Brave Congressman Explains How US Keeps Afghan Heroin Trade Alive At Your Expense

Source

This week, President Donald Trump, just like his predecessor Obama, promised to continue the utterly corrupt failure of a brutal occupation that is Afghanistan—despite running on a campaign to end it. For decades, the United States has been subsidizing—to the tune of billions of US tax dollars—failed projects, infrastructure, military, police, and yes, even terrorism. Yet Afghanistan is worse off today than they were before the government lied to Americans, claiming they were responsible for 9/11 instead of Saudi Arabia.

In a recent speech on the state of the Afghanistan quagmire, Congressman Thomas Massie (R) KY, exposed some hard truths that very few people in Washington are courageous enough to address. While most politicians cheered Trump’s insane decision to increase US presence in Afghanistan this week, Massie Blew the lid off of it.

For years, Massie has pointed out that the US has blown billions of dollars on failed projects alone. As of last year, the number of failed projects totaled over 100 billion.

To put this number in perspective, the entire amount of money the United States allocates to spend on rebuilding America’s crumbling highways every year is less than half of what it’s blown on failed projects alone in Afghanistan.

 

Massie noted that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on a hydroelectric damn that the US thought the Taliban would destroy. However, they did not destroy it. ‘Want to know why,’ Massie asked:

“They get the electricity! We’re paying the light bill for the Taliban now. They get 30 percent of the electricity in exchange for not blowing it up, or shooting the operators who are running the damn.”

 

But it’s not just the wasted money giving terrorists electricity, the US is also protecting and funding the drug trade.

Of that wasted $100 billion, $8 billion was spent failing to eradicate the Afghan opium trade. Not only did the this massive amount of money not stop the opium trade and production but it doubled it!

 

Western profiteers are making a figurative killing off of heroin for the literal killing of people in Afghanistan.

former British Territorial Army mechanic, Anthony C Heaford released a report three years ago, and a series of photos, which he says proves that British and American troops are harvesting opium in Afghanistan.

It is also no secret that Afghanistan opium production has increased by 3,500 percent, from 185 tons in 2001 to 6,400 in 2015, since the US-led invasion.

In the video below, Massie explains how he asked the inspector general why they don’t just spray herbicide on all the poppy fields to eradicate the plants. Massie was told they cannot eradicate the plants as the Taliban needs the money from opium production.

“By the way,” Massie explained,

“The Taliban used to prevent people from growing poppy.”

If you think that Trump doesn’t know that a continued US occupation of Afghanistan will lead to a larger heroin epidemic, more innocent civilians killed, more troops needless dying, and more terrorism, think again. For years, Trump decried the war on Terror, pointing out the horrific nature of occupation.

 

But things change, according to Trump, and once he got in the White House, he magically saw the serious need to continue the waste and destruction in Afghanistan.

The lunacy of continuing the occupation in Afghanistan, knowing the only ones who benefit from it are warlords, drug cartels, the CIA, terrorists, and the military industrial complex, is staggering.

Innocent people will die, your children’s children will be forever indebted to the Federal Reserve, and the global war machine—which knows no home country—will be empowered and expanded. For what?

“I had hoped the Afghanistan war would end soon, but now it’s inevitable that babies born during the war will be deploying to the war in 2019,” Massie said shortly after Trump’s speech Monday night.

Sadly, Massie is only accompanied by a handful of people in the house and senate in his stance. The overwhelming majority want more war because their lobbyists tell them that’s what will keep them in their seat.

As you listen to the speech below, remember, every single representative, senator, and adviser, all the way up to Trump, knows these facts, yet they choose to perpetuate them.

This is not only shameful—it’s criminal. Troops aren’t protecting your freedom in Afghanistan, they are being used to enrich a corrupt group of sadistic elites. Please share this article with your friends and family to show them the destructive, deadly, and criminal act of continuing a war in Afghanistan.

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The US-Assisted Evacuation of IS Militants from Syria – a Rerun of Operation ODESSA

The US-Assisted Evacuation of IS Militants from Syria – a Rerun of Operation ODESSA

DMITRY MININ | 15.01.2018 | WORLD / MIDDLE EAST

The US-Assisted Evacuation of IS Militants from Syria – a Rerun of Operation ODESSA

Surprisingly, the fate of the most zealous members of some crippled Islamic State (IS) units (an organization that is banned in Russia) is reminiscent of what happened at the end of World War II. Back then it was Nazi fugitives whom someone was helping to hide so they could be put to use sometime in the future, and today it’s IS loyalists.

No one can say where the IS bigwigs and central staffers have gone. The most experienced officers within this terrorist organization, at times entire detachments, are suddenly disappearing from Syria and Iraq, as if they’re just melting into the desert sand. Then, as if by magic, they reemerge in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, or Afghanistan, near the borders of Central Asia or Russia, or in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Obviously, smoothly operating channels exist that allow them to move them from place to place, which is something that could only be set up by a powerful state. Given the fact that IS terrorists who are being shifted to various parts of the world are mostly coming out of the regions in eastern Syria under American control, presumably that state must be the US. And this would not be unprecedented in the history of the United States.

Operation ODESSA (Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, or Organization of Former SS Members), which was designed to transport SS officers out of war-torn Germany into the Middle East, as well as South and North America, used to be quite a hot topic, back in its day. The famous Frederick Forsyth novel The Odessa File, and the 1974 film of the same name, really stirred the public’s imagination about this historical event. The Allies called those evacuation channels “ratlines,” but the SS officers themselves had a more romantic way of referring to their escape routes, for example, Übersee Süd (“Sailing Toward the Southern Seas”).

Many of the former SS officers were subsequently put to good use on the front lines of the Cold War. We’re seeing something similar happening with IS combatants.

Interestingly enough, the efforts to bring in German Nazis and settle them in the US began without the knowledge of President FDR. Those were put in motion by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (chairman – Omar Bradley), which launched Operation Paperclip with a hand from the intelligence agencies. The establishment of the Gehlen Organization, which recruited Nazi spies into what would later become the Federal Intelligence Agency of the Federal Republic of Germany, was yet another scheme. Soldiers are, as a rule, far more pragmatic than ideological. They do not see pitting one enemy against another as an immoral act, but rather as an example of great strategic acumen. It has been calculated that a total of approximately 30,000 people passed through the “ratlines,” many of whom ended up in the US.

West German intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen. He enjoyed a long, happy life

Back in 2006, the US Justice Department drafted an in-depth 600-page report on this matter. Although not publicly released, in 2010 it was obtained by the New York Times, which posted it on its website. After reviewing the report, the newspaper concluded that after WWII, US intelligence chiefs created a “safe haven” in the United States for many Nazi war criminals and their cohorts.

