed in The Guardian looked at the general lawlessness and lack of rules surrounding the paramilitary use of drones by the CIA:

After the “rules” were announced in 2013, the Associated Press reported that the US was going to stop signature strikes everywhere, including in Pakistan. Then we found out, through the Wall Street Journal, that actually, no, the president issued a secret waiver for Pakistan and part of the rules didn’t apply there. Now just this week, we’ve learned from the Washington Post that Obama, at some point, issued another waiver on the “imminent” rule for Yemen, allowing the CIA to continue signature strikes there unabated. According to their report: “US officials insisted that there was never a comprehensive ban on the use of signature strikes in that country” to begin with.

In other words, a key part of the drone “rules” Obama laid out in public don’t apply in the two countries where the CIA conducts virtually all of its drone strikes. Oh, and the “imminent threat” rule doesn’t apply in Afghanistan either, the only other country where the US military is regularly conducting its strikes.

 
We should probably keep foreign intelligence collection and analysis in one agency and keep military activities in the military. Unaccountable paramilitaries are never a good development for any country — particularly not a democracy.

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt via Wikimedia)

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt via Wikimedia)

US-backed Syrian rebels make great al Qaeda partners

Background

– In November 2014, the CIA-trained and armed Harakat Hazm fighters in Syria got into a confrontation with Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in the Syrian Civil War, and basically fled the battlefield, abandoning their U.S.-supplied anti-tank weapons to the extremists.
– By late December 2014, Nusra Front had taken effective control of all major insurgent operations not aligned with ISIS. All “moderate” and “pro-Western” forces essentially joined forces with Syrian al Qaeda or were cut loose from the action.

Latest Development

McClatchy: “U.S.-backed rebels team with Islamists to capture Syrian city”

Rebels, including members of U.S.-backed groups and al Qaida’s Nusra Front, captured the strategic town of Jisr al Shughur in northwest Syria on Saturday, the second major setback for the government of President Bashar Assad in Idlib province in a month.
[…]
The latest rebel victory came surprisingly quickly, apparently aided by U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles. Islamist groups announced the battle only Wednesday.
[…]
Videos posted on social media showed that U.S.-supplied TOW missiles played a critical role, destroying dozens of government tanks and vehicles. The opposition run Masar News Network reported that rebel forces captured dozens of regime troops as well as three tanks and three other armored vehicles.
[…]
The U.S. in recent months has severed relationships with some moderate rebel groups that had surrendered weapons to Nusra.

Video posted on social media Saturday showed fighters from two major groups that still receive U.S. support, Division 13 and the Sukur al Ghab Brigades, participating in the fighting, including firing TOWs.

 

Bill’s Inner Monologue

“Teamwork!” he cried, sarcastically, as he thought about how great it is to be a taxpaying adult in the U.S. and to have the ‘opportunity’ to covertly fund heavy arms for extremist groups in Southwest Asia, just like his parents got to do in the 1980s. “These are definitely not policy actions that will ripple back negatively later in my lifetime,” he added, cynically predicting the opposite of his words.

Maybe we can finally drop the pretenses that there’s a serious, non-extremist, independent opposition force of any military significance in Syria…

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Senegal, AU launch “universal jurisdiction” prosecution of ex-Chad dictator

Chad’s brutal ex-dictator Hissène Habré will stand trial for war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity in a landmark trial in Senegal. This is huge news if it goes forward because the Senegal trial — undertaken with African Union backing — and will be the African continent’s first-ever use of “universal jurisdiction.”

Universal jurisdiction is a controversial doctrine that allows countries to prosecute people they arrest for significant crimes of mass violence and human rights abuses committed in other places, even without direct interests of or crimes against the prosecuting country. It has been used most heavily by Spain (full story➚).

Habré, who ruled from 1982 until the 1990 coup that brought incumbent President Idriss Déby to power, has been in Senegal since his fall from power. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 and then formally taken to jail in 2013 ahead of the now-upcoming trial. He has been sought by various jurisdictions, including Chad, for his 1980s crimes — which include hundreds if not tens of thousands of political killings and tens or hundreds of thousands of torture victims — but until now he has avoided prosecution.

Universal jurisdiction efforts against him began as far back as 2000. Senegal was initially unsure whether it could apply universal jurisdiction in its domestic courts, but the country is a firm supporter of international justice as a general principle, having been the first country to ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Throughout Habré’s rule he received paramilitary assistance from the United States (via the CIA) as part of Chad’s on-again-off-again war with Libya’s Qaddafi regime. Besides his crimes again humanity, Habré was most notable on the international stage, especially in retrospect, for his pioneering use of Toyota pickup trucks with improvised gun-mounts for highly-mobile desert combat, a tactic he used against the Libyan Army’s tanks to surprisingly strong effect. This tactic’s late 1980s use in the war with Libya may well have influenced the use of pickup trucks with improvised gun mounts in Libya’s 2011 Revolution against Qaddafi, which may have then spread via Libyan fighters to ISIS (and other insurgent groups) in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

There was extensive (albeit secret) U.S. panic when Habré fell from power that CIA-delivered heavy weapons, including the same type of anti-air equipment as what they were delivering to Afghanistan at the same time, might fall into the hands of Qaddafi, who at that point had already brought down the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie.

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)