1. Update on the Security Situation in Somalia and Yemen

    September 16, 2014

    Gulf of Aden Security review

    AEI Critical Threats Project

    September 16, 2014

    Yemen: AQAP releases joint statement with AQIM; Al Houthi militants attack Yemeni military and al Islah party tribesmen in al Jawf; Yemeni Air Force strikes al Houthi militants in Ma’rib

    Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab spokesman denies that Ugandan authorities disrupted the militant group’s terror cell in Kampala, Uganda; Somali security forces disarm roadside IED near a police station in Jowhar, Middle Shabelle region; AMISOM and Somali National Army forces conduct security operation in Mogadishu

    Yemen Security Brief

    • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a joint statement criticizing the U.S.-led military alliance in Iraq and Syria, calling for Jihadi groups to form a universal coalition and expressing condolences for the recent deaths of leaders of the Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement.[1]
    • Al Houthi militants attacked Yemeni military forces and al Islah party tribesmen in al Ghayl, al Jawf on September 15, regaining control of multiple strategic positions. Additionally, al Houthi militants ambushed the convoy of military commander Saleh Amer in Hamdan, Sana’a on September 16, resulting in the deaths of six people.[2]
    • The Yemeni Air Force launched three separate air strikes against al Houthi militants in Ma’rib on September 15. No casualties were immediately reported.[3]

    Horn of Africa Security Brief

    • Al Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage, also known as Ali Dhere, issued a statement on September 15 denying that a 13 September U.S. and Ugandan security operation successfully disrupted an al Shabaab cell in Kampala, Uganda.[4]
    • Somali security forces disarmed an improvised explosive device (IED) planted near the main police station in Jowhar, Middle Shabelle region on September 15.[5]  
    • African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali National Army forces (SNA) forces arrested an unspecified number of suspects in a security operation in the Wadajir district of Mogadishu on September 16.[6] 

    [1] SITE Intel Group
    [2] “Amidst ‘frozen’ negotiations, Yemen army, Houthis clash in Jawf,” Middle East Eye, September 16, 2014. Available: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/amidst-frozen-sanaa-negotiations-yemen-army-houthis-clash-jawf-378411127
    “30 people were killed in fierce battles between reform and Houthis in al Jawf,” Barakish, September 16, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://barakish.net/news02.aspx?cat=12&sub=23&id=162829
    “Dead and wounded in clashes between gunmen and soldiers and Houthi fighters tribes in Hamedan,” al Masdar, September 16, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/62070
    “Houthi group progressing governorate of Al-Jawf and controls the sites belonging to al Islah,” Aden al Ghad, September 16, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://adenalghad.net/news/122909/#.VBhOM8JdXTo
    [3] “Yemeni air force launches raids on sites Houthi militants in Marib and the killing field leader of the group Al-Jouf,” al Masdar, September 15, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/62058
    [4] “Somalia’s al Shabaab says Uganda did not prevent attack by the group,” Reuters, September 16, 2014. Available: http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKBN0HB0IT20140916
    [5] “Jowhar police foil roadside bomb attempt targeting innocent women,” Bar-Kulan, September 15, 2014. Available: http://www.bar-kulan.com/2014/09/15/jowhar-police-foil-roadside-bomb-attempt-targeting-innocent-women/
    [6] “Government forces arrests dozens in wadajir district,” Goobjoog, September 16, 2014. Available: http://goobjoog.com/english/?p=3937 

    6 hours ago  /  0 notes

  2. Update on the Security Situation in Pakistan

    September 16, 2014

    Pakistan Security Brief

    AEI Critical Threats Project

    September 16, 2014

    TTP Jamatul Ahrar claims attacks, condemns democracy; Two al Qaeda operatives killed earlier this year; TTP threat neutralized, says army spokesman; Militant attack from Afghanistan kills three FC soldiers in Spinwam, North Waziristan; 20 militants killed in Khyber Agency; Anti-Taliban militiaman killed in Swat; IED explodes in Quetta; Shia doctor killed in New Karachi; Head of local Shia organization killed in Hyderabad; PTI protestors and police clash briefly; PTI chief Imran Khan appeals to Supreme Court to intervene; Indian Ministry of External Affairs angry over Pakistan High Commissioner’s remark on JuD chief Hafiz Saeed; Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman rejects allegations of Pakistani involvement in attack on Afghanistan; Pakistan to possibly import LNG from Iran. 

    Militancy

    • On September 15, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Jamatul Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan posted a message on his Twitter account claiming responsibility for the attack on a police station in Hangu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on the same day. Ansarul Mujahdeen had reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack earlier. On the topic of celebrating the International Day of Democracy, Ehsan advised all Muslims to shun democracy and support TTP Jamatul Ahrar in its efforts to replace democracy with Sharia in Pakistan. He also declared that the ongoing floods in the Punjab province were a result of Allah’s punishment for adopting democracy.[1]

    • According to a Long War Journal report published on September 16, jihadists on twitter confirmed that two al Qaeda operatives, Sufyan al Maghribi and Umar al Talib, were killed in airstrikes earlier this year. Maghribi was a Moroccan who served as the group’s military chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the journal report, he was likely killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in March. Umer Talib alias Adil Salih Ahmad al Qumayshi, a propagandist who narrated videos for al Qaeda’s as Sahab Media Foundation, was reportedly killed in a U.S. airstrike in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region two months ago.[2] 