The IS spy chief, Abu Omar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili). Was he killed or did he get out through a “ratline”?

Adolf Eichmann – the most famous “Odessan.” He was captured and executed in Israel.

Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi – the leader of IS. Where is he?

The Russian Ministry of Defense has repeatedly issued statements about the many oddities in the way the American advisers and their allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling IS on the eastern shore of the Euphrates. For example: the use of helicopters to pull IS commanders out of besieged areas, the unexpected release of major IS detachments from cities, and the redirection of surrendered combatants into the New Syrian Army. And here’s the big question – for the majority of the IS loyalists who have poured into this new army from the battle zones, it’s right here that their trail goes cold.

The former spokesman and third-in-command of the SDF before fleeing to Turkey in late 2017, Talal Silo, presents some remarkable evidence of the dealings between representatives of the Pentagon and IS commanders.

Talal Silo

In an interview with the Turkish Anadolu news service, he specifically pointed to some cases in which IS terrorists were relocated at the direction of agents representing US military commanders, whom he named as General Raymond Thomas, the commander of US Special Operations Command; General Joseph Votel, commander of USCENTCOM; and General Stephen Townsend, the head of Operation Inherent Resolve. And there on the scene, the biggest generator of ideas is Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk.

Brett McGurk, center, inspecting the “allies”

Talal Silo cites, for example, episodes in which – at the Americans’ insistence – 2,000 IS fighters were permitted safe passage out of Manbij, and 500 – out of Tabqa. And the most remarkable event was the clever bit of theater performed in Raqqa, quite in the spirit of the US Army’s field manual on special operations. Talal Silo claims that the Americans were calculating that Assad’s forces would reach Deir ez-Zor in six weeks. But when it turned out that the government troops were moving more quickly, US officials demanded that the SDF release terrorists from Raqqa and send them toward Abu Kamal in order to intercept the government forces. A deal was negotiated allowing an imposing group of 3,500 militants to leave the city with all they needed, including weapons. The public statement that was released claimed that only civilians were let out of the city, and that 275 IS loyalists supposedly “turned themselves in.” To prove the existence of these 275 individuals, a group of people were brought in from the Ain Issa camp to play the part of militants. Yet journalists were forbidden to travel to Raqqa, citing the risk of skirmishes with IS terrorists. But in fact not a single bullet was ever fired. Later it was revealed that some of those terrorists headed for some very different destinations. Many entered the areas liberated under Operation Euphrates Shield. In other words, with US assistance, they moved into the Turkish zone, and from there they were free to go anywhere.

Similar theatrics might also be performed during subsequent redeployments of terrorists. The question is, to what extent is the White House in the loop regarding the Pentagon’s maneuvers with IS militants? It can’t be ruled out that, just like long ago in 1945, the military is not acting with the president’s approval. If the US administration was briefed on this operation and gave it a green light, then this is yet another example of strategic myopia. Any treaty with the “black devil” is always dangerous for the one who pursues it.

Trump’s Pakistan Policy Is a Disaster

Trump’s Pakistan Policy Is a Disaster

Trump’s Pakistan Policy Is a Disaster

International fame, at last! Pakistan hit the headlines because it was the subject of Donald Trump’s first tweet of 2018. The country will have a small but everlasting place in history.

You know Trump: he’s the man who, immediately after being elected US President was reported by the BBC as having telephoned the then prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to say Pakistan is “a fantastic country, fantastic place” and “amazing with tremendous opportunities.” He ended with the jovial request to “Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people.”

It is unlikely that Mr Trump knows any Pakistanis, but it seemed his attitude to Pakistan was positive. And so it continued until New Year’s Day 2018 when Trump tweeted

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

He meant that the Pakistan army, which has had 6,687 soldiers killed fighting terrorists since 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan, is helping terrorists based in Pakistan.

Since the US attack on Afghanistan, and subsequent expansion of Islamic terrorist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Pakistan has suffered 468 suicide bombing attacks, in which 7,230 of its citizens were killed. Before 2001 there was one such attack, in 1995 by a crazy Egyptian who drove a bomb-laden lorry into the Egyptian Embassy’s gates.

When Trump tweeted his message Pakistan had ended a year in which, as recorded by India’s South Asia Terrorism Portal, it suffered 3,001 civilian deaths from terrorism, and 676 of its soldiers were killed in fighting against terrorists, while 1,702 terrorists were killed. It was quite a year, but not as bad as 2009, for example, at the height of the US “surge” in Afghanistan, when almost a thousand Pakistani soldiers were killed while conducting operations against terrorists in their strongholds in the Tribal Areas.

Pakistan army soldiers fighting through Mirali town in North Waziristan in 2014. Five were killed in this anti-terrorist operation

It may be remembered that in 2009 Afghanistan’s President Karzai said there was “an urgent need” for direct negotiations with the Taliban and made it clear that the US government opposed any such approach. Meanwhile, there was indeed increased movement of terrorists between the countries, made less difficult for them because the Afghan government refused to permit erection of any sort of border barrier.

Eleven years ago, Carlotta Gall of the New York Times wrote that the Afghan President “voiced strong opposition on [December 28, 2006] to Pakistan’s announcement that it would lay mines and erect fences along its border with Afghanistan. He said the moves would only hurt the people living in the region and would not stem cross-border terrorism.”

This was nonsense, because natural or man-made barriers can dissuade or even prevent illegal movement. And when covered by observation and fire (as all armies agree they must be), they can verge on the impenetrable. It is essential to have frequent and irregular patrols by troops, surveillance on the ground and from the air (so what have all these US drones been doing?), and artillery in positions from which fire can be directed onto those attempting cross-border forays.

It can be catastrophic if an obstacle is unguarded. During the Vietnam War the Australian army planted an enormous minefield around a mountain occupied by bands of Viet Cong guerrillas but had to withdraw patrolling troops as there was an emergency elsewhere, and the predictable result was that the Viet Cong picked up all the mines — thousands of them — and over the following years used them to kill Australians.

But if minefields had been planted at appropriate places along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, on both sides, as proposed by the Pakistan government, and patrolled aggressively by the armies of both countries, nobody could claim that illegal crossings would have been easy. If the Afghan army had been ordered to cooperate with their opposite numbers across the border, and if there had been coordinated surveillance and foot patrols — as wanted by the Pakistan military — then it would have been very difficult indeed for insurgents to cross in either direction. The US did not approve Pakistan’s proposal for fencing and minefields and did not supply any assistance for the project. So the barrier was not erected.

