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Sunday, September 7, 2014

A NEW WAR PLAN IN EFFECT: Can strategies be far behind?

As of last Friday, John McCain and Lindsey Graham wanted more decisive action taken against ISIS; the Senators said in a statement:
“The President is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorize military strikes against ISIS forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq. However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses. We need a strategic approach, not just a humanitarian one.  We need to get beyond a policy of half measures. The President needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS.”

I'm sorry.  Where in that carefully crafted statement is a real strategy from them?  Thank your lucky stars that these two are not running our Executive Branch of Government!  They can't even articulate one plausible action to take against ISIS.  Their statement contains nothing but code words for  "Obama is a failure at foreign policy."  "Authorize military strikes" is not a strategy; "far from sufficient" tells us nothing concrete; "growing threat" - reminds us of similar fear tactics used in the past - remember when they said the same thing about Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden?  "half measures" - better half than nothing like what they have; "devise a comprehensive strategy" - they know its being devised right now!

Since they already know what that strategy is (as Senator Barbara Boxer explained in an interview on TV a few nights ago), they are either being disingenuous, or they are trying to hurt the President and his Party politically; OR, they are anything but patriots as they make up untruths about the leaders of our armed forces.  It is important to remember that the President is not the one mapping military strategy -- the Pentagon and its military Brass map it out and the President gets to question, debate, discuss, ask for more information, and then approve or disapprove what comes before him.  I would be willing to bet, however, that because of his intellectual prowess and his ability to absorb information and facts on any issue or problem (like healthcare) that the President is not just a passive player in military strategizing.

Please follow me now on a brief "tour" of the Plan that is in place, and that is already operating as we speak.  And by the way, a Plan is like broad-based Goals that set a direction for strategy.  "Strategy" is like action steps or objectives, encompassing actual concrete steps to be taken as to how and when to utilize the resources one has or the information (intelligence) one has gathered.  When the President said "we don't have a strategy yet" he didn't mean there is no Plan.  He meant, in my estimation, that the actual steps for how to implement that Plan were still being discussed and debated by the military and intelligence people.  This is not at all unusual in any situation that demands careful planning rather than precipitous action similar to what got us involved in a war in Iraq in the first place (see my Blog of June 22, 2014).

Special Ops Forces
Militant terrorist forces (or "guerilla" forces, as we used to call them) that cross borders, hide out in caves, strike at night, terrorize and use local populations as defensive shields, and who have secret backing from some nations and rich "friends," have never been that easy to counteract.  However, we have learned some things from our past, and are currently engaging forces of our own that are, shall we say, clandestine in their efforts. Keep in mind just one operation that everyone knows about: the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden, the leader of that other terrorist group, Al Qaeda.  If you stop at Bin Laden, you have missed an important point:  the leadership of Al Qaeda has been devastated by our pursuit of them.  And now, Al Qaeda must endure the spectacle of another group getting all the attention they used to be able to command. 

Here's part of the story we keep forgetting or over-looking, summarized by The Nation.com:

"U.S. Special Operations Command was established in 1987.  Made up of units from all the service branches, SOCOM is tasked with carrying out Washington's most specialized and secret missions, including assassinations, counterterrorist raids, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, psychological  operations, foreign troop training and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.
"In the post-9/11 era, the Command has grown steadily.  With about 33,000 personnel in 2001, it is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 in 2014.  (About half the numbers are called, in the jargon of the trade, "badged operators - SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets-- while the rest are support personnel).  Funding for the Command also jumped exponentially as SOCOM's baseline budget tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.9 billion between 2001 and 2013.  If you add in supplemental funding, it has actually more than quadrupled to $10.4 billion.
"(As of 2013) about 11,000 special operators are now working abroad at any one time and on any given day, they are in 70-80 countries, though The New York Times reported that, according to statistics provided to them by SOCOM, during one week in March 2013 that number reached 92." (see Map below)

SOCOM has command of the following Special Ops forces:
Army:      Rangers (Tan Berets)
                 Special Forces (Green Berets)
                 Delta Force
                 2 National Guard Special Forces
Navy:      SEAL Teams
Air Force:   Air Force Special Ops
Marines:    Special Ops Command
                    2 Special Ops Battalions

Each group apparently has their "specialties" for which training is beyond rigorous.  For example, Rangers generally specialize in parachuting into combat action to perform strikes and ambushes and to capture enemy airfields.  They gain special proficiency for operating in a mountainous environment.  Navy SEALs operate on the seas, and use clandestine methods against targets that larger forces cannot approach undetected. 

