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.

by

Remote U.S. base at core of secret operations

 

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti — Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at a U.S. military base here, the combat hub for the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

Some of the unmanned aircraft are bound for Somalia, the collapsed state whose border lies just 10 miles to the southeast. Most of the armed drones, however, veer north across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, another unstable country where they are being used in an increasingly deadly war with an al-Qaeda franchise that has targeted the United States.

Camp Lemonnier, a sun-baked Third World outpost established by the French Foreign Legion, began as a temporary staging ground for U.S. Marines looking for a foothold in the region a decade ago. Over the past two years, the U.S. military has clandestinely transformed it into the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone, a model for fighting a new generation of terrorist groups.

The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program. Behind closed doors, painstaking debates precede each decision to place an individual in the cross hairs of the United States’ perpetual war against al-Qaeda and its allies.

Increasingly, the orders to find, track or kill those people are delivered to Camp Lemonnier. Virtually the entire 500-acre camp is dedicated to counterterrorism, making it the only installation of its kind in the Pentagon’s global network of bases.

Secrecy blankets most of the camp’s activities. The U.S. military rejected requests from The Washington Post to tour Lemonnier last month. Officials cited “operational security concerns,” although they have permitted journalists to visit in the past.

After a Post reporter showed up in Djibouti uninvited, the camp’s highest-ranking commander consented to an interview — on the condition that it take place away from the base, at Djibouti’s lone luxury hotel. The commander, Army Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, answered some general queries but declined to comment on drone operations or missions related to Somalia or Yemen.

Despite the secrecy, thousands of pages of military records obtained by The Post — including construction blueprints, drone accident reports and internal planning memos — open a revealing window into Camp Lemonnier. None of the documents is classified and many were acquired via public-records requests.

Taken together, the previously undisclosed documents show how the Djibouti-based drone wars sharply escalated early last year after eight Predators arrived at Lemonnier. The records also chronicle the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to further intensify drone operations here in the coming months.

The documents point to the central role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which President Obama has repeatedly relied on to execute the nation’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions.

About 300 Special Operations personnel plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire. Most of the commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.

Other counterterrorism work at Lemonnier is more overt. All told, about 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp, where they train foreign militaries, gather intelligence and dole out humanitarian aid across East Africa as part of a campaign to prevent extremists from taking root.

In Washington, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps to sustain the drone campaign for another decade, developing an elaborate new targeting database, called the “disposition matrix,” and a classified “playbook” to spell out how decisions on targeted killing are made.

Djibouti is the clearest example of how the United States is laying the groundwork to carry out these operations overseas. For the past decade, the Pentagon has labeled Lemonnier an “expeditionary,” or temporary, camp. But it is now hardening into the U.S. military’s first permanent drone war base.

Centerpiece base

In August, the Defense Department delivered a master plan to Congress detailing how the camp will be used over the next quarter-century. About $1.4 billion in construction projects are on the drawing board, including a huge new compound that could house up to 1,100 Special Operations forces, more than triple the current number.

Drones will continue to be in the forefront. In response to written questions from The Post, the U.S. military confirmed publicly for the first time the presence of remotely piloted aircraft — military parlance for drones — at Camp Lemonnier and said they support “a wide variety of regional security missions.”

Intelligence collected from drone and other surveillance missions “is used to develop a full picture of the activities of violent extremist organizations and other activities of interest,” Africa Command, the arm of the U.S. military that oversees the camp, said in a statement. “However, operational security considerations prevent us from commenting on specific missions.”

For nearly a decade, the United States flew drones from Lemonnier only rarely, starting with a 2002 strike in Yemen that killed a suspected ringleader of the attack on the USS Cole.

That swiftly changed in 2010, however, after al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen attempted to bomb two U.S.-bound airliners and jihadists in Somalia separately consolidated their hold on that country. Late that year, records show, the Pentagon dispatched eight unmanned MQ-1B Predator aircraft to Djibouti and turned Lemonnier into a full-time drone base.

The impact was apparent months later: JSOC drones from Djibouti and CIA Predators from a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula converged over Yemen and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and prominent al-Qaeda member.

Today, Camp Lemonnier is the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases in Africa, created to combat a new generation of terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic. The U.S. military also flies drones from small civilian airports in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, but those operations pale in comparison to what is unfolding in Djibouti.

