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Posts Tagged ‘John O. Brennan

Is there a Secret Deal on Drone attacks? And Sealed in Blood…

The C.I.A. has carried out hundreds of strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.

Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Nek Muhammad’s left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16.

A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound. “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, the former Pakistani president military dictator whose government reached a deal with the C.I.A., allowing it to carry out secret drone strikes in Pakistan.

 

“Mr. Nek Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state.

By 2004, the car thief Mr. Muhammad had become the undisputed star of the tribal areas, the fierce mountain lands populated by the Wazirs, Mehsuds and other Pashtun tribes who for decades had lived independent of the writ of the central government in Islamabad.

A brash member of the Wazir tribe, Mr. Muhammad had raised an army to fight government troops and had forced the government into negotiations. He saw no cause for loyalty to the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani military spy service that had given an earlier generation of Pashtuns support during the war against the Soviets.

Born near Wana, the bustling market hub of South Waziristan, Mr. Muhammad spent his adolescent years as a petty car thief and shopkeeper in the city’s bazaar. He found his calling in 1993, around the age of 18, when he was recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and rose quickly through the group’s military hierarchy.

He cut a striking figure on the battlefield with his long face and flowing jet black hair.

Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.

Kamran Wazir/Reuters. Nek Muhammad, center, was a Pashtun militant who was killed in 2004, in the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan.

In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill Nek in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.

That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate.

The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization

 The New York Times. Enlarge This Image

REMOTE Wana, in South Waziristan, where Pashtuns live independent of the Pakistani government’s authority and have given shelter to militants. Enlarge This Image

TARGET Mr. Muhammad, a Pashtun militant leader, reached a truce with the Pakistani military in April 2004. But the truce was a sham and two months later he was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike at Pakistan’s behest. Enlarge This Image

Allah Noor Wazir/European Pressphoto Agency. Tribesmen praying at Mr. Muhammad’s grave days after his killing. Enlarge This Image

The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.

Neither American nor Pakistani officials have ever publicly acknowledged what really happened to Mr. Muhammad — details of the strike that killed him, along with those of other secret strikes, are still hidden in classified government databases.

But in recent months, calls for transparency from members of Congress and critics on both the right and left have put pressure on Mr. Obama and his new C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, to offer a fuller explanation of the goals and operation of the drone program, and of the agency’s role.

Mr. Brennan, who began his career at the C.I.A. and over the past four years oversaw an escalation of drone strikes from his office at the White House, has signaled that he hopes to return the agency to its traditional role of intelligence collection and analysis. But with a generation of C.I.A. officers now fully engaged in a new mission, it is an effort that could take years.

Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the agency should have long given up targeted killings.

Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., when the agency was given the authority to kill Qaeda operatives, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.

As he puts it, “This is just not an intelligence mission.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images. SPY CHIEFS George J. Tenet, left, director of the C.I.A., and his deputy, John E. McLaughlin, are sworn in before the 9/11 panel in 2004. Enlarge This Image

Many Pakistanis in the tribal areas viewed with disdain the alliance that President Pervez Musharraf had forged with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They regarded the Pakistani military that had entered the tribal areas as no different from the Americans — who they believed had begun a war of aggression in Afghanistan, just as the Soviets had years earlier.

When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Nek seized an opportunity to host the Arab and Chechen fighters from Al Qaeda who crossed into Pakistan to escape the American bombing.

For Mr. Muhammad, it was partly a way to make money, but he also saw another use for the arriving fighters. With their help, over the next two years he launched a string of attacks on Pakistani military installations and on American firebases in Afghanistan.

C.I.A. officers in Islamabad urged Pakistani spies to lean on the Waziri tribesman to hand over the foreign fighters, but under Pashtun tribal customs that would be treachery.

Reluctantly, Mr. Musharraf ordered his troops into the forbidding mountains to deliver rough justice to Mr. Muhammad and his fighters, hoping the operation might put a stop to the attacks on Pakistani soil, including two attempts on his life in December 2003.