"Last year, Admiral McRaven, who previously headed the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC—a clandestine sub-command that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists—touted his vision for special ops globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said: 'USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate…'
"In translation this means that SOCOM is weaving a complex web of alliances with government agencies at home and militaries abroad to ensure that it’s at the center of every conceivable global hot spot and power center. In fact, Special Operations Command has turned the planet into a giant battlefield, divided into many discrete fronts.
Not content with a global presence in the physical world, SOCOM has also taken to cyberspace where it operates the Trans Regional Web Initiative, a network of ten propaganda websites that are run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets. These shadowy sites—including KhabarSouthAsia.com; Magharebia, which targets North Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com—state only in fine print that they are 'sponsored by' the US military."

Here is a map of where our Special Ops Forces have been stationed:

image

Key to the Map of US Special Operations Forces around the world, 2012-2013
Red markers: US Special Operations Forces deployment in 2013.
Blue markers: US Special Operations Forces working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops in the U.S. or a third country during 2013.
Purple markers: US Special Operations Forces deployment in 2012.
Yellow markers: US Special Operations Forces working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops in the US or a third country during 2012.

"Today, Special Operations Command finds itself at a crossroads. It is attempting to influence populations overseas, while at home trying to keep Americans in the dark about its activities; expanding its reach, impact, and influence, while working to remain deep in the shadows; conducting operations all over the globe, while professing only to be operating in “a number of locations”; claiming worldwide deployments have markedly dropped in the last year, when evidence suggests otherwise."  (based on an original piece from TomDispatch.com).

So there you have an overview of the Plan already in place.  We have troops on the ground.  We have special operations being planned continuously.  And, what's more, Senators McCain and Graham know all this, yet they persist in betraying their President by shoddy rhetoric when all along they know they are covering up what is really going on in terms of a global strategy.  They are the problem because they do not speak the truth, nor do they dare sponsor a war resolution because they know what that will unleash in terms of special ops.  They are the deceivers and the obstructionists, along with all their Republican colleagues who are engaged in taunting rhetoric, but not in honest dialogue with the voting public, or with the President.  There's another part to this global plan.  We know something about it, but not a lot.

Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes
by Cora Currier, ProPublica
Jan. 11, 2013, 1:14 p.m.

"You might have heard about the "kill list." You've certainly heard about drones. But the details of the U.S. campaign against militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia -- a centerpiece of the Obama administration's national security approach remain shrouded in secrecy. Here's our guide to what we know and what we don't know.
Where is the drone war? Who carries it out?
Drones have been the Obama administration's tool of choice for taking out militants outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. By one estimate, 95 percent of targeted killings since 9/11 have been conducted by drones.
The first reported drone strike against Al Qaeda happened in Yemen in 2002. The CIA ramped up secret drone strikes in Pakistan under President George W. Bush in 2008. Under Obama, they have expanded drastically there and in Yemen in 2011.
The CIA isn't alone in conducting drone strikes. The military has acknowledged "direct action" in Yemen and Somalia. Strikes in those countries are reportedly carried out by the secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command. Since 9/11, JSOC has grown more than tenfold, taking on intelligence-gathering as well as combat roles. (For example, JSOC was responsible for the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.)
 
The drone war is carried out remotely, from the U.S. and a network of secret bases around the world. The Washington Post got a glimpse through examining construction contracts and showing up uninvited at the base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti from which many of the strikes on Yemen and Somalia are carried out. Earlier this year, Wired pieced together an account of the war against Somalia's al-Shabab militant group and the U.S.'s expanded military presence throughout Africa.

