CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria

Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old civil war.

The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other as they have maneuvered through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” said Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq.

Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.


The attacks come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time.

“It is an enormous challenge,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as “a fairly new phenomenon.”

“It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield,” he said.

The area in northern Syria around Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, features not only a war between the Assad government and its opponents, but also periodic battles against Islamic State militants, who control much of eastern Syria and also some territory to the northwest of the city, and long-standing tensions among the ethnic groups that inhabit the area, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

Once they cross the border into Syria, you lose a substantial amount of control or ability to control their actions. — Jeffrey White, former Defense Intelligence Agency official

“This is a complicated, multisided war where our options are severely limited,” said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We know we need a partner on the ground. We can’t defeat ISIL without that part of the equation, so we keep trying to forge those relationships.” ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State.

President Barack Obama recently authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian rebel fighters, relaunching a program that was suspended in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks, which included recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued ammunition and trucks to an al-Qaida affiliate.

Amid the setbacks, the Pentagon late last year deployed about 50 special operations forces to Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria to better coordinate with local militias and help ensure U.S.-backed rebel groups aren’t fighting one another.

But such skirmishes have become routine.

Last year, the Pentagon helped create a new military coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal was to arm the group and prepare it to take territory away from Islamic State in eastern Syria and to provide information for U.S. airstrikes.

The group is dominated by Kurdish outfits known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. A few Arab units have joined the force in order to prevent it from looking like an invading Kurdish army, and it has received airdrops of weapons and supplies and assistance from U.S. Special Forces.

Gen. Joseph Votel, now commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and the incoming head of Central Command, said this month that about 80 percent of the fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were Kurdish.

The U.S. backing for a heavily Kurdish armed force has been a point of tension with the Turkish government, which has a long history of crushing Kurdish rebellions and doesn’t want to see Kurdish units control more of its southern border.

The CIA, meanwhile, has its own operations center inside Turkey from which it has been directing aid to rebel groups in Syria, providing them with TOW antitank missiles from Saudi Arabian weapons stockpiles.

While the Pentagon’s actions are part of an overt effort by the U.S. and its allies against the Islamic State, the CIA’s backing of militias is part of a separate covert U.S. effort aimed at keeping pressure on the Assad government in hopes of prodding the Syrian leader to the negotiating table.

At first, the two different sets of fighters were primarily operating in widely separated areas of Syria — the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country and the CIA-backed groups further west.

But, over the past several months, Russian airstrikes against anti-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria have weakened them.

That created an opening that allowed the Kurdish-led groups to expand their zone of control to the outskirts of Aleppo, bringing them into more frequent conflict with the CIA-backed outfits.

We’ll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people. — Suqour Al-Jabal Brigade fighter

“Fighting over territory in Aleppo demonstrates how difficult it is for the U.S. to manage these really localized and, in some cases, entrenched conflicts,” said Nicholas Heras, an expert on the Syrian civil war at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “Preventing clashes is one of the constant topics in the joint operations room with Turkey.”

Over the course of the Syrian civil war, the town of Marea has been on the front line of the Islamic State’s attempts to advance across Aleppo province toward the rest of northern Syria.

On Feb. 18, the Syrian Democratic Forces attacked the town.

A fighter with the Suqour Al-Jabal Brigade, a group with links to the CIA, said intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State know their group has clashed with the Pentagon-trained militias.

“The MOM knows we fight them,” he said, referring to the joint operations center in southern Turkey, which is known as MOM from the acronym of its name in Turkish, Musterek Operasyon Merkezi.

“We’ll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people,” said the fighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Marea is home to many of the original Islamist fighters who took up arms against Assad during the Arab Spring in 2011. It has long been a critical way station for supplies and fighters coming from Turkey into Aleppo.

“Attempts by Syrian Democratic Forces to take Marea was a great betrayal and was viewed as a further example of a Kurdish conspiracy to force them from Arab and Turkmen lands,” Heras said.

The clashes brought the U.S. and Turkish officials to “loggerheads,” he added.

After diplomatic pressure from the U.S., the militia withdrew to the outskirts of the town as a sign of good faith, he said.

But continued fighting among different U.S.-backed groups may be inevitable, experts on the region said.

“Once they cross the border into Syria, you lose a substantial amount of control or ability to control their actions,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. “You certainly have the potential for it becoming a larger problem as people fight for territory and control of the northern border area in Aleppo.”

W.J. Hennigan and Brian Bennett reported from Washington and special correspondent Nabih Bulos from Amman.

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Los Angeles Times

CIA photographed detainees naked before sending them to be tortured

Classified pictures showing CIA captives bruised, blindfolded and bound raise new questions about US’s willingness to use ‘sexual humiliation’ on suspects

The CIA took naked photographs of people it sent to its foreign partners for torture, the Guardian can reveal.