It is ironic that Trump is cancelling military security aid to Pakistan, because this cash assists Pakistan’s security forces to combat terrorists. In January the Pakistani media reported that

“Pakistan has spent more than Rs 67.3 billion ($605 million) during the last one and a half years in its efforts to stop infiltration of terrorists operating in Afghanistan and securing vital installations, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, from cross-border attacks.”

But all was not quite what it seemed. Or perhaps it was, because nobody knows exactly how foreign policy is devised in Trump Washington. Anyway : after the Trump tweet against Pakistan his Defence Secretary, General Mattis, “vowed to continue working with the Pakistan government to defeat terrorism in south Asia despite the United States stopping nearly all its financial aid to the country.” He did not, of course, ask Pakistan if it wanted to continue working with the United States on anything at all, but that’s the way overseas relations are handled in the era of Trump.

Trump was supported by Senator Rand Paul who tweeted

“I’m introducing a bill to end aid to Pakistan in the coming days. My bill will take the money that would have gone to Pakistan and put it in an infrastructure fund to build roads and bridges here at home.”

This was greeted by a Trump tweet saying “Good idea, Rand!” But at the same time a “senior administration official” said “I just want to be clear that it’s been suspended. Nothing has been reappropriated. We’re hopeful that we can lift the suspension and the aid will be able to go forward.” So what is the real policy? Nobody knows.

All this leaves Pakistan with some problems. It can live without the US money, of course, although there’s no doubt it has been most useful and much appreciated, but as time goes by its air force will have difficulty in continuing to operate its F-16 aircraft because the US will probably refuse to sell it replacement parts. Its orders for US attack helicopters may also be affected. But the US is not the only source of defence equipment, and there is little doubt that China, Russia and Turkey will move to plug any gaps. And there are other factors that Washington would do well to contemplate.

One most positive effect of Trump’s insulting tweet has been to unite Pakistanis. It appears that no matter their political leanings they have joined in strong rejection of US policy. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said bluntly that the US

“carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan from our bases. Your forces were supplied arms and explosives through our soil. Thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you.”

And his sentiments were echoed by the prominent opposition politician, Imran Khan, who said

“Despite Pakistan clearing up North Waziristan, still half of Afghanistan is in Taliban hands. So, who is responsible for this? To make Pakistan the scapegoat of a failed strategy in Afghanistan is not just a travesty of justice, it is deeply insulting and humiliating.”

Quite so. And this is probably going to be the way ahead for Pakistan. To my certain knowledge, Pakistan has provided intelligence about potential terrorist-related activities in America (and the UK). So why should they continue such cooperation? And as the New York Times pointed out on January 5, “the US “has always relied on Pakistani air and ground routes for supplies to the troops in Afghanistan” — so why should Pakistan continue to offer such facilities? It could cut them off in a moment.

Trump failed to understand that insulting North Korea’s leader would result in such strong reaction to his immature jibes. His anti-Iran diatribes are entirely counter-productive. And he’s playing the same tune again. Trump’s anti-Pakistan policy is a disaster.

NYT: Trump’s Twitter Threats Put US Credibility on the Line

08-01-2018 | 13:24


US President Donald Trump has begun 2018 where he left off. Since the first of the year, he has attacked a variety of countries in Twitter posts, urging protesters to overthrow the Iranian government, threatening to blow up North Korea and calling for cuts in aid to the Palestinians.

Us President Donald Trump

Two things stand out about the foreign policy messages Trump has posted on Twitter since taking office: How far they veer from the traditional ways American presidents express themselves, let alone handle diplomacy. And how rarely Trump has followed through on his words.

Indeed, nearly a year after he entered the White House, the rest of the world is trying to figure out whether Trump is more mouth than fist, more paper tiger than the real thing.

Countries are unsure whether to take his words as policy pronouncements, or whether they can be safely ignored. If Trump’s threats are seen as hollow, what does that do to American credibility?

In a series of Twitter posts on Saturday, Trump reacted to questions about his mental fitness by calling himself a “very stable genius.”

Even if there is a recognition that Trump’s tweets may be largely intended to let off steam or reassure his domestic base, there is an increasing sense that the credibility of the administration, and the presidency itself, is being eroded.

However, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the words of the US president matter, he added in a Twitter message: “That is why so many of this president’s tweets alarm. The issue is not just questionable policy on occasion but questionable judgment and discipline.”

The bottom line, Haass said, is that Twitter posts should be handled as seriously as any other White House statement, lest the currency of what the president says comes to be devalued.

But the Twitter posts have already devalued the president’s words, argues R. Nicholas Burns, a former career diplomat and ambassador to NATO.

“Even when Mr. Trump is right, … there’s always some excess or some objectionable statement that undermines American credibility, and it’s hard to win that back,” he said. “Allies and opponents invest in your judgment and common sense.”

He pointed to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to al-Quds [Jerusalem], however delayed or symbolic. That broke with years of international policy consensus, which called for the status of al-Quds to be settled in so-called “peace” talks.

“When you give away the status of Jerusalem [al-Quds] unilaterally and get nothing from ‘Israel’ and anger the Palestinians and challenge the world and then you lose, it’s a disastrous example of lack of US credibility,” Burns said.

The decision infuriated the Palestinians and the Europeans. Then, Trump and his United Nations envoy, Nikki R. Haley, threatened to cut off aid to any country that opposed the new US position in a vote in the General Assembly.

In the end, the vote was a humiliating rebuke of the US, 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions. Most European allies voted against the US, and even European allies in Central Europe, who consider Washington a key guarantor against Russia, did not vote with Washington but abstained.

A senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly, called the al-Quds episode destabilizing and said it had come when the Middle East and the world did not need it.

As much as the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has annoyed Trump with his criticism of the al-Quds move, saying that it disqualified Washington from a serious role in any so-called “peace” talks, even the “Israeli” entity has urged Trump to abandon his threat to cut off aid to the United Nations agency that looks after millions of registered Palestinian refugees.

On North Korea, despite Trump’s Twitter posts, Pyongyang has gone ahead with tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and has given no indication that it will agree to denuclearize in exchange for talks with Washington. Instead, it has gone around Washington to reopen talks with Seoul.

Even on Pakistan, where Trump followed through last week on threats to suspend aid over the country’s ambiguous support for the American battle against the Taliban, the president was for the Pakistanis before he was against them.

In one of his first calls with a foreign leader after being elected, Trump spoke with the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and gushed that he was a “terrific guy.”

“Mr. Trump said that he would love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people,” Sharif’s office said in a statement describing the call. “Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people.”