Such strikes have also been quite common in the country of Afghanistan.  Jack Serle, a reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports:  "It's our understanding that Afghanistan is the most drone-bombed country in the world...we understand there have been more than 1,000 drone strikes there since the war began."

A few more comments from the ProPublica article are important for us to consider:
How are targets chosen?
The CIA and the military have reportedly long maintained overlapping "kill lists." According to news reports last spring, the military's list was hashed out in Pentagon-run interagency meetings, with the White House approving proposed targets. This year, the process reportedly changed, to concentrate the review of individuals and targeting criteria in the White House. According to the Washington Post, the reviews now happen at regular interagency meetings at the National Counterterrorism Center.
How many people have been killed in strikes?
The precise number isn't known, but some estimates peg the total around 3,000, (in 2013)
and a number of groups are tracking strikes and estimating casualties.
How many of those killed were civilians?
It's impossible to know.  Columbia Law School conducted an in-depth analysis of what we know about the U.S.'s efforts to mitigate and calculate civilian casualties. It concluded that the drone war's covert nature hampered accountability measures taken in traditional military actions.
When does the drone war end?
The administration has reportedly discussed scaling back the drone war, but by other accounts, it is formalizing the targeted killing program for the long haul. 
(Indeed, a U.S. air strike last week in Somalia killed at least six members of the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, including its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was in the car that was hit by a drone attack.)
 
What can we conclude from what we know?  A few thoughts:

1)  Republican Senators and Congressmen know what the Plan is for both drones and covert Special Ops Forces.  They have passed legislation to support, or to change, portions of the Plan.  For instance, they thwarted President Obama's proposal for returning drone operation from the CIA Special Activities Unit to the Defense Department.  Their public pronouncements do not coincide with their private classified knowledge!

2)  If Republicans want the President to "get tough" why don't they pass a War Resolution declaring their support for a War against ISIS?  Because they know that such a war is already being fought, and they don't want any part of it, especially in light of judicial questioning of the legality and the constitutionality of parts of the overall project, and in light of mid-term elections coming up.  They are hypocrites, pure and simple, mostly simple.  TIME magazine weighs in on this:
“Congress does not have the political will to approve a War Powers Resolution when the American people have very little appetite for war,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior Republican congressional aide. “Getting the approval of Congress before the November elections to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq would likely require an attack on American soil or a very imminent threat of danger. Members of Congress want to secure their own re-elections and this type of vote could be the defining factor in several tight Senate races across the country.
Thus far, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in the House and Senate, which would have jurisdiction over a War Powers Resolution, have been waiting to hear what Obama wants to do. Congress has a spotty history of authorizing hostilities under this President. On Syria, both chambers balked at authorizing hostilities after Obama asked for support in the wake of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. When congressional support disappeared, Obama was forced to make a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of chemical weapons, rather than using force against Assad.
Few Republicans, a Senate Republican aide told TIME, want to vote to support the President, especially in election season. If Obama were to ask for money for his actions — a back-door way of showing congressional support for military action without having to outright condone it — that vote would be easier as it would be a vote for the troops, the aide said.
The most likely path here is that Obama will continue to do what he’s been doing, and probably expand attacks into Syria, using the Article II justification. As the White House has argued, he’s protecting Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq. By that measure, wherever America has an embassy or citizens in peril, Presidents in the future will now have the precedent to engage in hostilities to protect them."

It is my understanding that the President has already informed Congress that he has invoked the provisions of the War Powers Act against ISIS.  What they won't tell us is that the President has thereby acted decisively, and continues to do so.

It might seem, from my reporting on these matters that I am saying that I endorse war by Special Ops and Drones; that I favor the new secrecy, or that I think ISIS leadership should simply be assassinated.  Not necessarily so.  All I have done today is to provide needed (and overlooked) information on a military Plan, and defend the President from unjust criticism, without making a judgment on what already exists.  However, there is more to come.