A former US official who had seen some of the photographs described them as “very gruesome”.

The naked imagery of CIA captives raises new questions about the seeming willingness of the US to use what one medical and human rights expert called “sexual humiliation” in its post-9/11 captivity of terrorism suspects. Some human rights campaigners described the act of naked photography on unwilling detainees as a potential war crime.

Unlike video evidence of CIA torture at its undocumented “black site” prisons that were destroyed in 2005 by a senior official, the CIA is said to retain the photographs.

In some of the photos, which remain classified, CIA captives are blindfolded, bound and show visible bruises. Some photographs also show people believed to be CIA officials or contractors alongside the naked detainees.

It is not publicly known how many people, overwhelmingly but not exclusively men, were caught in the CIA’s web of so-called “extraordinary renditions”, extra-judicial transfers of detainees to foreign countries, many of which practised even more brutal forms of torture than the US came to adopt. Human rights groups over the years have identified at least 50 people the CIA rendered, going back to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

It is also unclear how many of those rendition targets the CIA photographed naked.

The rationale for the naked photography, described by knowledgeable sources, was to insulate the CIA from legal or political ramifications stemming from their brutal treatment in the hands of its partner intelligence agencies.

Stripping the victims of clothing was considered necessary to document their physical condition while in CIA custody, distinguishing them at that point from what they would subsequently experience in foreign custody – despite the public diplomatic assurances against torture that the US demonstrably collected from countries with a record of torturing detainees.

The Guardian is aware of the identities of some of the detainees photographed naked and is choosing not to disclose them out of concern for their safety and dignity.

“Is the naked photography a form of sexual assault? Yes. It’s a form of sexual humiliation,” said Dr Vincent Iacopino, the medical director of Physicians for Human Rights.

Iacopino has not seen the nude photographs but raised grave concerns. “It’s cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at a minimum and may constitute torture,” he said.

2803International human rights law, to include the Geneva conventions, forbids photographing prisoners except in extremely limited circumstances related to their detention, to include anything that might compromise their dignity.

“Photographing or videotaping detainees in US custody unrelated to the processing of prisoners or the management of detention facilities can constitute a violation of the laws of war, including the Geneva conventions, in some cases,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and an expert on detainee abuse.

“Any evidence that the CIA or any other US government agency intentionally photographed naked detainees should be investigated by law enforcement as a potential violation of domestic and international law.”

The naked photographs from rendition targets are distinct from previously identified caches of torture photos from the US military and the CIA. The renditions remain the most secret aspect of the CIA’s since-discontinued apparatus of detentions, prisoner transfers and abusive interrogations.

In 2015, attorneys for the former black-site detainees now charged with war crimes at Guantánamo Bay learned of the existence of up to 14,000 photographs the CIA took and maintains of their former detainees. That cache is not believed to contain photographs of people the agency rendered to allied intelligence services. All of those photos remain undisclosed to the public.

The 500-page portion of the Senate’s landmark investigation into George W Bush-era CIA torture that the government released in 2014 dealt overwhelmingly with the CIA’s detentions and interrogations, keeping the rendition program a secret. But the report’s 318th footnote reveals that the CIA photographed the people it captured and sent to other countries.

The Senate footnote reads: “There are also few CIA records detailing the rendition process for detainees and their transportation to or between detention sites. CIA records do include detainee comments on their rendition experiences and photographs of detainees in the process of being transported.” However, the Senate footnote does not go on to acknowledge that some of the subjects were naked when they were photographed.

The CIA is known to have employed nudity in other aspects of its custody of terrorism suspects.

The Senate investigation revealed that the CIA “routinely” stripped its own detainees nude, although Justice Department officials did not formally approve the practice until 2005. Often the nudity occurred in tandem with other torture techniques, such as shackling and frigid conditions, leading in at least one case to a detainee’s death.

Officials in the George W Bush-era US Justice Department considered humiliation central to keeping detainees nude, although they insisted that doing so did not imply any threat of sexual violence.

“This technique is used to cause psychological discomfort, particularly if a detainee, for cultural or other reasons, is especially modest,” a Justice Department official observed in 2005 during the course of an internal debate about retaining or abandoning the torture techniques. The official, in a memo declassified early in the Obama administration, considered forced nudity distinct from “any acts of implicit or explicit sexual degradation”.

The distinction was less clear in practice. The Senate report documented that CIA officials inserted pureed food into detainees’ anuses, a procedure the agency alleges was a medically necessary practice called “rectal rehydration” but which human rights advocates consider sexual assault. The “rehydration” left detainee Mustafa Hawsawi, who is held at Guantánamo currently facing a US military tribunal in connection with the 9/11 attacks, with a rectal prolapse and related persistent medical problems.