But it was only the beginning. In March 2004, Pakistani helicopter gunships and artillery pounded Wana and its surrounding villages. Government troops shelled pickup trucks that were carrying civilians away from the fighting and destroyed the compounds of tribesmen suspected of harboring foreign fighters. The Pakistani commander declared the operation an unqualified success, but for Islamabad, it had not been worth the cost in casualties.

A cease-fire was negotiated in April during a hastily arranged meeting in South Waziristan, during which a senior Pakistani commander hung a garland of bright flowers around Mr. Muhammad’s neck. The two men sat together and sipped tea as photographers and television cameras recorded the event.

Both sides spoke of peace, but there was little doubt who was negotiating from strength. Mr. Muhammad would later brag that the government had agreed to meet inside a religious madrasa rather than in a public location where tribal meetings are traditionally held. “I did Not go to them; they came to my place,” he said. “That should make it clear who surrendered to whom.”

The peace arrangement propelled Mr. Muhammad to new fame, and the truce was soon exposed as a sham. He resumed attacks against Pakistani troops, and Mr. Musharraf ordered his army back on the offensive in South Waziristan.

Pakistani officials had, for several years, balked at the idea of allowing armed C.I.A. Predators to roam their skies. They considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, and worried that they would invite further criticism of Mr. Musharraf as being Washington’s lackey. But Mr. Muhammad’s rise to power forced them to reconsider.

The C.I.A. had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan’s problem than America’s. In Washington, officials were watching with growing alarm the gathering of Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas, and George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, authorized officers in the agency’s Islamabad station to push Pakistani officials to allow armed drones. Negotiations were handled primarily by the Islamabad station.

As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?

In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India.

The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

Mr. Musharraf did not think that it would be difficult to keep up the ruse. As he told one C.I.A. officer: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

A New Direction

As the negotiations were taking place, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, had just finished a searing report about the abuse of detainees in the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. The report kicked out the foundation upon which the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program had rested. It was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.

The greatest impact of Mr. Helgerson’s report was felt at the C.I.A.’s Counter-terrorism Center, or CTC, which was at the vanguard of the agency’s global anti-terrorism operation. The center had focused on capturing Qaeda operatives; questioning them in C.I.A. jails or outsourcing interrogations to the spy services of Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and other nations; and then using the information to hunt more terrorism suspects.

Mr. Helgerson raised questions about whether C.I.A. officers might face criminal prosecution for the interrogations carried out in the secret prisons, and he suggested that interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the exploiting of the phobias of prisoners — like confining them in a small box with live bugs — violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

“The agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of the CTC detention and interrogation program,” the report concluded, given the brutality of the interrogation techniques and the “inability of the U.S. government to decide what it will ultimately do with the terrorists detained by the agency.”

The report was the beginning of the end for the program. The prisons would stay open for several more years, and new detainees were occasionally picked up and taken to secret sites, but at Langley, senior C.I.A. officers began looking for an endgame to the prison program. One C.I.A. operative told Mr. Helgerson’s team that officers from the agency might one day wind up on a “wanted list” and be tried for war crimes in an international court.

The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation. Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free.

Before long the C.I.A. would go from being the long-term jailer of America’s enemies to a military organization that erased them.

Not long before, the agency had been deeply ambivalent about drone warfare.

The Predator had been considered a blunt and unsophisticated killing tool, and many at the C.I.A. were glad that the agency had gotten out of the assassination business long ago. Three years before Mr. Muhammad’s death, and one year before the C.I.A. carried out its first targeted killing outside a war zone — in Yemen in 2002 — a debate raged over the legality and morality of using drones to kill suspected terrorists.

A new generation of C.I.A. officers had ascended to leadership positions, having joined the agency after the 1975 Congressional committee led by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which revealed extensive C.I.A. plots to kill foreign leaders, and President Gerald Ford’s subsequent ban on assassinations. The rise to power of this post-Church generation had a direct impact on the type of clandestine operations the C.I.A. chose to conduct.

The debate pitted a group of senior officers at the Counterterrorism Center against James L. Pavitt, the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, and others who worried about the repercussions of the agency’s getting back into assassinations. Mr. Tenet told the 9/11 commission that he was not sure that a spy agency should be flying armed drones.