More recently, Trump switched to threatening them, saying on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies & deceit” and accusing it of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

The public humiliation outraged Islamabad, giving an opening to China, which moved within 24 hours to praise Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. Pakistan then agreed to adopt the Chinese currency for transactions, to improve bilateral trade.

François Heisbourg, a French defense and security analyst, commented tersely about Trump’s anger this way: “Pushing Pakistan into an exclusive relationship with China.”

Trump has been equally changeable with the Chinese, whom the president repeatedly threatened to punish for what he termed trade dumping and currency manipulation, only to say in December that he had “been soft” on Beijing, needing its help on North Korea.

Some suggest that Trump’s Twitter posts should not be taken so seriously. Daniel S. Hamilton, a former State Department official who directs the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, said that Trump “uses these tweets and social media to secure his political base,” and “whether the tweets turn into a policy or not is a whole different question.”

While allies do not necessarily take his Twitter posts as policy pronouncements, they still create significant confusion, said Pierre Vimont, former French ambassador to Washington and former top aide to the European Union foreign policy chief.

Even in areas where allies agree – for example, on the threat posed by North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un – “we have a hard time understanding the real policy line from Washington,” Mr. Vimont said.

Source: NYT, Edited by website team

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Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers?

Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers?

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 23.12.2017

Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers?

Daniel LAZARE

Did Barack Obama arm ISIS? The question strikes many people as absurd, if not offensive. How can anyone suggest something so awful about a nice guy like the former president? But a stunning report by an investigative group known as Conflict Armament Research (CAR) leaves us little choice but to conclude that he did.

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative in August 2014

CAR, based in London and funded by Switzerland and the European Union, spent three years tracing the origin of some 40,000 pieces of captured ISIS arms and ammunition. Its findings, made public last week, are that much of it originated in former Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe, where it was purchased by United States and Saudi Arabia and then diverted, in violation of various rules and treaties, to Islamist rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels, in turn, somehow caused or allowed the equipment to be passed on to Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, or just the abbreviation IS.

This is damning stuff since it makes it clear that rather than fighting ISIS, the U.S. government was feeding it.

But CAR turns vague when it comes to the all-important question of precisely how the second leg of the transfer worked. Did the rebels turn the weapons over voluntarily, involuntarily, or did they somehow drop them when ISIS was in close proximity and forget to pick them up? All CAR will say is that “background information … indicates that IS [Islamic State] forces acquired the materiel through varied means, including battlefield capture and the amalgamation of disparate Syrian opposition groups.” It adds that it “cannot rule out direct supply to IS forces from the territories of Jordan and Turkey, especially given the presence of various opposition groups, with shifting allegiances, in cross-border supply locations.” But that’s it.

If so, this suggests an astonishing level of incompetence on the part of Washington. The Syrian rebel forces are an amazingly fractious lot as they merge, split, attack one another and then team up all over again. So how could the White House have imagined that it could keep weapons tossed into this mix from falling into the wrong hands? Considering how each new gun adds to the chaos, how could it possibly keep track? The answer is that it couldn’t, which is why ISIS wound up reaping the benefits.

But here’s the rub. The report implies a level of incompetence that is not just staggering, but too staggering. How could such a massive transfer occur without field operatives not having a clue as to what was going on? Was every last one of them deaf, dumb, and blind?

Not likely. What seems much more plausible is that once the CIA established “plausible deniability” for itself, all it cared about was that the arms made their way to the most effective fighting force, which in Syria happened to be Islamic State.

This is what had happened in Afghanistan three decades earlier when the lion’s share of anti-Soviet aid, some $600 million in all, went to a brutal warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar was a raging bigot, a sectarian, and an anti-western xenophobe, qualities that presumably did not endear him to his CIA handlers. But as Steve Coll notes in Ghost Wars, his bestselling 2004 account of the CIA’s love affair with Islamic holy war, he “was the most efficient at killing Soviets” and that was the only thing that mattered. As one CIA officer put it, “analytically, the best fighters – the best-organized fighters – were the fundamentalists” that Hekmatyar led. Consequently, he ended up with the most money.

After all, if you’re funding a neo-medieval uprising, it makes sense to steer the money to the darkest reactionaries of them all. Something similar occurred in March 2015 when Syrian rebels launched an assault on government positions in the northern province of Idlib. The rebel coalition was under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra, as the local branch of Al Qaeda was known at the time, and what Al-Nusra needed most of all were high-tech TOW missiles with which to counter government tanks and trucks.

Arming Al Qaeda

So the Obama administration arranged for Nusra to get them. To be sure, it didn’t provide them directly. To ensure deniability, rather, it allowed Raytheon to sell some 15,000 TOWs to Saudi Arabia in late 2013 and then looked the other way when the Saudis transferred large numbers of them to pro-Nusra forces in Idlib. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into bed with Al-Qaeda.”] Al-Nusra had the toughest fighters in the area, and the offensive was sure to send the Assad regime reeling. So even though its people were compatriots with those who destroyed the World Trade Center, Obama’s White House couldn’t say no.

“Nusra have always demonstrated superior planning and battle management,” Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said a few weeks later. If the rebel coalition was successful as a whole, it “was entirely due to their willingness to work with Nusra, who have been the backbone in all of this.”

Scruples, assuming they existed in the first place, fell by the wayside. A senior White House official told The Washington Post that the Obama administration was “not blind to the fact that it is to some extent inevitable” that U.S. weapons would wind up in terrorist hands, but what could you do? It was all part of the game of realpolitik. A senior Washington official crowed that “the trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse” while The New York Times happily noted that “[t]he Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents.” So, for the master planners in Washington, it was worth it.

Then there is ISIS, which is even more beyond the pale as most Americans are concerned thanks to its extravagant displays of barbarism and cruelty – its killing of Yazidis and enslavement of Yazidi women and girls, its mass beheadings, its fiery execution of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, and so on.

Yet U.S. government attitudes were more ambivalent than most Americans realized. Indeed, the U.S. government was strictly neutral as long as ISIS confined itself to attacking Assad. As a senior defense official told the Wall Street Journal in early 2015: “Certainly, ISIS has been able to expand in Syria, but that’s not our main objective. I wouldn’t call Syria a safe haven for ISIL, but it is a place where it’s easier for them to organize, plan, and seek shelter than it is in Iraq.”

In other words, Syria was a safe haven because, the Journal explained, the U.S. was reluctant to interfere in any way that might “tip the balance of power toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting Islamic State and other rebels.” So the idea was to allow ISIS to have its fun as long as it didn’t bother anyone else. For the same reason, the U.S. refrained from bombing the group when, shortly after the Idlib offensive, its fighters closed in on the central Syrian city of Palmyra, 80 miles or so to the east.  This was despite the fact that the fighters would have made perfect targets while “traversing miles of open desert roads.”

