US Soldier Kills Afghan Boy Outside Bagram Airfield

Locals Protest Against Latest Killing

Pentagon officials promised an investigation into an incident today in which a US soldier in a watchtower opened fire on an Afghan boy, shooting and killing him outside the Bagram airfield in Parwan Province.

parwDetails are still scant on the incident, but the soldier claimed the boy had “what looked like an automatic rifle” when he fired. Officials never did say what the object turned out to be, though it was evidently not a gun.

The killing added to tensions around the airfield, which has seen numerous incidents riling locals, and villages from the surrounding area organized near the base to protest the killing, though they have since been dispersed.

Though the US presence at Bagram isn’t as large as it once was, the site has been a source of controversy for years, and in 2012 sparked a massive protest when US military personnel were caught burning Qurans at the base.

by Jason Ditz

Pentagon report justifies deployment of military spy drones over the U.S.

The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade according to a new report.

The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade, but the flights have been rare and lawful, according to a new report.

The report by a Pentagon inspector general, made public under a Freedom of Information Act request, said spy drones on non-military missions have occurred fewer than 20 times between 2006 and 2015 and always in compliance with existing law.

The report, which did not provide details on any of the domestic spying missions,  said the Pentagon takes the issue of military drones used on American soil “very seriously.”

The Pentagon has publicly posted at least a partial list of the drone missions that have flown in non-military airspace over the United States and explains the use of the aircraft. The site lists nine missions flown between 2011 and 2016, largely to assist with search and rescue, floods, fires or National Guard exercises.

A senior policy analyst for the ACLU, Jay Stanley, said it is good news no legal violations were found, yet the technology is so advanced that it’s possible laws may require revision.

us-drones“Sometimes, new technology changes so rapidly that existing law no longer fits what people think is appropriate,” Stanley said. “It’s important to remember that the American people do find this to be a very, very sensitive topic.”

Other federal agencies own and operate drones. The use of unmanned aerial surveillance (UAS) drones over the USA surfaced in 2013 when then-FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that the bureau employed spy drones to aid investigations but in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom.”

The inspector general analysis was completed March 20, 2015, but not released publicly until last Friday.

It said that with advancements in drone technology along with widespread military use overseas, the Pentagon established interim guidance in 2006 governing when and whether the unmanned aircraft could be used domestically. The interim policy allowed spy drones to be used for homeland defense purposes in the U.S. and to assist civil authorities.

But the policy said that any use of military drones for civil authorities had to be approved by the Secretary of Defense or someone delegated by the secretary. The report found that defense secretaries have never delegated that responsibility.

The report quoted a military law review article that said “the appetite to use them (spy drones) in the domestic environment to collect airborne imagery continues to grow, as does Congressional and media interest in their deployment.”

Military units that operate drones told the inspector general they would like more opportunities to fly them on domestic missions if for no other reason than to give pilots more experience to improve their skills, the report said. “Multiple units told us that as forces using the UAS capabilities continue to draw down overseas, opportunities for UAS realistic training and use have decreased,” the report said.

A request for all cases between 2006 and 2015 in which civil authorities asked the military for use of spy drones produced a list of “less than twenty events,”  the report said. The list included requests granted and denied.

The list was not made public in the report. But a few examples were cited, including one case in which an unnamed mayor asked the Marine Corps to use a drone to find potholes in the mayor’s city. The Marines denied the request because obtaining the defense secretary’s “approval to conduct a UAS mission of this type did not make operational sense.”

Shortly before the inspector general report was completed a year ago, the Pentagon issued a new policy governing the use of spy drones. It requires the defense secretary to approve all domestic spy drone operations. It says that unless permitted by law and approved by the secretary, drones “may not conduct surveillance on U.S. persons.” It also bans the use of armed drones over the United States for anything other than training and testing.

, USA TODAY

U.S. military struggles to explain how it wound up bombing Doctors Without Borders hospital

A heavily-armed U.S. gunship designed to provide added firepower to special operations forces was responsible for shooting and killing 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan over the weekend, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The attack occurred in the middle of the night Saturday, when Afghan troops—together with a U.S. special forces team training and advising them—were on the ground near the hospital in Kunduz, the first major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since the war began in 2001. The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Monday the airstrike was requested by Afghan troops who had come under fire, contradicting earlier statements from Pentagon officials that the strike was ordered to protect U.S. forces on the ground.

[Afghan response to hospital bombing is muted, even sympathetic]

The new details of the attack, and the continuing dispute over what exactly happened, heightened the controversy over the strike. In the two days since the incident, U.S. officials have struggled to explain how a U.S. aircraft wound up attacking a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. On Monday, the medical humanitarian group said the United States was squarely responsible.

“The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs,” Doctors Without Borders’ general director Christopher Stokes said in a statement. “With such constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

The weekend’s disastrous airstrike reinforces doubts about how effectively a limited U.S. force in Afghanistan can work with Afghan troops to repel the Taliban, which has been newly emboldened as the United States draws down its presence.

The strike also comes as the Obama administration is currently weighingwhether to keep as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2015, according to senior officials. Obama has not made a final decision on the proposal, but the recent advances by the Taliban have certainly complicated the president’s calculus.

Campbell told reporters Monday at a press conference that Afghan forces “advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces.” Campbell made it clear that this differed from initial reports that said U.S. forces were under attack and called in the airstrikes for their defense.

Campbell’s remarks differed from two previous comments, including one made by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter on Sunday that said U.S. forces were under attack.

“At some point in the course of the events there [they] did report that they, themselves, were coming under attack. That much I think we can safely say,” Carter told reporters Sunday.

US Has ‘Four or Five’ Syrians Left Fighting Against ISIS

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16:  Gen. Lloyd Austin III (R), commander of U.S. Central Command, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the ongoing U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Austin said that slow progress was still being made against ISIL but there have been setbacks, including the ambush of U.S.-trained fighters in Syria and the buildup of Russian forces in the country.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Gen. Austin Admits Training ‘Behind Schedule’

Testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of Centcom, admitted that the pro-US Syrian rebel faction, dubbed the New Syrian Force (NSF) in most official contexts, is virtually gone now, with virtually everybody either killed or having fled.

syriaWhat was initially envisioned as a force of tens of thousands of anti-ISIS fighters amounted to only 54 to start with, and Gen. Austin told Congress today that they are down to “four or five” fighters still active in the field. Needless to say, it’s not going well.

Austin went on to say that the next two classes of NSF fighters are still being trained, though that training too is falling behind schedule. The indications are that these classes aren’t much bigger, 100-120 fighters all told. The pared-back goal of 5,000 fighters is likely still years off.

The general went on to say that they are “reviewing” the program, though since the Pentagon has repeatedly talked up the NSF as the end-all, be-all plan for victory in Syria, and has harshly resisted efforts to change the process, which they’ve invested tens of millions of dollars into for tens of fighters.

by Jason Ditz

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

Get Involved...

Share ideas or articles.