The CIA declined to comment for this story.

The U.S. Middle East Killing Racket

Consider the following two headlines during the past three weeks:

U.S. Strike Kills ‘150 al-Shabaab Terrorists’ in Somalia” (March 7, The Telegraph)

49 Killed in U.S. Airstrike Targeting Terrorists in Libya” (February 20, CNN)

The reason for the Somalia killings? U.S. officials say that the 150 dead people were terrorists who were planning to carry out an attack in Somalia.

The reason for the Libya killings? U.S. officials say that the 49 dead people were ISIS terrorists.

Now, let’s just take U.S. officials at their word. Let’s assume that all the people they killed were terrorists who were planning to carry out attacks in Somalia and Libya.

Questions naturally arises: What business is that of the U.S. government? Under what constitutional authority does the U.S. national-security establishment kill people with impunity overseas? How do we really know that they were guilty? What impact will those killings have on the American people, especially in terms of terrorist retaliation?

After all, there is no allegation that any of those 199 dead people planned to invade and conquer the United States, take over the IRS, and establish a nation-wide Muslim caliphate here in the United States.

Let’s acknowledge that that part of the world is rife with civil war. Groups are battling to take control over regimes in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Let’s acknowledge that the opposing factions are violent. Let’s acknowledge that if the insurgents were to win the civil wars, they would establish regimes that are even more oppressive than the ones currently in power.

I repeat: What business is that of the U.S. government? And under what constitutional authority does the U.S. national-security establishment embroil our nation in such conflicts by killing people? And what good does embroiling the United States into those conflicts do for the American people?

Let’s not forget another factor about all this chaos: It was the U.S. national-security state’s killing campaign that unleashed most of the chaos in the first place.

Think Iraq. Here was a nation headed by a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had been a loyal partner of the U.S. government. Then they turned on him, as they do with many of their dictatorial partners, but failed to oust him from power during the Persian Gulf War and during the 11 period of the brutal and deadly sanctions against Iraq. Finally, 9/11 gave them the excuse for invading Iraq and ousting Saddam from power.

But all that accomplished was to convert Iraq into a horrendous hellhole, one that unleashed a violent civil war. That’s what ISIS is all about. Consisting in large part of members of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, ISIS has initiated a violent civil war in the attempt to regain the reins of power in Iraq.

Did U.S. interventionists really think that the people they ousted from power were going to go quietly into the night and passively accept a regime change brought about through foreign interventionism?

Think Libya, another “successful” U.S. regime-change operation. The U.S. national-security state succeeded in ousting Qaddafi from power, which then unleashed a violent civil war in that country as well. And guess who is vying for power in that civil war: Yep, ISIS, the group that the U.S. regime change operation in Iraq brought into existence.

It’s the same in Syria.

It’s the same all over the Middle East.

The U.S. government goes into the region, initiates regime-change operations, and produces mass chaos, including civil wars, mass exoduses of immigrants, massive death and destruction, and crooked, corrupt, and tyrannical regimes.

And then all that chaos is used as the excuse for killing more people in the name of waging a “war on terrorism.”

And the more people the kill, the worse the chaos. The worst the chaos, the great number of people they feel they have to target for killing.

It’s really the perfect racket. It’s the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history. And it ensures that Americans don’t question the existence of the Cold War era national-security establishment. “We are here to protect you from the terrorists,” the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA tell us. “We are killing them before they come to get you and cart you away to study the Koran,” they explain. “Without the national-security establishment, American would fall to the terrorists, the Muslims, the radical jihadists, the drug dealers, and maybe even the communists.”

The war on terrorism is actually better than the war on drugs, a war that they’ve been waging for decades. They’ve been killing or capturing drug dealers for years. What good has it done? Those who are killed or captured are quickly replaced by others.

And that’s what’s been going on for the past 25 years in the Middle East. As soon as they get rid of one “bad guy,” he is replaced by another “bad guy.” The death and replacement process is perpetual.

And as everyone knows by now, whenever they kill a “bad guy,” the anger and rage and thirst for retaliation arises among his friends and family and people who share his religious convictions. That then means that they have to “keep us safe” with ever growing totalitarian powers, including secret surveillance schemes as well as the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to kill American citizens the same way they recently killed those 199 “terrorists” — without notice, without trial, without due process.

The whole crooked, corrupt, and deadly racket — one that the president, Congress, and Supreme Court are scared to death to interfere with — only goes to show how the national-security establishment has become the most powerful and dominant section of the federal government.