    • In an interview with the BBC on September 15, Director General of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major Gen. Asim Bajwa said that the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan had significantly curtailed the TTP’s capacity to carry out coordinated terrorist attacks in Pakistan. However, he admitted that the TTP leadership, including its chief Mullah Fazlullah and Shura members, had managed to flee before the Operation and is now hiding in Kunar province of Afghanistan. In the interview, Major Gen. Bajwa also clarified that the army is not involved in politics and that it is a neutral actor in the current political standoff.[3]

    • According to the ISPR, militants from the Afghan side of the border attacked Dandi Kuch check-post in the Spinwam area of North Waziristan Agency on September 16, killing three Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers. Repulsing the attack, Pakistani troops killed 11 insurgents and arrested one.[4]  

    • On September 16, Pakistani fighter jets killed at least 20 militants and destroyed five hideouts in Tor Dara, Tirah, Jatoi, and Rajgal areas of Khyber Agency.[5]

    • On September 15, unidentified gunmen killed Zahir Shah, a schoolteacher and member of an anti-Taliban militia, in Kabal sub-district of Swat. The police arrested 30 suspected persons in connection with the killing.[6]

    • On September 16, an explosion caused by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted beside a flyover on Joint Road in Quetta partially destroyed a Frontier Corps (FC) vehicle. No casualties were reported.[7]

    • On September 14, unknown gunmen shot to death a health practitioner in an apparent sectarian attack.[8] 

    • On September 14, unidentified gunmen killed  the head of a local Shia organization called Anjuman Guldasta Ali Akbar, in Latifabad No 5 locality of Hyderabad.[9] 

    Political Crisis

    • On September 16, brief clashes erupted between the police and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) protestors in the Red Zone area of Islamabad after policemen detained five PTI protestors. The police later released the detained PTI activists.[10]

    • On September 16, PTI chief Imran Khan appealed to the Supreme Court to fulfil its constitutional role of safeguarding democracy and stopping police brutality against the sit-in protestors in Islamabad. He declared that a “sea of protestors” would gather on September 19 to remove obstacles and containers placed illegally by the police, and alluded to the possibility of civil war in the country.[11]  

    Indo-Pak Relations

    • On September 15, Abdul Basit, the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, declared that Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed is a Pakistani national and therefore free to roam the country since he has no pending legal cases against him. The statement came in response to a question asked by Indian reporters about Saeed’s presence alongside the Pakistani army near the Line of Control. Basit’s remark drew sharp criticism from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs which has maintained that Saeed, designated a terrorist by the U.S., is the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 which killed 166 people.[12]  

    Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations

    • In a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 16, spokesperson Tasnim Aslam rejected allegations made by Afghanistan’s National Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of involvement in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. She also reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to combatting terrorism and urged Afghanistan to cooperate with its counter-terrorism efforts.[13] 

    Iran-Pakistan Relations

    • According to an article in the Express Tribune on September 16, 2014, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi confirmed the existence of a proposal made by Pakistan to import gas in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Iran, amidst U.S. threat of sanctions for proceeding with the controversial Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project. The plan is expected to be discussed with Iranian authorities in an upcoming meeting in Tehran. Under this plan, Iran will convert natural gas into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and then export it to Pakistan via an LNG terminal facility in Oman.[14]    


    [1]“TTP Jamat-ul-Ahrar Claims Hangu Suicide Bombings, Remarks on Floods, International Day of Democracy,” SITE, September 15, 2014. Available at http://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/ttp-jamat-ul-ahrar-claims-hangu-suicide-bombings-remarks-on-floods-international-day-of-democracy.html
    [2]“Al Qaeda operations chief, propagandist reported killed in airstrikes,” Longwar Journal, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_operations.php
    “Narrator for al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab Media Reportedly Killed in Airstrike,” SITE, September 8, 2014. Available at http://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/narrator-for-al-qaeda-s-as-sahab-media-reportedly-killed-in-airstrike.html
    [3]“Political standoff: Military says it sides with no one,” Express Tribune, September 16, 2014. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/762924/political-standoff-military-says-it-sides-with-no-one/
    [4]“11 terrorists, 3 FC soldiers killed as cross border attack thwarted in NWA,” Dawn, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.dawn.com/news/1132307/air-strikes-kill-20-militants-in-khyber-agency
    [5]“11 terrorists, 3 FC soldiers killed as cross border attack thwarted in NWA,” Dawn, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.dawn.com/news/1132307/air-strikes-kill-20-militants-in-khyber-agency
    [6]“Peace body member shot dead in Swat,” News, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-7-272990-Peace-body-member-shot-dead-in-Swat
    [7]“FC vehicle damaged in Quetta explosion,” Express Tribune, September 16. 2014. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/763023/fc-vehicle-damaged-in-quetta-explosion/
    [8] “Health Practitioner shot dead in ‘sectarian attack’,” Dawn, September 15, 2014. Available at http://www.dawn.com/news/1132001/health-practitioner-shot-dead-in-sectarian-attack
    [9]“Shia leader shot dead in Hyderabad,” Daily Times, September 15, 2014. Available at http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/national/15-Sep-2014/shia-leader-shot-dead-in-hyderabad
    [10]“Five detained PTI activists released after brief clash between police and protestors,” Dawn, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.dawn.com/news/1132193/five-detained-pti-activists-released-after-brief-clash-between-police-and-protestors
    [11]“Untiring Imran calls on SC to stop police brutality,” Dawn, September 16, 2014. Available at http://www.dawn.com/news/1132312/untiring-imran-calls-on-sc-to-stop-police-brutality
    [12]“Basit’s comments on ‘free-to-roam’ Hafiz Saeed create fury in India,” Express Tribune, September 15, 2014. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/762633/basits-comments-on-free-to-roam-hafiz-saeed-create-fury-in-india/
    “Hafiz Saeed our national, free to roam around: Pak envoy,” Hindustan Times, September 15, 2014. Available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/no-case-against-hafiz-saeed-pakistan/article1-1264202.aspx
    [13]“Pakistan refutes Afghan allegations of involvement in terrorist attacks,” Express Tribune, September 16, 2014. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/763062/pakistan-refutes-afghan-allegations-of-involvement-in-terrorist-attacks/
    [14]“Alternative to IP pipeline: Pakistan mulls new gas import scheme,” Express Tribune, September 16, 2014. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/762903/alternative-to-ip-pipeline-pakistan-mulls-new-gas-import-scheme/