Lemonnier also has become a hub for conventional aircraft. In October 2011, the military boosted the airpower at the base by deploying a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, which can fly faster and carry more munitions than Predators.

In its written responses, Africa Command confirmed the warplanes’ presence but declined to answer questions about their mission. Two former U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-15s are flying combat sorties over Yemen, an undeclared development in the growing war against al-Qaeda forces there.

The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared.

Since January 2011, Air Force records show, five Predators armed with Hellfire missiles crashed after taking off from Lemonnier, including one drone that plummeted to the ground in a residential area of Djibouti City. No injuries were reported but four of the drones were destroyed.

Predator drones in particular are more prone to mishaps than manned aircraft, Air Force statistics show. But the accidents rarely draw public attention because there are no pilots or passengers.

As the pace of drone operations has intensified in Djibouti, Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire.

In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.

“After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”

Prime location

Djibouti is an impoverished former French colony with fewer than 1 million people, scarce natural resources and miserably hot weather.

But as far as the U.S. military is concerned, the country’s strategic value is unparalleled. Sandwiched between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Camp Lemonnier enables U.S. aircraft to reach hot spots such as Yemen or Somalia in minutes. Djibouti’s port also offers easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

“This is not an outpost in the middle of nowhere that is of marginal interest,” said Amanda J. Dory, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa. “This is a very important location in terms of U.S. interests, in terms of freedom of navigation, when it comes to power projection.”

The U.S. military pays $38 million a year to lease Camp Lemonnier from the Djiboutian government. The base rolls across flat, sandy terrain on the edge of Djibouti City, a somnolent capital with eerily empty streets. During the day, many people stay indoors to avoid the heat and to chew khat, a mildly intoxicating plant that is popular in the region.

Hemmed in by the sea and residential areas, Camp Lemonnier’s primary shortcoming is that it has no space to expand. It is forced to share a single runway with Djibouti’s only international airport, as well as an adjoining French military base and the tiny Djiboutian armed forces.

Passengers arriving on commercial flights — there are about eight per day — can occasionally spy a Predator drone preparing for a mission. In between flights, the unmanned aircraft park under portable, fabric-covered hangars to shield them from the wind and curious eyes.

Behind the perimeter fence, construction crews are rebuilding the base to better accommodate the influx of drones. Glimpses of the secret operations can be found in an assortment of little-noticed Pentagon memoranda submitted to Congress.

Last month, for example, the Defense Department awarded a $62 million contract to build an airport taxiway extension to handle increased drone traffic at Lemonnier, an ammunition storage site and a combat-loading area for bombs and missiles.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Congress explaining the emergency contract, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that 16 drones and four fighter jets take off or land at the Djibouti airfield each day, on average. Those operations are expected to increase, he added, without giving details.

In a separate letter to Congress, Carter said Camp Lemonnier is running out of space to park its drones, which he referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and other planes. “The recent addition of fighters and RPAs has exacerbated the situation, causing mission delays,” he said.

Carter’s letters revealed that the drones and fighter aircraft at the base support three classified military operations, code-named Copper Dune, Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield.

Copper Dune is the name of the military’s counterterrorism operations in Yemen. Africa Command said it could not provide information about Jupiter Garret and Octave Shield, citing secrecy restrictions. The code names are unclassified.

The military often assigns similar names to related missions. Octave Fusion was the code name for a Navy SEAL-led operation in Somalia that rescued an American and a Danish hostage on Jan. 24.

Spilled secrets

Another window into the Djibouti drone operations can be found in U.S. Air Force safety records.

Whenever a military aircraft is involved in a mishap, the Air Force appoints an Accident Investigation Board to determine the cause. Although the reports focus on technical questions, supplementary documents make it possible to re-create a narrative of what happened in the hours leading up to a crash.

Air Force officers investigating the crash of a Predator on May 17, 2011, found that things started to go awry at Camp Lemonnier late that night when a man known as Frog emerged from the Special Operations compound.

The camp’s main power supply had failed and the phone lines were down. So Frog walked over to the flight line to deliver some important news to the Predator ground crew on duty, according to the investigators’ files, which were obtained by The Post as part of a public-records request.

“Frog” was the alias chosen by a major assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command. At Lemonnier, he belonged to a special collection of Navy SEALs, Delta Force soldiers, Air Force commandos and Marines known simply as “the task force.”