John E. McLaughlin, then the C.I.A.’s deputy director, who the 9/11 commission reported had raised concerns about the C.I.A.’s being in charge of the Predator, said: “You can’t underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority.

“When people say to me, ‘It’s not a big deal,’ ” he said, “I say to them, ‘Have you ever killed anyone?’

“It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently,” he added. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, these concerns about the use of the C.I.A. to kill were quickly swept side.

The Account at the Time

After Mr. Muhammad was killed, his dirt grave in South Waziristan became a site of pilgrimage. A Pakistani journalist, Zahid Hussain, visited it days after the drone strike and saw a makeshift sign displayed on the grave: “He lived and died like a true Pashtun.”

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s top military spokesman, told reporters at the time that “Al Qaeda facilitator” Nek Muhammad and four other “militants” had been killed in a rocket attack by Pakistani troops.

Any suggestion that Mr. Muhammad was killed by the Americans, or with American assistance, he said, was “absolutely absurd.”

This article is adapted from “The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” to be published by Penguin Press on Tuesday.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 7, 2013.

Blasts in the Night, a Smell, and a Flood of Syrian Victims

It all began just after 2 a.m.

BEN HUBBARD, and  published this August 26, 2013 
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of sick and dying Syrians had flooded the hospitals in the Damascus suburbs before dawn, hours after the first rockets landed, their bodies convulsing and mouths foaming. Their vision was blurry and many could not breathe.

Multimedia
Areas Affected by the Alleged Chemical Attack in Syria

Shaam News Network, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Overwhelmed doctors worked frantically, jabbing their patients with injections of their only antidote, atropine, hoping to beat back the assault on the nervous system waged by suspected chemical agents. In just a few hours, as the patients poured in, the atropine ran out.

To avoid contamination, medics stripped new arrivals down to their underwear and doused them with water before taking them inside.

New patients kept coming. One doctor from the town of Kafr Batna likened the scene to a horror movie, with cars bringing in entire families — fathers, mothers and children — all of them dead.

The doctors soon faced a new problem: where to put the dead. Some were covered with blocks of ice to fend off the summer heat, others were wrapped in white sheets and lined up in rows so family members could identify the victims.

It would be hours before officials in Washington woke up on Wednesday to learn the extent of the massacre.

President Obama, who had recently returned from a weeklong vacation and planned a quiet day at the White House before departing for a two-day bus tour across New York and Pennsylvania, was told of the attack in the Oval Office that morning during his regular intelligence briefing.

Abo Alnour Alhaji/Reuters. On Monday, United Nations chemical weapons experts viewed some of the victims of last week’s attack near Damascus, Syria.

The White House issued a cautious public statement about the attacks from a deputy spokesman shortly before noon, but behind the scenes the president and his national security team were grappling with the urgency and enormity of the event: the largest mass killing of the Syrian civil war, and most likely the deadliest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein’s troops killed thousands of Kurds with sarin gas during the waning days of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Interviews with more than two dozen activists, rebels and doctors in areas near the attack sites, as well as an examination of more than 100 videos and photos of the aftermath, back up this assertion.

Not only has the attack brought widespread condemnation on President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, which the United States and its allies are convinced carried out the strike, it is also already shaping up as an inflection point for a war that has been grinding on for more than two years and has claimed more than 100,000 victims.

An American president who has tried desperately to keep the United States out of another war in the Middle East is now weighing a military attack on Syria — cornered by his own statement that a large-scale chemical weapons strike would be a “red line” forcing Washington to respond.

Bashar Assad’s government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, while blaming rebels for reported attacks. But Western nations say they have solid evidence that the Syrian government has used such weapons on at least two occasions before last Wednesday.

And the supplies of atropine on hand in rebel-held areas just outside Syria’s capital testify to the repeated, if limited, use of chemical agents as a tactical weapon in what has become a street-by-street war of attrition, the rebels and doctors said.

If the United States does get involved, it will most likely be because of the scale of what took place in the dead of night last Wednesday, in towns just outside Damascus that the government was determined to retake. The attacks caused such chaos among residents that the death toll is still unknown, and many are still uncertain about the fate of their relatives.

“Those are my cousins,” said one person in a video shot in the city of Hamouriyeh, pointing to the ground where the bodies of a man and his two children lay.