    6 hours ago  /  0 notes

  3. Daily CENTCOM Update on Airstrikes in Iraq

    September 16, 2014

    U.S. Airstrikes Target ISIL in Iraq

    U.S. Central Command

    TAMPA, Fla., Sept. 16, 2014 - U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Iraq, using fighter aircraft to conduct five airstrikes Monday and Tuesday southwest of Baghdad and northwest of Irbil.

    In total, two airstrikes northwest of Irbil destroyed an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levantarmed truck and an ISIL fighting position, while three airstrikes southwest of Baghdad damaged an ISIL truck and destroyed an ISIL anti-aircraft artillery piece, a small ISIL ground unit and two small boats on the Euphrates River that were re-supplying ISIL forces in the area, according to U.S. Central Command officials.

    All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.

    These strikes were conducted under authority to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, support humanitarian efforts, and help Iraqi forces on the offensive against ISIL terrorists.

    Centcom has conducted a total of 167 airstrikes across Iraq.

    7 hours ago  /  0 notes

  4. News of the Weird: Russian Defense Contractor Gives Fighter Jet as a Present to Head of Russian Orthodox Church

    September 16, 2014

    Factory Gives Fighter Jet to Head of Russian Orthodox Church

    Reuters

    September 16, 2014

    MOSCOW — Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was presented with an unlikely gift for a religious leader this week as he toured a factory in Russia’s far-east - a single-seater fighter jet SU-35.

    Kirill was presented with the jet after giving workers at the civilian and military aircraft plant icons blessed by himself, the church said in a statement on its official website on Tuesday.

    The patriarch, with whom President Vladimir Putin has fostered increasingly close ties in recent years, addressed the workers on the importance of protecting Russia.

    "Russia cannot be a vassal. Because Russia is not only a country, it is a whole civilization, it is a thousand-year story, a cultural melting-pot, of enormous power," RIA news agency quoted him as saying.

    "In order for us to be able to live a sovereign life, we must, if necessary, be able to defend our homeland."

    Kirill’s church is aligned with Putin’s drive to reunite the former Soviet sphere of countries, with the Russian Orthodox Church exerting considerable influence through its 165 million members in Russia and other former USSR republics.

    Critics of the Russian Orthodox Church have said it is acting as a de-facto government ministry for Putin, including in foreign affairs, and have warned that such political engagements could backfire.

    That also goes for Ukraine, where Kirill’s Moscow Patriarchate is at odds with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate that seceded from Moscow after Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

    The Moscow Patriarchate dominates in the Russian-speaking East, where Ukrainian forces have been battling a pro-Russian separatist insurgency since April.

    7 hours ago  /  0 notes

  5. DNI Finally Confirms That NSA’s Controversial Surveillance Programs Have Been Approved by the FISA Court for Another 3 Months

    September 16, 2014

    Author’s Note: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) strangely waited until yesterday to post this item. Your tax dollars at work!

    DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
    WASHINGTON, DC 20511

    September 12, 2014

    Joint Statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Department of Justice on the Declassification of Renewal of Collection Under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act


    Earlier this year in a speech at the Department of Justice, President Obama announced a transition that would end the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it previously existed, and that the government would establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk data.  As a first step in that transition, the President directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to ensure that, absent a true emergency, the telephony metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.  The President also directed that the query results must be limited to metadata within two hops of the selection term instead of three. 

    These two changes were put into effect in February 2014.  In addition to directing those immediate changes to the program, the President also directed the Intelligence Community and the Attorney General to develop options for a new approach to match the capabilities and fill gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata.  After carefully considering the available options, the President announced in March that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk, and that it remain at the telephone companies with a legal mechanism in place which would allow the government to obtain data pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries.  The President also noted that legislation would be required to implement this option and called on Congress to enact this important change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

    Consistent with the President’s March proposal, in May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act.  Among other things, the legislation would create a new mechanism for the government to obtain telephony metadata pursuant to individual orders from the FISC, rather than in bulk.  In July, a bipartisan group of senators introduced S. 2685, an updated version of the USA FREEDOM Act, building on the legislation passed in the House.  This bill would ban bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and certain other authorities.  The Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence support this legislation and believe that it reflects a reasonable compromise that preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities, enhances privacy and civil liberties, and increases transparency. 

    Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced in January.  Consistent with prior declassification decisions, in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, DNI Clapper declassified the fact that the government filed an application with the FISC to reauthorize the existing program for 90 days, and that today the FISC issued an order approving the government’s application.  The order issued today expires on December 5, 2014.  The Administration is undertaking a declassification review of this most recent court order, and when complete, the ODNI will post the documents to its website and icontherecord.tumblr.com.