As The New York Times explained: “Any airstrikes against Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra would probably benefit the force of President Bashar al-Assad. So far, United States-led airstrikes in Syria have largely focussed on areas far outside government control, to avoid the perception of aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS.”]

Looting Palmyra

A Russian orchestra performing at Palmyra’s Roman theater on May 5, 2016, after Syrian troops, backed by Russian air power, reclaimed the ancient city from the Islamic State. (Image from RT’s live-streaming of the event.)

The United States thus allowed ISIS to capture one of the most archeologically important cities in the world, killing dozens of government soldiers and decapitating 83-year-old Khalid al-Asaad, the city’s retired chief of antiquities. (After looting and destroying many of the ancient treasures, ISIS militants were later driven from Palmyra by a Russian-backed offensive by troops loyal to President Assad.)

Obama’s bottom line was: ISIS is very, very bad when it attacks the U.S.-backed regime in Iraq, but less so when it wreaks havoc just over the border in Syria. In September 2016, John Kerry clarified what the administration was up to in a tape-recorded conversation at the U.N. that was later made public. Referring to Russia’s decision to intervene in Syria against ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, the then-Secretary of State told a small knot of pro-rebel sympathizers:

“The reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger.  Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus and so forth, and that’s why Russia came in, because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad. And we know this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got … Putin in to support him. So it’s truly complicated.”  (Quote starts at 26:10.)

“We were watching.” Kerry said. So, by giving ISIS free rein, the administration hoped to use it as a lever with which to dislodge Assad. As in Afghanistan, the United States thought it could use jihad to advance its own imperial interests. Yet the little people – Syrian soldiers, three thousand office workers in lower Manhattan, Yazidis, the Islamic State’s beheading of Western hostages, etc. – made things “truly complicated.”

Putting this all together, a few things seem clear. One is that the Obama administration was happy to see its Saudi allies use U.S.-made weapons to arm Al Qaeda. Another is that it was not displeased to see ISIS battle Assad’s government as well. If so, how unhappy could it have been if its allies then passed along weapons to the Islamic State so it could battle Assad all the more? The administration was desperate to knock out Assad, and it needed someone to do the job before Vladimir Putin stepped in and bombed ISIS instead.

It was a modern version of Henry II’s lament, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” The imperative was to get rid of Assad; Obama and his team had no interest in the messy details.

None of which proves that Obama armed ISIS. But unless one believes that the CIA is so monumentally inept that it could screw up a two-car funeral, it’s the only explanation that makes sense. Obama is still a congenial fellow. But he’s a classic liberal who had no desire to interfere with the imperatives of empire and whose idea of realism was therefore to leave foreign policy in the hands of neocons or liberal interventionists like Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

If America were any kind of healthy democracy, Congress would not rest until it got to the bottom of what should be the scandal of the decade: Did the U.S. government wittingly or unwittingly arm the brutal killers of ISIS and Al Qaeda? However, since that storyline doesn’t fit with the prevailing mainstream narrative of Washington standing up for international human rights and opposing global terrorism, the troublesome question will likely neither be asked nor answered.

Donald Trump: A president swallowed by history

Donald Trump: A president swallowed by history

US President Donald Trump is a great impersonator. Not a day goes by without his desperate effort to masquerade as human. Surrounded by faux gold and fawning fools from his earliest days, Trump has stumbled from scam to scam, bank to bank, grope to grope, as he reached the absolute pinnacle of moral failure. His is a world of cheap thrills, empty rhetoric and intimidating context.

Few of knowledge would stop to challenge Trump’s unprecedented scorecard of international failure. Indeed, ad hoc chaos has become very much the executive order of his day.

Whether it’s a Muslim ban that targets states from which not a single national has engaged in an act of terrorism that has cost the life of a US citizen, to his retweets of videos posted by a British far-right activist, to a pointless border wall styled on hateful votes and little else, to a proposal to seize Iraqi oil as “spoils of war”, his is a hustler’s hustle. It’s the penultimate Ponzi scheme, a boiler-room operation based in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The life of Donald Trump is a full-time campaign to disguise incompetence to the roar of the inept. While the spectre of nuclear holocaust on the Korean Peninsula, military threats to Iran, and attacks on the domestic political aspirations and independence of Venezuela and Cuba may empower those who draw vigour from the echo of empty words, they do little but confound a world built on fragile relations and nuanced exchange. To be sure, they present a clear and real danger to us all.

Those foolish enough to believe the arrival of the Romanovs of Fifth Avenue would herald a tempering of US imperial ambitions were soon disappointed.

Thus, in Yemen, having been empowered to act on its own, the Pentagon unleashed drone slaughters of mostly civilians at an unprecedented pace. From offshore, the US fired dozens of Tomahawk missiles into Syria as an offset to a suspected chemical weapons attack. In Afghanistan, we saw the detonation of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb as very much a herald to more US troops and to permanent US warfare.

With reckless abandon, Trump has fled from international agreements designed to give hope to the prospect of life for us all long after the debacle of his imperial design comes to its well-deserved end.

The Paris Climate Agreement became the first victim, with the US departing as the only country in the world indifferent to a global call for adoption of clean energy and the phase-out of fossil fuels. With damning nationalist praise, Trump announced to the world he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”.

Not long after his coronation, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, distancing the US from what were its Asian economic allies. Later, citing its alleged anti-Israel bias, he withdrew from UNESCO, which the US helped found in the shadow of World War II. Can it be long before the US abandons a nuclear arms-control agreement that has long been, verifiably, working?

US President Donald Trump gestures to show the extent of temperature change he thinks there is, as he announces his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s global “no confidence” rate soared to 74 percent

Cast in the light of a presidency certain to soon enter its second year of crude dysfunction, why is anyone, at all, surprised by Trump’s empty, lawless announcementthat the US will hereinafter recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

Like the wall for which Mexico will pay, at day’s end, Trump’s apostolic blessing was little more than a “sham show in waiting”, to offer up to a powerful Zionist lobby and ignorant evangelical political base when needed.

Indeed, having shown no understanding of the history or complexity of today’s world, let alone core values of international law, Trump’s gratuitous toss of “legitimacy” to the illegitimate journey of Israel was as predictable as it was desperate.

Jerusalem is not Israeli, by law

Any discussion of Trump’s mindless recent croon about a world-defining moment of 70-plus years, reduced to presidential fiat, alone, must necessarily begin from the reality of international law. To bestow upon an occupation force lawful annexation of land not theirs for the taking is, ultimately, to do little more than insist that the world is flat.