“I’m still looking for the rest,” he said. “Five or six of them.”

By nightfall in Syria, the bodies that were unclaimed had been buried in an archipelago of new mass graves. Before laying them to rest, activists put numbers on their foreheads and snapped photos — in case their families came looking for them later.

Many Trapped at Home

It began just after 2 a.m.

Those who heard the explosions and lived to tell about them were surprised at the sound, saying it was “like a water tank bursting” or “like opening a Pepsi bottle.”

Then came the smell, which burned eyes and throats, like onions or chlorine.

The effects were immediate and devastating.

At the time of the strikes, a few hours before morning prayers, most people were still asleep in their homes. The substance released by the barrage of rockets, which crashed into suburbs on two sides of Damascus, killed many people before they were even able to get out of their beds.

The deadliest of the attacks struck at the heart of a region known as Eastern Ghouta, an area northeast of Damascus whose towns have swelled into cities in recent decades with an influx of mostly poor Sunni Muslims from the countryside, the key constituency of the anti-Assad uprising.

Towns in the area have been held for more than a year by various factions of the rebellion. Unlike in northern and eastern Syria, extremist groups like the Nusra Front are not dominant. The area’s economic isolation made it fertile ground for the rebellion, and it has proved to be a perpetual threat to Mr. Assad’s control over the capital region.

The neighborhoods are dotted with homes that have been damaged — or have collapsed outright — from the persistent government shelling over the past year.

In the months before Wednesday’s attack, according to interviews with rebels, the battle around Eastern Ghouta had reached a stalemate. While both sides frequently carried out guerrilla raids and sniper attacks, the front lines had moved little.

In the meantime, the government had sought to break the stalemate by severing the region’s links to the capital and starving rebel troops in Eastern Ghouta. Shipments of flour, fuel and electricity to the area were stopped, and government troops on the few remaining byways confiscated bread and siphoned fuel from gas tanks to ensure it did not reach the rebels.

Shortly after Wednesday’s rocket barrage began, rebel fighters spread the news of the assault by shouting, “Chemical attack!” into their walkie-talkies while loudspeakers affixed to minarets on the top of mosques blared warnings to residents to flee or to seek fresh air on their rooftops.

As in many rebel areas, residents had grown used to dealing with government attacks, instincts that this time only increased the death toll.

According to local doctors, some people took cover in basements, where the gas settled and suffocated them. Medics and photographers who had become accustomed to rushing to the site of attacks arrived too quickly, succumbing to the gases themselves.

The attacks appeared to fit into a pattern of continued escalation by government forces throughout the war, with large strikes on residential areas that appear to serve no immediate tactical purpose.

Such attacks seem to be aimed not at killing rebel fighters, but at terrifying the rebels’ civilian backers in strategic areas that Mr. Assad’s forces have been unable to subdue.

“They knew that people’s sons were on the front lines, so if you hit their families, they would go back and check on them and it would be easier to invade,” said an activist from Zamalka who gave only his first name, Firas. But he said that the tactic had not worked and had instead rallied rebel fighters to defend their positions.

Some military analysts said that the apparent chemical attack appeared to be part of a broader operation by Mr. Assad’s forces, which have also used tanks, conventionally armed rockets and air power to wrest control of rebel areas around the Syrian capital.

“It appears that they were trying to break resistance in the Damascus area, which they have been trying to do unsuccessfully for some time,” said Jeffrey White, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Firas, the activist, said he was driving home with some friends when he heard about the attack over his walkie-talkie. He said he was terrified, since no one knew where the attacks had occurred and how far the suspected gas had spread. They used wet pieces of cloth to cover their noses and mouths and sped out of town to a field hospital farther east.

Hospitals Overwhelmed

Whatever the chemicals used, the carnage caused by Wednesday’s attack overwhelmed field hospitals on the outskirts of Damascus. Bodies covered tile floors, stretched down hallways and were laid out on sidewalks and streets.

A doctor from the town of Kafr Batna said he rushed to his clinic soon after the attack and found 100 patients.

“We had men, women and children, all of them choking and having trouble breathing,” said the doctor, Sakhr. “Some of them had foam coming out of their mouths and nostrils and many had lost consciousness.”