    13 hours ago  /  0 notes

  6. A Gloomy Assessment of How the War in Afghanistan Is Going

    September 16, 2014

    Scenes From the Forgotten War America Is Losing

    Bing West

    Politico Magazine

    September 14, 2014

    The Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIL, is dominating the headlines. Perhaps we’re serious the second time around in Iraq, but I’ve heard the same rhetoric before.

    Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is close to conquering the key district of Sangin in Helmand province, which could lead to the fall of southern Afghanistan and erase the gains made by coalition forces over the course of the 13-plus year Afghan war. President Obama has promised to withdraw most of our troops this year, and all of our troops before he leaves office. The war in Afghanistan, already seemingly forgotten, might follow Iraq and also be lost.

    But politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. The strategy of trying to build a nation while Pakistan provided a sanctuary for our enemy was a monumental strategic error by our top generals. Would any sane military commander repeat our Afghan strategy? When our grunts are sent forth to do battle eyeball-to-eyeball, they deserve an achievable mission clearly set forth by leaders determined to win. Since 2001, that has not been true.

    So why are we again bombing in Iraq? How does one tacticbe it killing on the ground or from the airfit into a strategy for eliminating Islamists from Iraq, Syria and, yes, Afghanistan?

    I’ve seen the mistake—sending forth strong men armed to cover up for a dizzying lack of strategy—from up close for too long. Over the past decade, I have made more than 20 extended visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, embedding with more than 60 units at the grunt level. I am as disappointed in our household-name generals as in Presidents Bush and Obama. The Marines fought because they were marines, not because the strategy made any sense.

    Below is an excerpt from One Million Steps, describing a typical patrol. What was achieved by such valor? Patriotismyes. Grityes. A satisfactory end statejudge for yourself.

    ***

    In early 2011, I flew to Helmand Province for a fourth visit and met with Col. Paul Kennedy. For the past decade, I had embedded about twice each year with our frontline units. The Army and Marine grunts comprise a small community. In 2004, I had embedded with Kennedy’s battalion in Iraq. When I again met him at his headquarters south of Sangin, he was as terse as ever.

    “You’d be bored and ignorant up here at regiment,” he said. “I’ll drop you off where the fighting is.”

    I arrived at Patrol Base Fires in the farmlands of Sangin in time to join the morning patrol.

    By way of greeting, Lt. Vic Garcia, the commander of 3rd Platoon, handed me two straps.

    “You know the drill,” he said. “One’s for you. If you have to use the other one on someone, twist the knob until he screams. And stay inside the bottle caps. We don’t want to carry you back.”

    Like the horse stirrup or the bicycle, the modern tourniquet is so simple that it took centuries to invent. Cinch the strap around a mangled leg, twist the fist-wide knob tight and the blood stops gushing out. A half century ago, my platoon in Vietnam had used narrow elastic tubing that sliced into the flesh without fully stanching the bleeding. In Vietnam, one in four of our wounded died, mainly from loss of blood. In Afghanistan, one in seven died, but the number of amputations skyrocketed.

    The marines on the dawn patrol wore armored vests sprinkled with dried mud, tan camouflage uniforms hard to detect from a distance and weathered, unsmiling faces. A few wrapped tourniquets around their thighs; most stuffed them in their med kits. I unwrapped and stowed a tourniquet in each breast pocket.

    Newspapers in the States were reporting the death struggle gripping Sangin. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was taking more casualties than any other battalion in the ten-year war. 3rd Platoon had left the States with 52 men; of those, 34 remained, plus 16 replacements. One statistic said it all: One million steps. Each marine walked about two and a half miles a day on patrol. That totaled one million steps in his seven-month deployment, never knowing when he would be shot or blown up.

    Garcia kept his distance as the marines fell into a loose line. I noticed the tattered photomap attached to his left hand like a wedding band—the lifeline for calling in fires. At night, he probably used it as a pillow. On patrol, you’d have to cut off his fingers to pry it loose.

    The patrol was heading north to sector P8Q, 40 acres of open fields and thick tree lines dotted by a walled compounds and a mosque that sheltered the fighters coming in from Pakistan. The patrol’s mission was to walk for a couple of miles, avoiding mines while waiting to be shot at, hoping in return to light up the shooter. The generals talked about benevolent counterinsurgency, drinking tea with elders and persuading the Pashtun tribes, hurtling headlong into the 9th Century, to support the government. The grunts in 3rd Platoon knew nothing about that. They lost men and killed men. 

    We walked by the mortar tubes aligned toward their barber-pole-aiming stakes, left the wire in silence, forded an icy stream and plodded along in sloshing boots. Every patrol got wet, muddy and miserable at the start, so there wouldn’t be any hesitation later. The winter-dead landscape looked like a sepia portrait of Oklahoma farms during the Great Depression. Everything was a lifeless shade of brown—the fields, the furrows, the trees and the walls of the compounds, some clustered together, others standing off alone.

    The patrol wasn’t in a hurry. Up at point, Yazzie, the 21-year-old engineer, walked slowly, sweeping his Vallon mine detector back and forth with his eyes on the LED magnetometer needle on the handle. He focused on the dirt inside the length of his shadow, rarely glancing up, while his partner, LCpl. Kyle Doyle, watched out for snipers and dropped the caps of water bottles, marking safe passage for those behind him. The caps traced the zig-zag route of Yaz, a Navajo Indian who had detected 38 IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in the past four months. He was the platoon’s favorite point man, with a knack for sensing where the wooden pressure plates were buried. The last man in line picked up the bottle caps so the Taliban couldn’t trace the pattern of the patrol. 