In 1948, when the United Nations recognised Israel as a state, it called for a demilitarised Jerusalem as a separate entity under the protection of its exclusive aegis.

Not long thereafter, pursuant to Resolution 194 (III), the General Assembly declared Jerusalem to be an open city subject to the well-recognised legal principle of internationalisation.

Predictably, not long thereafter, Israel declared Jerusalem to be its capital as it established various government agencies in the western part of the city.

Meanwhile, Jordan continued to exercise formal control of Jerusalem’s eastern section, including, most importantly, the Old City, leaving open its ultimate status to a final settlement of the unresolved “question” of Palestinian statehood. 

All was to radically change as Israel seized and occupied the entire West Bank of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, during the war of 1967, thus rendering it subject to the various protections of the Geneva Convention.

In relevant part, the convention holds it unlawful for an occupying power to transfer its own population into the territory it occupies. In addition, it prohibits the establishment of settlements and the confiscation and annexation of occupied land.

Time and time again, the United Nations, as a toothless organisation, has ordered Israel to cease its expansion of illegal settlements and annexation of occupied Palestinian land.

Time and time again, Israel, as a rogue state, has scoffed at the notion that it owes any obligation whatsoever to well-settled international law. 

Indeed, between 1967 and 1989, the UN Security Council adopted 131 resolutionsdirectly addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel held itself out as beyond the reach of these resolutions. 

In 1980, and again in 1990, pursuant to Resolutions 478 and 672, the UN demanded that Israel abide by the Geneva Convention and end the construction of illegal settlements. In doing so, it emphasised the “independence” of the City of Jerusalem and the protection of its “unique spiritual and religious dimension”. Israel ignored this demand.

In February 1999, the Security Council again rebuked Israel’s effort as an occupying power “… to alter the character, legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem”. Israel ignored this demand.

In point of fact, as of 2015, Israel had been condemned in, and had ignored, some 45 resolutions by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Anyone with even a modicum of historical context, let alone intellectual capacity or interest, would understand that a now seven-decade-old, deadly standoff between Palestine and Israel will not go away by wishful thinking or inane talismanic chant.

Yet that is precisely what Donald Trump did when, with typical denial, he preached on a faux resolution, took credit, and then, with alarming ease, said, “Problem solved … next”.

Ultimately, in a strange sort of way, and in more ways than one, Trump’s unearned arrogance and dramatic disconnect from the crossroads of history and reality may have produced results clearly unintended, yet, necessary.

Oslo is dead

For decades, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has toiled under the well-financed illusion that the Israelis who sat across the negotiation table, and their enablers in Washington, brought more than just the appearance of goodwill to the effort.

Time after time, outrage after outrage, the PA has always returned with hat in hand to the folly of talks which accomplished little, but provided an irrelevant political vent as more and more land was annexed, and lives stolen, to the hum of bombs or the slam of prison doors. 

Palestinian technocrats who started out in their prime with Oslo have now aged beyond hope, along with any illusion of relevance. So, too, the march of time leaves no doubt that Oslo has represented nothing but a palpable pretext for Israel to carry out systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, be it by force of arms or by law.

In the years since Yasser Arafat posed with Yitzhak Rabin and renounced armed strugglethree US presidents have come and gone. Each has sold a perverse balance that the US could, somehow, play objective arbiter in the midst of a one-sided slaughter supported, all the while, by US politics and money.

US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they deliver remarks before a dinner at Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem [Ariel Schalit/Reuters]

However, do give Donald Trump credit where credit is due. With one, short, slurred speech, he peeled away, forever more, the veneer of any US integrity or independence when it comes to facilitating a just and equitable resolution, respecting the rights and aspirations of Palestinians. 

Oslo is a failed, futile fantasy that has filled the coffers of the few while the many have suffered from an economic strangle-hold dressed up in institutional benevolence that, in reality, has been used primarily by the PA to buy and control political winds and opposition.

Any reasonable read must lead to the conclusion that the long terminally-ill Oslo has died, along with its whimsical two-state solution, when Trump, essentially, told the PA to shut its doors and walk away.

Hopefully, 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas got the message loud and clear.

The one state solution

It is well past reality’s reach that a two-state solution can, at this late date, provide a viable vehicle for meaningful Palestinian sovereignty or for overall peace.

The notion that a series of disconnected Bantustans – stripped of a traditional land base, natural resources, and the unique centre of religious and faith-based history – can suddenly become a feasible independent state for millions of stateless Palestinians is fool’s gold.

Ultimately, no matter what its form or shape, the essence of statehood is the ability to develop and maintain political and economic institutions and security and to control borders, including air rights and, where applicable, seaports.

To suggest that Israel would cede any degree of meaningful self-determination, in these all-defining cornerstones of sovereignty, to a Palestinian state is simply laughable, in light of its decades-long practices.

Indeed, at this late date, there is but one solution acceptable to the millions of Palestinian living as refugees abroad or suffering under apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing fueled by supremacist hate: one state for all from the river to the sea.

It matters not whether this state becomes a system of independent, but connected, cantons – as in Switzerland. What is important is that the single state embraces no official state religion, ensures equal protection and rights for all, guarantees “one person, one vote”, and opens all jobs, roads and communities. What is also important is that it is based not on race, religion or politics but on the willingness to struggle for a collective good that will at long last serve the united interest of one people.

While some will surely scoff at this notion and, perhaps, find little hope for its success, unification provides the sole means by which Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Christians can begin to heal the wounds that have long divided people that, left to their own unimpeded devices, would find much more that unites them than divides.

Lest there be any claim of naivete, the road to a one-state resolution is, of course, littered with more than mere encumbrances of communities, schools and highways long segregated by barricades and barbed wire.

Seventy years of forced displacement, death and destruction have left, for many, the scars born of tears and hate. Only time and unification can begin to heal those wounds and end the nightmare. All else is just sheer destructive folly.

For Israelis, who see delay as their ally, it’s a false hope born of little more than convenient denial. “Out of sight, out of mind” does not solve a crisis but simply puts off its reckoning to another day – one which grows more difficult and demanding with the passage of time.

All occupations, large and small, ultimately awaken one day to find themselves captive to a “graveyard of empires”. Here, it will be no different.

The eternal capital of Palestine

Today, in Palestine and in Israel, there are more than 5 million Palestinians with the median age of 19 years. They will not go away or surrender to the silence of the night.

For years, the young women and men of Palestine have been in the vanguard of an unbroken national effort to reclaim their freedom and rebuild their state.