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Saturday that three clinics it supports in the area recorded 355 deaths.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts inside Syria, said it had confirmed the deaths of 322 people, including 54 children and 82 women.

Some activists have compiled lists of names and say that more than 1,000 people were killed in Wednesday’s predawn attack.

By the end of that day, Dr. Sakhr of Kafr Batna said, 16 of the 160 bodies collected at his clinic had not been claimed. Volunteers took the bodies to a nearby graveyard, photographed their faces one by one, and buried them in a mass grave.

For those who survived, there was a different kind of grim reckoning.

Nearly a week after the attack, Dr. Sakhr said local residents who had not fled the area were flooding him with questions about where to sleep to protect themselves from future attacks.

Others were still searching for lost relatives, including children who had been taken in by strangers after their parents disappeared.

“Some found their relatives, praised God, and sat down next to them,” said Dr. Sakhr.

“Others didn’t find them, and had to look elsewhere.”

A Careful Response

As video images and eyewitness accounts of the assault began to spread through social media, President Obama was easing back into his routine after a week away on Martha’s Vineyard. His only public event last Tuesday, hours before the attack began, was welcoming players from the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins to the White House for a much-belated ceremony.

The president had planned no public events for Wednesday. When he learned of the attack during his intelligence briefing that morning, many hours after it had occurred, American intelligence about the attack was still sketchy. But officials said that if the reports of chemical weapons use proved to be true, the attack was on a far greater scale than chemical attacks earlier this year.

Still, the White House moved carefully, driven in part by its experience with smaller-scale chemical weapons attacks in Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus. In those cases, a senior official said, there was conflicting evidence long afterward.

“In the past, it took weeks to match eyewitness accounts with intelligence,” said a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations. “This time, there was a consistency in all the information that was coming in for the first 24 to 48 hours.”

In the subsequent statement, which was only two paragraphs, the White House urged the Assad government to allow United Nations investigators to visit the site and put the emphasis on gathering more information. The statement was issued by the White House’s deputy spokesman, Josh Earnest, who declined to speculate about who was culpable for the attack.

Mr. Obama kept his travel plans to upstate New York on Thursday, although as his armored bus rolled from Buffalo to Rochester to Seneca Falls, he was on the phone several times with his national security adviser, Susan E. Rice.

At the White House that morning, Ms. Rice had convened a three-hour meeting of cabinet officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and John O. Brennan, the director of the C.I.A. Military officials from United States Central Command joined the meeting by video.

The debate was robust, officials said. Some officials argued forcefully for military action, while others raised potential dangers about American missile strikes, including fears that they would destabilize the region and set off a vast new refugee flow into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

One question that puzzled intelligence officials was exactly what kind of chemicals were used in the attack.

American spy agencies conferred with allied intelligence services in Europe, Israel and Arab countries to get a clearer picture of what happened.

In Israel, 3 Israeli officials briefed on the attack said they believed the rockets carried a “cocktail” of sarin gas mixed with several other components. Syria’s government is believed to have large quantities of sarin, mustard gas and VX.

One Israeli official even suggested that whoever planned the rocket barrage might have miscalculated.

“It’s quite likely that there was kind of an operational mistake here,” one senior Israeli suggested. “I don’t think they wanted to kill so many people, especially so many children. Maybe they were trying to hit one place or to get one effect and they got a much greater effect than they thought.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry made phone calls to foreign ministers from Europe and the Arab world, hoping to build international support for a potential military strike against Mr. Assad.

On the day of the White House meeting, he called Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, to complain that the Assad government had not allowed United Nations inspectors to quickly visit the sites of the suspected attack.

It was a rare high-level contact between American and Syrian officials in the time since the United States closed its embassy in Damascus last year.

As Thursday wore into Friday, American officials said, it became clear that the Assad government was still thwarting the members of the United Nations team — who had arrived in Damascus days earlier to inspect other possible chemical weapons sites — from visiting the scenes of Wednesday’s attack. Russia, long a supporter of President Assad, was blaming rebel forces.