    We walked with the war’s paradox under our feet—fresh poppy plants. Looking as innocent as lettuce heads, the mind slayers were springing to life in every field. Back in the states, we were fighting an ever-losing war on drugs. Here in a faraway country, we were fighting a war on terror that required toleration of the very heroin we waged war against at home. Afghanistan’s export of drugs created more human casualties than did the fighting. But eradicating the poppy was the surest way to drive the farmers into the ranks of the Taliban.

    The farmers had planted them in long, straight lines and we bruised few as we followed our own straight line, guided by the water bottle caps. Behind Doyle came the two-man machine gun crew. Sergeant McCulloch, 24, followed the machine gunners. On a recent patrol, a bullet had nicked the inside of his thigh. Fearing that a second Purple Heart would mean a transfer to the rear, Mac bandaged the wound and refused to have it checked out at the battalion aid station. He walked with a limp, but so far had avoided infection.

    The patrol walked in file with no concealment, preferring the open fields to the shrubbery alongside the irrigation ditches where IEDs were frequently hidden. Within eyesight of the platoon’s fort, farm life was normal. Scrawny cows and sheep wandered freely, nibbling at stray patches of grass trampled as smooth as putting greens. Carrying thin switches, male shepherds, ages eight to 40, languidly followed their flocks. Wending north, the patrol walked where possible in the fresh hoof prints of the animals.

    A thin man in a dirty brown man-dress and a shabby turban, followed by an old man and a few boys, scampered across a ditch to intercept the patrol. As the marines walked past, he squatted down and extended a piece of paper, his mouth soundlessly agape, displaying enormous front teeth. McCulloch signaled with a clenched fist to halt.

    “Turgiman,” the turban man said, asking for an intepreter. “Turgiman.” The card was a standard form for listing war damage. If a marine signed it, with an estimate of the damage, the farmer would collect money at district headquarters. Like most marines, Mac had picked up a smattering of pidgin Pashto. He tried out simple words and gestures until he got the gist.

    “Toothy here says we killed his cow,” Mac said. “He wants two hundred bucks.”

    “Where’s the cow?” Garcia asked. “Says he buried it weeks ago.”

    Garcia dismissed the claim with a wave of his map.

    “Dig it up,” McCulloch said, handing the man back his chit, “and eat it.

    ***

    The patrol zigzagged along, with the rear guard picking up the bottle caps. Each marine had a sector to watch. One glance around, one glance down at the caps. Around, down, around, down, never straying out of line.

    Near a footbridge across a canal, Yaz clenched his fist, knelt, and scratched at the dirt. He took out wire cutters, snipped a few wires, held up two small boards wrapped in tape and threw them to me. Glued to the underside of each board was a strand of wire. When a foot pressed down on the boards, the two wires touched each other, completing an electrical circuit connecting a flashlight battery to a plastic jug filled with explosives. Yaz attached a small charge to the IED, blew it up and the patrol continued.

    About a mile from the fort, the marines passed women and children running pell-mell from a compound. More than a dozen cut across a field in front of the patrol, casting frightened glances. Over the radio, “Rubber Duck”—the call sign for a radio intercept unit at a nearby forward operating base—warned that two Taliban gangs were getting ready to open fire. Off to the right, three men on motorbikes puttered along a dirt road, paralleling the patrol.

    “Dickers,” McCulloch said. “Cheeky bastards.”

    It reminded me of a John Wayne western, with Comanche on the ridgeline keeping pace with a line of troopers. The marines seemed indifferent to their watchers.

    “They’re not idiots,” Garcia said. “Exposed like that, we’d cut them down in a second. Any shooting will come from up ahead, after the people clear the area.”

    Gradually the patrol route diverged westward from the road and the cheeky bikers. Halfway across a field, in a furrow with no discernible difference from a hundred others, Yaz stopped. Head down in concentration, he swept the detector back and forth a few times and raised his right hand, signaling an IED.

    That’s what makes the IED so insidious. Most give off only a tiny magnetic signature. Some evade detection, no matter how careful the sweep man is. Plus, the Taliban are sloppy. Fearing overhead drones, they hastily dig in the explosives and scamper away. Marines take extra care at the obvious places, like a footbridge or a trail intersection. But a marine, farmer or cow can step on a pressure plate buried anywhere, with no rational reason why that spot was chosen.

    “Some of my engineers freeze up over time,” Garcia said to me. “They know every step could be their last. After a while, they move slower and slower. And some are like Yaz. They keep up a steady pace, patrol after patrol. He never slows down.”

    Yazzie trotted back to talk with Garcia and McCulloch. All agreed to get out of there. The Marines were tense. Experience warned them that the area was sown with mines.

    “We’ll mark this spot for a sweep by the engineers,” Garcia said. “It’s too unstable for us. The assholes have rigged traps all around here.”

    Assholes, pricks, stinkies, fuckers, muj … the troops had no pet name for the enemy. Any term of contempt would do. Rarely did they use the words Taliban or terrorists.

    For another half hour, the patrol walked north, with Garcia in the middle of the file, far enough behind the point not to be pinned down, far forward enough to call in fire. Third Platoon’s patrol area encompassed six square kilometers, containing hundreds of compounds scattered across about 2,000 fields. Vic’s treasured photomap, overlaid with waterproof acetate, showed every field and tree line, with each compound stamped with a bright yellow number.

    Vic occasionally called out something like “Number 23 at our eleven o’clock.” Various marines would yell back, confirming they were looking at the same compound. If there was disagreement, the patrol took a knee while Vic double-checked and oriented everyone on the same hundred-meter grid. They knew the hot spots, the tree lines and compounds where they were most likely to take fire. If even one marine disagreed or was uncertain about the number of a compound, the patrol halted while Garcia double-checked their location on his GPS. They weren’t in a rush. They had no appointment to keep, and the last thing they wanted was to call for fire support while not certain where they were.