JSOC commandos spend their days and nights inside their compound as they plot raids against terrorist camps and pirate hideouts. Everybody on the base is aware of what they do, but the topic is taboo. “I can’t acknowledge the task force,” said Baker, the Army general and highest-ranking commander at Lemonnier.

Frog coordinated Predator hunts. He did not reveal his real name to anyone without a need to know, not even the ground-crew supervisors and operators and mechanics who cared for the Predators. The only contact came when Frog or his friends occasionally called from their compound to say it was time to ready a drone for takeoff or to prepare for a landing.

Information about each Predator mission was kept so tightly compartmentalized that the ground crews were ignorant of the drones’ targets and destinations. All they knew was that most of their Predators eventually came back, usually 20 or 22 hours later, earlier if something went awry.

On this particular night, Frog informed the crew that his Predator was returning unexpectedly, 17 hours into the flight, because of a slow oil leak.

It was not an emergency. But as the drone descended toward Djibouti City it entered a low-hanging cloud that obscured its camera sensor. Making matters worse, the GPS malfunctioned and gave incorrect altitude readings.

The crew operating the drone was flying blind. It guided the Predator on a “dangerously low glidepath,” Air Force investigators concluded, and crashed the remote-controlled plane 2.7 miles short of the runway.

The site was in a residential area and fire trucks rushed to the scene. The drone had crashed in a vacant lot and its single Hellfire missile had not detonated.

The Predator splintered apart and was a total loss. With a $3 million price tag, it had cost less than one-tenth the price of an F-15 Strike Eagle.

But in terms of spilling secrets, the damage was severe. Word spread quickly about the mysterious insect-shaped plane that had dropped from the sky. Hundreds of Djiboutians gathered and gawked at the wreckage for hours until the U.S. military arrived to retrieve the pieces.

One secret that survived, however, was Frog’s identity. The official Air Force panel assigned to investigate the Predator accident couldn’t determine his real name, much less track him down for questioning.

“Who is Frog?” one investigator demanded weeks later while interrogating a ground crew member, according to a transcript. “I’m sorry, I was just getting more explanation as to who Frog — is that a person? Or is that like a position?”

The crew member explained that Frog was a liaison officer from the task force. “He’s a Pred guy,” he shrugged. “I actually don’t know his last name.”

The accident triggered alarms at the upper echelons of the Air Force because it was the fourth drone in four months from Camp Lemonnier to crash.

Ten days earlier, on May 7, 2011, a drone carrying a Hellfire missile had an electrical malfunction shortly after it entered Yemeni airspace, according to an Air Force investigative report. The Predator turned back toward Djibouti. About one mile offshore, it rolled uncontrollably to the right, then back to the left before flipping belly up and hurtling into the sea.

“I’ve never seen a Predator do that before in my life, except in videos of other crashes,” a sensor operator from the ground crew told investigators, according to a transcript. “I’m just glad we landed it in the ocean and not someplace else.”

 

Flying every sortie

The remote-control drones in Djibouti are flown, via satellite link, by pilots 8,000 miles away in the United States, sitting at consoles in air-conditioned quarters at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

At Camp Lemonnier, conditions are much less pleasant for the Air Force ground crews that launch, recover and fix the drones.

In late 2010, after military cargo planes transported the fleet of eight Predators to Djibouti, airmen from the 60th Air Force Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron unpacked the drones from their crates and assembled them.

Soon after, without warning, a microburst storm with 80-mph winds struck the camp.

The 87-member squadron scrambled to secure the Predators and other exposed aircraft. They managed to save more than half of the “high-value, Remotely Piloted Aircraft assets from destruction, and most importantly, prevented injury and any loss of life,” according to a brief account published in Combat Edge, an Air Force safety magazine.

Even normal weather conditions could be brutal, with summertime temperatures reaching 120 degrees on top of 80 percent humidity.

“Our war reserve air conditioners literally short-circuited in the vain attempt to cool the tents in which we worked,” recalled Lt. Col. Thomas McCurley, the squadron commander. “Our small group of security forces personnel guarded the compound, flight line and other allied assets at posts exposed to the elements with no air conditioning at all.”

McCurley’s rare public account of the squadron’s activities came in June, when the Air Force awarded him a Bronze Star. At the ceremony, he avoided any explicit mention of the Predators or Camp Lemonnier. But his narrative matched what is known about the squadron’s deployment to Djibouti.