There is but one solution to all this madness: stop the U.S. killings now. Bring all the troops home and discharge them into the private sector. They’re not needed. Dismantle the U.S. military empire and dismantle the Cold War-era dinosauric national-security establishment. Restore a constitutional republic to our land. Embrace liberty and free markets and unleash the private sector of Americans to freely interact with the people of the world.

That’s the only way that America can lead the world out of this morass. It depends on the will, courage, and wisdom of the American people.


Pakistani military blocks anti-drone convoy from entering tribal region

Imran Khan says two-day convoy has been a success despite failing to reach intended destination

Makeshift roadblocks, security threats and warnings from Pakistan’s army forcedImran Khan to abandon his unprecedented attempt to lead a cavalcade of anti-drone protesters deep into the country’s restive tribal belt on Sunday.

Leading a convoy of thousands, the former cricketer was within striking distance of South Waziristan, where the CIA uses remote-controlled planes in the fight against Islamist militants, when he abruptly turned back.

Later Khan said he had changed plan because of warnings from the army and the risk of becoming stuck after the military-imposed curfew.

Addressing an impromptu rally of his supporters, he said the convoy had still been a huge success because he had gone to areas his political rivals “can only look at on maps”.

“We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you,” Khan told the crowd of around 2,500 supporters. But after two days of travel, the U-turn seemed to surprise some, including a senior party official who got out of his car on the heat-baked roadside surrounded by arid scrubland and declared he had no idea what was going on.

Others expressed anger, saying Khan was more interested in using the event to burnish his popularity before a general election due at some point in the next six months.

“I am very disappointed,” said Khalil Khan Dawar, an oil industry worker who had travelled all day to get to the edge of the tribal agency. “We had to get to South Waziristan. For him this is not just about drones, it is about popularity and elections.”

Some have also questioned the relevance of Kotkai, the town in South Waziristan where Khan hoped to hold his rally, to the drone debate. Most drone attacks now take place in North Waziristan, and Pakistani army efforts to wrest control from militants have forced many of Kotkai’s residents to leave.

The abandonment of the much-publicised attempt to reach Kotkai was the second sudden change of plan on the same day. Earlier Khan had appeared to reassure a largely female delegation of the US peace group Code Pink that there would be no attempt to enter the tribal areas and that instead a rally would be held in the town of Tank.

By midday it was decided to push on regardless, apparently out of a desire not to disappoint the throngs of people who had joined his convoy along the road from the capital, Islamabad. That was despite the all-too evident disapproval of authorities who had placed shipping containers across the road at three different points.

The vehicles, including buses crammed with supporters waving the red and green flag of Khan’s political party, ground to a halt as throngs of protesters worked to push the obstacles out of the way, in one instance destroying a small building in the process.

Indignities and discomforts are nothing new to the mostly middle-aged and female activists of Code Pink, some of whom have been arrested while campaigning against US drone strikes. But being trapped on a bus travelling towards Pakistan’s tribal areas proved too much even for the most hardened of campaigners. “We had only one toilet break in nine hours,” said Medea Benjamin, leader of the 35-strong team of Americans who had agreed to join Khan on the march. They chose not to continue into, in the words of Benjamin, a “chaotic” situation.

To add to their miseries, their minders urged them to stay behind the curtains of their bus – emblazoned on its side with huge images of people killed by drone strikes – throughout much of the journey, particularly in many of the areas affected by militant groups. “It was hard for these people because they are protesters and they wanted to get out there,” said Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer who was looking after the group. “But there’s no way we are going to let them get out in some of those towns!”

Billed as a protest against drone strikes, which Khan and his supporters claim kill large numbers of innocent civilians as well as flouting Pakistan’s sovereignty, the procession had the feel of a political rally on wheels. Many of the vehicles eschewed anti-drone slogans and instead carried pictures of PTI politicians anxious to be included on the party’s official ticket in the upcoming elections.

US Poised to Strike Iraq, But CIA Has No Idea Who They’re Aiming At

Agency Lacks Intelligence on Where to Find Potential Targets

US officials are all set to launch air strikes against ISIS-controlled parts of Iraq, but are warning of a major “intelligence gap” in the CIA regarding where potential targets might conceivably be.

iraq-mapAnd if US officials are saying that, that’s really saying something, as strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, upon which the Iraq plan is apparently based, have been notoriously inaccurate, killing a lot of innocent people on the basis of phony “tip-offs.

With ISIS having taken a lot of new territory in Iraq, intelligence services don’t even know where to begin in acquiring intelligence, and the targeted air strikes seem set to be hugely unreliable.

In Mosul in particular, ISIS has been restrained in its rule, and is trying to gain the support of locals. US air strikes, particularly inaccurate ones, are likely to add to support for ISIS, and anti-US sentiment.

by Jason Ditz

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