    When we reached the northern edge of P8Q, Garcia called out to me. “This is Belleau Wood,” he said, “where we fought on Thanksgiving.”

    I looked at the shattered trees to my front and vast expanse of weeds and dirt leading back to Outpost Transformer to my right. A marine lieutenant had been killed here. 3rd Platoon had fought all day to carry his body across the open, while the Taliban had fired furiously from the cover of the wood line. 

    In his classic book Battle Studies, French Col. Ardant du Picq observed that even brave men eventually shirk under fire. To overcome this, he urged commanders to instill in their ranks an esprit de corps—a “spirit of the body” that infused the soldier with the heritage of his unit.

    At Belleau Wood in 1918, the Marines had checked the German advance on Paris. The 3rd Platoon log entry for Thanksgiving 2011 included the words Belleau Wood. Whoever wrote the log had linked two battles 90 years apart. A “spirit of the body.” Heritage. A knowledge others had it harder before you and didn’t back off. 

    Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat marine, has written six books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This article is excerpted from his latest book, One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War (Random House, 2014). Half the platoon didn’t make it intact to the end of their tour, including some mentioned in this excerpt. 


    13 hours ago  /  1 note

  7. Home to USAF Warplanes, Surveillance Drones and RC-135 SIGINT Aircraft, Qatar Plays Important Role in the War in Iraq

    September 16, 2014

    Tiny Qatar plays outsize role in US war strategy

    Associated Press

    September 15, 2014

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Just miles from where former Guantanamo Bay terror suspects have resettled, American warplanes take off from Qatar’s al-Udeid air base in the global war on extremism.

    The contrast in images illustrates why tiny but rich Qatar is an intriguing player in what President Barack Obama says will be a long battle to stop and eventually destroy the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

    Qatar plays an outsize role as a U.S. military partner. It gained public praise from Obama for brokering the controversial deal that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity in May in exchange for the release of five senior Taliban officials who had been imprisoned for years at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Qatar promised Obama it would keep the five under watch for one year, although they would then be free to leave. The Obama administration also praised Qatar for its role in securing the release of extremist hostage Peter Theo Curtis.

    But Qatar also has a reputation as a supporter of Islamist groups in disfavor in Washington. Some in Congress suspect Qatar of funneling money to Islamic State militants, though the State Department says the U.S. has no evidence of it.

    Qatari officials in Doha had no immediate comment for this story, but the government has unequivocally denied that it backs the Islamic State group. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said last month that his country “does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way.”

    Western analysts say Qatar is attempting a sometimes awkward balancing act between its desire for good relations with the United States and its efforts to maintain influence closer to home.

    "Qatar is always looking for the angle, and that’s really the best way to explain it," said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department counterterrorism coordinator who now directs Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. "By having connections that are so broad, so wide ranging, it can put itself at the center of just about every issue."

    Qatar gives a home to Khaled Mashaal, exiled leader of Hamas, a Palestinian militant organization considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist group. But Qatar also has maintained ties to Hamas’ enemy, Israel. And to Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood for which other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia have little tolerance.

    "This is a small and wealthy country that is trying to maintain influence 360 degrees," said Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and now chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security.

    "They are hedging their bets and trying to make sure they have influence no matter who comes out on top" in the multifaceted struggle for power in the Middle East, she added. Asked whether she believes Qatar has actually provided money to the Islamic State group, she said there is at least a widespread perception that it has.

    On the other hand, Qatar was among 10 Arab nations that last week publicly endorsed Obama’s commitment to diminish and eventually destroy the Islamic State group. The 10 promised to stop the flow of foreign fighters and funding for the militants, repudiate their extremist ideology and provide humanitarian aid. Some have offered to join in airstrikes.

    Qatar is a thumb-like desert appendage jutting into the central Persian Gulf from the Arabian peninsula. It began developing closer military relations with the United States during the 1991 Gulf War. Just weeks after American forces toppled Baghdad in April 2003, U.S. Central Command moved its regional air operations center from Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia to al-Udeid, about 20 miles from Doha, the capital.

    Qatar also is a major buyer of U.S. advanced weaponry. In July, for example, Qatar closed an $11 billion package deal for the purchase of U.S.-made Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense weapons.

    Although it hosts U.S. military bases, it has pressured Washington not to publicly acknowledge that it flies combat missions from al-Udeid air base. Like other Persian Gulf allies, Qatar’s leaders don’t want the Pentagon to publicize that fact, because they are leery of being seen as too cozy with Washington. The U.S. has complied, declining to confirm publicly that B-1 bombers and other U.S. warplanes are operating from Qatar’s al-Udeid. Nonetheless, it’s an open secret that U.S. planes there fly surveillance, refueling and other missions over Iraq.

    The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that C-17 and C-130 cargo planes at al-Udeid dropped food and water to displaced Yazidis around Sinjar in northern Iraq in August as the centerpiece of a humanitarian mission.

    Even so, Flournoy said Qatar shouldn’t think the U.S. would tolerate any level of Qatari effort to support Islamic extremist groups.

    "They shouldn’t overestimate their leverage (in terms of) hosting the U.S. military," she said. Referring to the air operations center at al-Udeid, she said, "It is a very useful facility to have, but it is not the only place we can put it; it is not impossible to move. So this is a good moment for Qatar to step back and review their strategy."