“Our greatest accomplishment was that we flew every single sortie the Air Force asked us to fly, despite the challenges we encountered,” he said. “We were an integral part in taking down some very important targets, which means a lot to me.”

He did not mention it, but the unit had gotten into the spirit of its mission by designing a uniform patch emblazoned with a skull, crossbones and a suitable nickname: “East Africa Air Pirates.”

The Air Force denied a request from The Post to interview McCurley.

Increased traffic

The frequency of U.S. military flights from Djibouti has soared, overwhelming air-traffic controllers and making the skies more dangerous.

The number of takeoffs and landings each month has more than doubled, reaching a peak of 1,666 in July compared with a monthly average of 768 two years ago, according to air-traffic statistics disclosed in Defense Department contracting documents.

Drones now account for about 30 percent of daily U.S. military flight operations at Lemonnier, according to a Post analysis.

The increased activity has meant more mishaps. Last year, drones were involved in “a string of near mid-air collisions” with NATO planes off the Horn of Africa, according to a brief safety alert published in Combat Edge magazine.

Drones also pose an aviation risk next door in Somalia. Over the past year, remote-controlled aircraft have plunged into a refugee camp, flown perilously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital, according to a United Nations report.

Manned planes are crashing, too. An Air Force U-28A surveillance plane crashed five miles from Camp Lemonnier while returning from a secret mission on Feb. 18, killing the four-person crew. An Air Force investigation attributed the accident to “unrecognized spatial disorientation” on the part of the crew, which ignored sensor warnings that it was flying too close to the ground.

Baker, the two-star commander at Lemonnier, played down the crashes and near-misses. He said safety had improved since he arrived in Djibouti in May.

“We’ve dramatically reduced any incidents of concern, certainly since I’ve been here,” he said.

Last month, the Defense Department awarded a $7 million contract to retrain beleaguered air-traffic controllers at Ambouli International Airport and improve their English skills.

The Djiboutian controllers handle all civilian and U.S. military aircraft. But they are “undermanned” and “over tasked due to the recent rapid increase in U.S. military flights,” according to the contract. It also states that the controllers and the airport are not in compliance with international aviation standards.

Resolving those deficiencies may not be sufficient. Records show the U.S. military is also scrambling for an alternative place for its planes to land in an emergency.

Last month, it awarded a contract to install portable lighting at the only backup site available: a tiny, makeshift airstrip in the Djiboutian desert, several miles from Lemonnier.

Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Offers ’10 Camels’ as Bounty for Obama

Hillary Worth Chickens, According to Khalaf

Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Al-Shabaab’s top fundraiser by US reckoning, mocked the US offer of massive bounties for the capture or death of his organization’s leadership, including the $5 million bounty for him personally.

Khalaf, whose audio statement was posted on several militant websites, also presented a counter-offer, offering livestock for “the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton.”

Khalaf went on to say that anyone who gave him information regarding “the idiot Obama” would get 10 camels, while someone who “reveals the hideout of the old woman Hillary Clinton will be rewarded 10 chickens and 10 roosters.”

The US has been backing various international invasions of Somalia targeting al-Shabaab, with an eye toward installing the self-proclaimed Somali government nationwide. US drones have also attacked the nation off and on in the past several months.

 

Witnesses: Ethiopia Invades Somalia Again

Al-Shabaab: ‘Black Colonialists of Ethiopia Do Not Scare Us’

Witnesses in the central town of Guriel, Somalia report that Ethiopian soldiers have invaded the region in the largest numbers since they declared “victory” in December 2008 and withdrew from their multi-year attack.

The Ethiopian move is being touted as an attempt to open a “third front” in the battle against al-Shabaab, which is fighting against AU troops in Mogadishu as well as Kenyan invasion forces in the far south.

But ‘fronts’ don’t really work that way in a war against a mostly diffuse local population, and al-Shabaab did not appear overly concerned with what they called the “black colonialists of Ethiopia,” adding that “they do not scare us.”

“We will break the necks of the invaders,” one of al-Shabaab’s commanders insisted. Indeed, the group owes most of its domestic support and its very existence to Ethiopia, as they moved from a tiny irrelevant group of extremists into a major fighting force largely through resisting the last Ethiopian invasion.

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