Russia’s public statements blaming the rebels hardened the views of White House officials. By the time the full National Security Council assembled, with Mr. Obama presiding, on Saturday morning, “the focus had really shifted to how we respond to this event, not whether we respond,” a senior official said.

John Kerry’s Statement on Syria

Close Video

Note: Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Mark Mazzetti and Mark Landler from Washington. Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Michael R. Gordon from Washington and Hwaida Saad and Mohammed Ghannam from Beirut.

A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Blasts in the Night, a Smell, And a Flood of Syrian Victims.

Task Force 373: Drones targeting 2,000 on kill-list

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks revealed in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist the following piece of intelligence:

“One of the elements we discovered in “Afghan War Diary” (leaked in July 2010) was the existence of Task Force 373.  This is a special unit of the American army in charge of “liquidating” targets in a list of 2,000 names. There are no impartial rules to add or delete names from the list.  No one can warn you whether you are included on that list of “Joint Priority Effects List (JPEL)”, or potential dead by drone attacks.  From the document received, 50% of the targeted persons were simply killed: No alternatives to trying to capturing them alive.  In many instances, the drones just assassinated innocent kids and civilians, as collateral damages.

The dailies Der Spiegel (Germany) and The Guardian published articles on the bombing of a school that killed seven kids.Task Force 373 tried hard to “kill” this information and then extended its apology…Journalist Eric Schmitt of the New York Times, and in charge of the section national security, wrote an article on that subject, but it never was published.

On many occasions, the political leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan vented their anger at these drone attacks, to no avail so far.

Prior to the leaks on Task Force, WikiLeaks had divulged the two procedures of how the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay functions. We obtained the manual of 2003. The pentagon replied: “Yes, the manual is from 2003, during the period of General Miller…” (another scapegoat criminal).  We got the manual of 2004, and we realized that the procedure became even stricter, instead of improving…”

 published an article titled “US increases Yemen drone strikes”, on Saturday, September 17. She wrote:

“The Obama administration has significantly increased the frequency of drone strikes and other air attacks against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen in recent months, amid rising concern about political collapse there.  A few of the strikes, carried out by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have been focused in the southern part of the country, where insurgent forces have for the first time conquered and held territory, as the Yemeni government continues to struggle against escalating opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule.

Unlike in Pakistan, where the CIA has presidential authorization to launch drone strikes at will, each U.S. attack in Yemen — and those being conducted in nearby Somalia, such as the most recent on Thursday near the southern port city of Kismayo — requires White House approval, senior administration officials said.

The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, said intended targets must be drawn from an approved list of key members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula deemed by U.S. intelligence officials to be involved in planning attacks against the West. 

White House counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, last week put their number at “a couple of dozen, maybe.”Although several unconfirmed strikes each week have been reported by local media in Yemen and Somalia, the administration has made no public acknowledgment of the escalated campaign, and officials who discussed the increase declined to provide numbers.

The heightened air activity coincides with the administration’s determination this year that AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, poses a more significant threat to the United States than the core al-Qaeda group based in Pakistan. The administration has also concluded that AQAP has recruited at least a portion of the main insurgent group in Somalia, al-Shabab, to its anti-Western cause.

From its initial months in office, the Obama administration has debated whether to extend the air attacks that have proved so effective in Pakistan to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Military and intelligence officials have long argued in favor of attacks against al-Shabab camps in Somalia, which have been under overhead surveillance for years. Other officials have questioned the legal and moral justification for intervening in what, until recently, has been a largely domestic conflict.

The administration has said its legal authority to conduct such strikes, whether with fixed-wing planes, cruise missiles or drones, derives from the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing attacks against al-Qaeda and protection of the U.S. homeland, as well as the international law of self-defense.

“The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan,” Brennan said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday night at Harvard Law School. “We reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.”

What’s going on? The US administrations always reserve the right to taking unilateral actions, such as launching a preemptive war on Iraq in 2003, without a UN resolution.  And the US administrations wonder why people are very upset with US political behaviors against the rudiment of human rights overseas.

Note: On October 2, a US drone assassinated US citizen Al Awlaki in Yemen.  Shouldn’t Al Awlaki be caught alive and tried, as any citizen should?

 

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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