    A congressional aide said some lawmakers have begun to asking about the feasibility of moving the base. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue, said it’s not something that the administration is actively considering. But some members of Congress are questioning whether the U.S. should have the base there as well as a new arms deal with a country suspected of supporting Hamas and Islamic extremists.

    13 hours ago  /  0 notes

  8. US Justice Department Angry That Judge Says He Wants to See Allegedly Sensitive Documents That U.S. Government Wants Supressed in State Secrets Court Case

    September 16, 2014

    The following article was published in today’s edition of Steven Aftergood’s “Government Secrecy” blog on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website:

    COURT REQUIRES IN CAMERA REVIEW OF STATE SECRETS DOCS

    Over the objections of government attorneys, a federal judge
    said yesterday that he would require in camera review of documents that the government says are protected by the state secrets privilege. The issue arose in the case of Gulet Mohamed v. Eric Holder, challenging the constitutionality of the “no fly” list.

    The government had argued that it is “inappropriate” for a court to review such records to verify that they are validly privileged, and that instead the court should grant dismissal of case on the basis of official declarations. (
    Gov’t Resists Court Review of State Secrets, Secrecy News, August 27). The government moved for reconsideration of an August 6 order to produce the records for in camera review.

    Yesterday, Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia
    granted the government’s motion for reconsideration, but he said that having reconsidered the matter, he determined that he had been right the first time around.

    “Upon reconsideration of its Order, however, the Court finds that none of [the] objections justifies vacating the Order, as the defendants request. The Court therefore affirms its Order.”

    “This case involves complex and unsettled issues pertaining to the respective roles of the legislative, executive and judicial branches,”
    Judge Trenga wrote. “One central issue is the extent to which the War on Terrorism may expand the ability of the executive branch to act in ways that cannot otherwise be justified.”

    The Court “understands its limited institutional competence to assess claims of national security and its obligation not to extend its review of claims of state secrets beyond what is necessary for the Court to perform its institutional role,” Judge Trenga wrote. Nevertheless, under current circumstances “the Court concludes that it is necessary for the Court to review at this stage certain of the underlying documents as to which the state secrets privilege is asserted.”

    “This case involves the extraordinary exercise of executive branch authority to operate a program [the “no fly” procedure] that results in the deprivation of basic liberties according to secret executive branch decision making, without pre-deprivation judicial review…. [Therefore,] the Court has a particularly strong and heightened institutional responsibility in these circumstances to review and assess the propriety of such executive branch activity since to dismiss this case as the defendants request would, in essence, judicially sanction conduct that has far-reaching implications.”

    Merely relying on government assertions of privilege without independent review of their basis and validity is inadequate since “In many instances, the privilege claims are conclusory, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to assess the merits of those claims….”

    He also noted the Attorney General’s assertion that the state secrets privilege extends to at least one unclassified document, the Watchlisting Guidance, and yet “a document that purports to be that Watchlisting Guidance has been publicly disseminated.”

    “The Court therefore cannot accept, without further inquiry and review, that all of the documents as to which the state secrets privilege has been invoked in fact contain state secrets, or that any state secrets that might be contained in the listed documents would preclude the litigation of the plaintiff’s claims…,”
    Judge Trenga wrote.

    He ordered the government to produce the relevant documents for in camera review on or before October 15, 2014.

    In a footnote, Judge Trenga’s
    Order contains a rare judicial acknowledgment that “The government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in certain cases has been less than reassuring. See Reynolds v. United States, 345 U.S. 1 (1953), in which it became apparent years later, after the claimed state secrets document was declassified, that it did not implicate state secrets….”

    13 hours ago  /  1 note

  9. Canadian Government Denies Allegations About Death of “Rogue Spies” Contained in New Book

    September 16, 2014

    Feds dismiss allegations they covered up torture, killing of ‘rogue’ Canadian spies

    Douglas Quan

    canada.com

    September 15, 2014

    Arthur Porter, former chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, claims the federal government covered up the capture and killing of a handful of Canadian spies. The government says the assertions are without merit.
    Arthur Porter, former chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, claims the federal government covered up the capture and killing of a handful of Canadian spies. The government says the assertions are without merit. Photo: THE GAZETTE/Allen Mcinnis
    The federal government said Monday allegations that it covered up the capture and killings of a handful of “rogue” Canadian spies were “unsubstantiated” and “ridiculous.”

    The allegations are contained in a new autobiography by Arthur Porter, the former chair of Canada’s spy agency watchdog committee, who is currently in jail in Panama facing extradition to this country on fraud charges connected to a McGill University hospital project.

    In his memoirs, titled The Man Behind the Bow Tie, Porter alleges that a country “that was not exactly a close friend of Canada” captured a handful of Canadian agents who, without approval, had been taking photos of tanks and other military equipment. He does not identify the country or provide a time frame.

    The agents were subsequently tortured and hanged, Porter wrote. “We had to keep the truth of how they died from their families, telling them instead that they fell off a balcony in Dubai, for example.

    “None of these incidents ever made the papers, and they were not isolated incidents.”

    Officials with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have so far not responded to requests for comment.

    An undated photo of former MUHC head Arthur Porter in Panama with an oxygen tank as he reportedly battles cancer. The photo comes from a blog, refuting some of the accusations against Porter. (illegalinlajoya.com) ORG XMIT: POS1405261656146835

    An undated photo of former MUHC head Arthur Porter in Panama with an oxygen tank as he reportedly battles cancer. (illegalinlajoya.com)

    In a statement Monday, Jason Tamming, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said: “We will not give credibility to the ridiculous, unsubstantiated assertions made by this individual from his prison cell in Panama.”