For them, the price has been dear. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Information, since 2000, alone, Israel has killed more than 3,000 Palestinian minors. During the same period, Israeli forces have injured another 13,000 youth and arrested more than 12,000 others. Today, Israel holds about 300 children in its prisons.

Despite an awful price exacted for their courage and resistance, for the young women and men of Palestine, the future holds no truth but one, built on a determined struggle to confront and end a criminal occupation and apartheid by any means necessary, including armed struggle. 

For Palestinians, history is, indeed, a guidepost of what is yet to come. For Palestinians, history is an unbroken saga, handed down from the elderly in refugee camps throughout the Middle East to their very young who find comfort in the cultural breath of dabke.

Mr Trump: Were you an informed observer of history, you would know well that this is not the first time the US has tried to designate a city as the capital of a state against the political and historical will of its people. 

In Vietnam, such an attempt did not end well, as Saigon eventually gave way to the legitimate, national aspirations and rights of millions who refused to be held captive by the imperial design of a foreign occupation force.

Yes, Mr President, history does, and will indeed, repeat itself.

Capitals are much more than cold, sculpted monuments to those that have come before, or warehouses of political ideals and rights beyond the reach of all but the chosen few. Nor can they inspire from behind barricaded buildings in which petty despots dole out rights and benefits based upon one’s mere name or faith. 

Capitals are homes to collective freedom and will, with open doors that know no artificial boundaries or lawful segregation. To be honest, to empower, they must represent the collective will and aspirations of all those who look to them for justice and opportunity.

For millions of Palestinians, that capital is Jerusalem. It weaves with the rock of the ages and hums to the tune of history. To walk down the ancient pathways of the Old City, to hear the call to prayer, to look out in all directions from Al-Aqsa plaza across the open and free expanse beyond its age-old walls is a journey that is Jerusalem.

Nothing that you, Donald Trump, can say or do will undo the magic and majesty that is Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine.

U.S. airstrikes rise sharply in Afghanistan — and so do civilian deaths

U.S. airstrikes rise sharply in Afghanistan — and so do civilian deaths

“How could they not see there were women and children in the truck?”

By Shashank Bengali

Zafar Khan lost six family members in a bombing in Afghanistan. The U.S. military said that its Aug. 10 strike in Nangarhar province targeted militants
Zafar Khan lost six family members in a bombing in Afghanistan. The U.S. military said that its Aug. 10 strike in Nangarhar province targeted militants who “were observed loading weapons into a vehicle” and that “there was zero chance of civilian casualties.” (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

As U.S. warplanes flew above a cluster of villages where Islamic State militants were holed up in eastern Afghanistan, 11 people piled into a truck and drove off along an empty dirt track to escape what they feared was imminent bombing.

They did not get far.

An explosion blasted the white Suzuki truck off the road, opening a large crater in the earth and flipping the vehicle on its side in a ditch. A teenage girl survived. The 10 dead included three children, one an infant in his mother’s arms.

The lone survivor of the Aug. 10 blast in Nangarhar province, and Afghan officials who visited the site, said the truck was hit by an American airstrike shortly before 5 p.m. Relatives expressed horror that U.S. ground forces and surveillance aircraft could have mistaken the passengers, who included women and children riding in the open truck bed — in daylight with no buildings or other vehicles around — for Islamic State fighters.

“How could they not see there were women and children in the truck?” said Zafar Khan, 23, who lost six family members, including his mother and three siblings, in the blast.

A photo of Aug. 10 US airstrike site in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan
A photo of the Aug. 10 blast site provided by a victim’s family, who visited the area. (Photo: Handout)

In a statement after the incident, the U.S. military acknowledged carrying out a strike but said it killed militants who “were observed loading weapons into a vehicle” and “there was zero chance of civilian casualties.”

Pockets of Nangarhar remain inaccessible to outsiders because of fighting, making it impossible to independently determine the cause of the fatal explosion. What is not in question is that in the 17th year of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, American airstrikes are escalating again, along with civilian casualties.

Operating under looser restrictions on air power that commanders hope will break a stalemate in the war, U.S. fighter planes this year dropped 3,554 explosives in Afghanistan through Oct. 31, the most since 2012.

American officials say the firepower has curtailed the growth of Islamic State’s South Asia affiliate — known as ISIS-Khorasan, which they believe numbers about 900 fighters, most of them in Nangarhar — and enabled struggling government forces to regain ground against Taliban insurgents in other provinces, such as Helmand, where a Marine-led task force has helped coordinate a months-long offensive.

But innocent Afghans are asking: At what cost?

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan documented 205 civilian deaths and 261 injuries from airstrikes in the first nine months this year, a 52% increase in casualties compared with the same period in 2016. Although both U.S. and Afghan forces conduct aerial attacks, preliminary data indicate that American strikes have been more lethal for civilians.

In the first six months of 2017, the U.N. said, 54 civilians died in international air operations, compared with 29 in Afghan strikes. Twelve additional deaths could not be attributed to either force, the U.N. found.

In the case of the blast in Nangarhar province in August, U.S. officials have continued to assert that the American airstrike that day struck only militants. But they have since offered an alternative explanation for the civilian deaths. Responding to questions from The Times, coalition officials said that a passenger vehicle — presumably the Suzuki truck — hit a roadside bomb planted by Islamic State militants slightly more than a mile from where the airstrike killed the militants. It was the roadside bomb that resulted “in multiple enemy-caused civilian casualties,” said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for coalition forces in Kabul.

Afghans vigorously dispute that account. The district police chief, Hamidullah Sadaqat, said there was only one deadly explosion in the area that afternoon. Rozina, the 17-year-old survivor, said her memory was clear.

“The plane dropped the bomb on us,” said Rozina, who, like many Afghans, has only one name.

The bombing occurred in Haska Mina district, about three hours by road south of the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The victims were residents of Loi Papin, a village near the front line between government-controlled territory and the Islamic State-held village of Gorgoray.

Many left Loi Papin more than two years ago after militants arrived claiming allegiance to Islamic State. The extremists tortured locals and barked orders from mosque loudspeakers, demanding that families surrender adult sons to their ranks.

Khan, a slender laborer with close-set eyes, fled to a rented house on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Other family members made brief trips to Loi Papin to tend to their farm and flock of sheep, he said.

On the afternoon of Aug. 10, Khan’s mother, Malaika, left the village with three of her 10 children — 12-year-old Bahadur Shah, 8-year-old Anisa and 1-year-old Mohammad — in the Suzuki truck, driven by his cousin. His uncle was on board as well as five others, including Rozina, her father and brother, who were returning to a house they had rented in the district center, still under government control.