    Asked if that was a flat denial, Tamming replied: “There is no merit to these allegations.”

    Porter is currently in a Panamanian prison fighting extradition to Canada, where he faces accusations that, while he headed the McGill University Health Centre, he took part in a $22.5 million kickback scheme related to the awarding of a super-hospital construction contract.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Porter to a position on the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the agency that monitors CSIS activities, in September 2008. He later became chair of the committee.

    In November 2011, Porter abruptly resigned as SIRC chair after the National Post published a story detailing his business dealings with a notorious international lobbyist, Ari Ben-Menashe.

    With so many questions swirling around Porter’s credibility, “you have to question the judgment of the prime minister for appointing this individual,” Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter said Monday.

    Arthur Porter is being detained by authorities in Panama City.  (Catherine Solyom/THE GAZETTE)

    Arthur Porter is being detained by authorities in Panama City. (Catherine Solyom/THE GAZETTE)

    Easter said if Porter’s allegations regarding rogue agents being captured and killed abroad are not true, then the government should say so unequivocally.

    Porter, who held “one of the most highly sensitive positions in Canada,” should also be investigated for possibly violating federal secrecy rules, Easter said.

    Lindsay Jackson, assistant director of research for SIRC, confirmed that all members of SIRC are required to take an oath of secrecy under Section 37 of the CSIS Act. In addition, all current and former members are subject to the Security of Information Act.

    Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director at CSIS, said Monday he could not confirm or deny Porter’s allegations because he would never comment publicly about any tactical or operational matters.

    He did, however, question Porter’s motives. Porter is a “desperate man” who is talking about things that “true or not, made up or real, serve no purpose in my mind.”

    Boisvert also suggested that Porter’s allegations so far have been “sufficiently vague” that it may be difficult for him to be charged with violating secrecy rules.

    13 hours ago  /  0 notes

  10. New Zealand PM Denies Greenwald/Snowden Allegations About Planning for Mass Surveillance

    September 16, 2014

    New Zealand denies it was planning mass domestic spying

    BBC News

    September 15, 2014

    Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Internet Party leader Laila Harre, Robert Amsterdam, Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town HallFormer US National Security Authority contractor Edward Snowden (left) and others discuss the revelations about New Zealand’s alleged mass surveillance, at a public meeting in Auckland

    New Zealand was preparing to conduct national covert surveillance last year, a US investigative journalist has said.

    The claims by former Guardian newspaper reporter Glenn Greenwald were denied by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

    The report was based on information disclosed by former US National Security Authority (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who said the government had planned to exploit new spying laws.

    The revelations come just days ahead of a New Zealand general election.

    Kim Dotcom

    The alleged spying programme came to light in part because of controversial millionaire internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who brought Mr Greenwald to New Zealand.

    Mr Greenwald appeared on Monday at a public meeting of more than 1,000 people organised by a political party being bankrolled by Mr Dotcom, at which the German entrepreneur had promised revelations damaging to Mr Key.

    Edward Snowden and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange addressed the meeting through video links.

    Kim Dotcom is fighting extradition to the US on charges of internet piracy, copyright breaches and money laundering.

    Glenn Greenwald said the NSA documents showed New Zealand’s electronic spy agency began the surveillance by tapping into an undersea telecoms cable into the country, while waiting for the legal authority to do so. The project was dubbed “Speargun”.

    "Phase one entailed accessing that cable, tapping into it, and then phase two would entail metadata probes," Mr Greenwald said on Radio New Zealand National.

    Prime Minister Key rejected the charges as “absolutely wrong”, and said a business case put up by the agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), early last year was aimed at mass cyber protection, but had been turned down by his government.

    "There is not, and never has been, a cable access surveillance programme operating in New Zealand," Mr Key said in a statement, as he released several declassified papers to back his position.

    "There is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB."

    Mr Key said also that Glenn Greenwald was being used to try to influence voters ahead of the election.

    New Zealand law stipulates that the GCSB - which conducts electronic surveillance and is part of the “Five Eyes” surveillance network along with the US, UK, Australia, and Canada - can spy on New Zealand citizens only if requested by a domestic law enforcement or intelligence agency.

    New Zealand media said Monday’s revelations involved an alleged email between a Warner Brothers film studio executive and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) - suggesting Mr Key colluded with them to allow Kim Dotcom to settle in New Zealand so that it would be easier to detain and extradite him.

    Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town Hall on September 15, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom (right) brought US journalist Glenn Greenwald (left) to New Zealand for the spying revelations

    Warner Brothers and the MPAA said the email was fake, and Mr Key said he made no such comments to the film executives.

    Kim Dotcom is the founder of file hosting service Mega and the founder and main funder of New Zealand’s Internet Party. The entrepreneur rose to fame in Germany in the 1990s as a self-proclaimed hacker and internet entrepreneur.

    He was convicted of several crimes in Germany, receiving a suspended prison sentence in 1994 for computer fraud and data espionage, and another suspended prison sentence in 2003 for insider trading and embezzlement.

    In January 2012, the New Zealand Police placed him in custody in response to US charges of criminal copyright infringement in relation to his Megaupload website.

    Mr Dotcom was accused of costing the entertainment industry hundreds of millions of dollars through pirated content uploaded to his file-sharing site. He has denied the charges, and is fighting the attempt to extradite him to the US.

    Controversy around Mr Dotcom’s arrest and the protracted effort to extradite him have dogged the Key government over the past two years. But the prime minister remains the favourite to gain a third consecutive term, although he may need the support of minor parties to secure a majority.

    13 hours ago  /  0 notes