“Everyone was trying to get away,” Khan said. “We had recently sold our sheep and half the land. It was too dangerous to be in the village. No one wants to be anywhere close to Daesh” — a colloquial term for Islamic State.

Rozina said everyone in the truck was “afraid of the Americans.”

“Because we knew they were in the area,” she said, “we expected that they would bombard by the next day.”

As they drove off, she recalled seeing two planes in the sky. Then the blast struck, knocking her unconscious for several minutes. When she awoke, she found that seven people were dead, including her father and brother.

Malaika and two of her children were badly wounded and yelling for help, Rozina said. But American troops in the area — probably U.S. special operations forces conducting joint operations with Afghan commandos against Islamic State — did not allow anyone to come to their aid for hours, she said.

“They died because there was no one to help them,” Rozina said. “They were stuck and screaming.”

 

Lal Mohammad, Roqia Khan, Basina Khan, Nasir Mohammad, and Rishma Khan lost their father in the August bombing
From left, Lal Mohammad, 17, Roqia Khan, 10, Basina Khan, 9, Nasir Mohammad, 13, and Rishma Khan, 8, lost their father in the August bombing. U.S. officials say the deadly blast was caused by a roadside bomb, not an airstrike. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

 

Khan and several others set off from Jalalabad after the bombing, reaching Haska Mina in the middle of the night. They found the crumpled truck overturned in a field. Rozina was lying at a woman’s house with severe injuries to her face, hands and legs. Villagers had carted the bodies away in wheelbarrows and brought them to a nearby mosque.

“I found a piece of a leg and a thumb next to the truck,” said Mohammad Agha, 42, whose cousin, a peanut farmer also named Khan, was among the dead.

Sadaqat, the district police chief, took Agha and other family members to a former Afghan Border Police base being used by U.S. special operations troops. Speaking through an Afghan interpreter, the Americans gave the relatives until noon to bury the bodies. They worked quickly, Agha said; Islamic custom requires bodies to be interred within 24 hours, wrapped in simple shrouds.

“We didn’t have enough fabric to cover them all properly,” he said. “We had to use shawls.”

An Islamic State broadcast shows Mohammad Agha conducting a burial for the victims
An Islamic State broadcast shows Mohammad Agha, second from left, conducting a burial for the victims. (Photo: Khurasan Media)

When they were done, Agha and others went to inform the Americans, who dismissed the possibility that a U.S. plane had launched the strike.

“They said maybe it was a mortar fired by Daesh, but a mortar wouldn’t have created a 10-foot crater,” Agha said. “The Americans asked us: ‘Which country’s plane did this?’ It seemed like they weren’t taking us seriously so we left.”

When there were 100,000 American troops in the country, then-President Hamid Karzai frequently accused them of excessive force and wielded reports of dead innocents as a cudgel against the United States. Karzai’s bombast had an effect: Far fewer civilians died in airstrikes in 2012 and 2013, according to U.N. reports, when the U.S. averaged hundreds of airstrikes a month.

Experts said North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition commanders took serious measures to reduce the risk of harm to civilians. They met regularly with the U.N. and nongovernmental agencies and dedicated a team of officers to investigate complaints.

As the foreign troop presence shrank and NATO shifted its focus to training Afghan forces, coalition officials released less information about operations. They also face less resistance from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a stronger proponent of U.S. military action.

“The U.S. military is becoming less transparent, and it’s a pity because they had worked really hard — and succeeded — in reducing civilian casualties,” said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research organization.

The use of air power has surged since mid-2016, when the Obama administration approved new rules of engagement that allowed U.S. warplanes to open fire in support of Afghan operations, not just to defend coalition forces. It is expected to rise further after the Trump administration sent nearly 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan — bringing the total U.S. presence to 15,000 — and grants more latitude to military commanders.

U.S. planes carried out 1,570 strikes from August through October, the most in a three-month period since 2012, according to U.S. Air Force statistics.

In October, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis testified to Congress that Trump had authorized him to eliminate the requirement that U.S. forces could fire only when in “proximity” to hostile fighters.

“In other words, wherever we find the enemy, we can put the pressure from the air support on them,” Mattis said. But he added that U.S. forces would still do “everything humanly possible to prevent the death or injury of innocent people.”

Military officers say every report of civilian casualties is investigated. U.S. forces attempt to interview residents and local officials and use “all forensic actions available, based on the security threat,” said Gresback, the military spokesman.

But just as in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition is accused of significantly undercounting the civilian toll of its air war against Islamic State, Afghan victims believe the U.S. military isn’t being thorough or transparent enough.

 

Mohammad Agha lost his cousin, who was among the 10 people killed in the August bombing that victims' families said was a U.S. airstrike
Mohammad Agha, left, lost his cousin, who was among the 10 people killed in the August bombing that victims’ families said was a U.S. airstrike. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

 

Rozina and relatives of other victims in Loi Papin said American officials have not contacted them. And the U.S. has often pushed back strongly against accusations that its operations are taking a greater toll on innocents.

In early November, after reports that an airstrike killed 14 civilians in the northern province of Kunduz, American officials said they found “no evidence” to support the claims. That prompted a rare direct challenge from the United Nations, which said in a series of tweets that “interviews with multiple survivors, medics, elders & others give strong reason to believe civilians [were] among [the] victims.”

U.S. forces have also suggested that Afghans in Nangarhar are lying about civilian deaths. The military’s initial statement on the Aug. 10 blast called it “the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district within the last three weeks” — after an incident in which Haska Mina residents told Afghan media that a U.S. strike killed mourners attending a funeral service.

Although public outrage over civilian casualties has softened, Clark said they continue to serve as a propaganda tool for extremists.

“The basic parameters of the war haven’t changed: If you’re killing civilians, it’s going to be problematic,” Clark said. “The bullish U.S. approach, taking the gloves off, that’s all very well, but if there are more dead civilians you’re not going to be better off politically or militarily.”

Ghani’s government has not drawn attention to the strike in Nangarhar, but officials visited from Kabul and gave families condolence payments of more than $1,000 each.

The money won’t replace the loss of family breadwinners, or cover the mounting medical bills for Rozina. She now lives with four family members at an uncle’s house and walks with crutches while she awaits additional operations to her feet.

Khan said he has little sympathy for Islamic State but cannot support the way the U.S. is prosecuting the war.

“The Americans say they are here to kill terrorists, but if they can’t carry out a proper operation, it is better that they leave us alone,” he said. “At least we would not see our families destroyed.”

Special correspondents Sultan Faizy and Mohammad Anwar Danishyar contributed to this report

 

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