Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller formally announced troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq on Tuesday. Miller said that by January 15th 2021, there will be 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 troops in Iraq. There are currently about 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.
The announcement comes after President Trump’s Pentagon shake-up that started with the firing of Mark Esper. The overhaul was rumored to be related to disagreements over troop withdrawals. In October, President Trump said all US troops in Afghanistan “should” be home by Christmas but the declaration never turned into an order.
The U.S.-Taliban peace deal paved the way for all foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by Spring 2021, but U.S. officials regularly stress the withdrawal is “conditions-based.” National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has previously said the plan was to bring numbers down to 2,500 in Afghanistan by early 2021.
The announcement squanders any hope of President Trump actually ending the war in Afghanistan before January 20th, when Joe Biden is expected to be inaugurated. Miller said the drawdowns do “not equate to a change in US policy or objectives.”
This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
President Trump’s acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller sent a memo to his Pentagon staff that signals he could have been appointed to carry out troop withdrawals in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.
In the memo, dated November 13th, Miller addresses his staff for the first time and makes a strong statement against “perpetual war.”
“We are not a people of perpetual war—it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end,” the memo reads. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
While Miller did not call for an end to a specific war, President Trump recently expressed his desire to bring all US troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas. Douglas Macgregor was appointed as Miller’s advisor this week, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has been outspoken in his belief that the US should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Joe Biden released a list of transition teams for the various departments in his future White House. The Pentagon transition team for Biden consists of 23 people, many of whom hail from hawkish think tanks.
The team is led by Kathleen Hicks, who worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration. Hicks most recent employer is the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank that receives contributions from arms makers like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, to name a few.
CSIS employees author policy papers and Op-Eds that generally call for more U.S. involvement around the world. In August, Hicks co-authored an Op-Ed in The Hill titled, “Pentagon Action to Withdraw from Germany Benefits Our Adversaries,” a piece that slammed Trump’s plan to draw down troops from Germany, which Biden could to call off.
Two members of the transition team come from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Susanna Blume, a former Pentagon employee, and Ely Ratner, who served as deputy national security advisor to then-vice president Joe Biden from 2015 to 2017.
A major overhaul at the Pentagon that was started with the firing of former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper could be part of President Trump’s plan to carry out last-minute troop withdrawals from countries like Afghanistan, sources have told several media outlets.
A Trump administration official told The Washington Post late Tuesday night that President Trump is still determined to withdraw troops around the world before leaving office. “He sees the Pentagon as the leader of the resistance to his agenda,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another administration official told the Post that the shake-up that was ordered by the White House coincided with debates about the pace of troop withdrawals from places like Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Intercept published a story on Wednesday that cited a Trump administration official who made similar claims. The official said the overhaul was planned for months, and more firings are expected. “The president is taking back control of DoD. It’s a rebirth of foreign policy. This is Trump foreign policy,” the official said.
Lee Fang at The Intercept writes: “The personnel changes, the official claimed, would help clear the way for a more loyal Pentagon apparatus to carry out Trump’s goals, including the last-minute withdrawal of troops from foreign conflicts.”
Axios confirmed on Wednesday that Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor has been hired as a senior advisor to acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who replaced Esper. Macgregor is outspoken in his belief that the US should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan. In a 2019 interview, he said the US should “run” not walk out of Afghanistan.
This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
A group of over 160 current and former politicians endorsed a letter that demands the United Kingdom government release WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange immediately. The publisher is currently fighting extradition to the United States at Old Bailey court in London and could face up to 175 years in prison for exposing U.S. war crimes.
The group includes heads of state, congressional members, diplomats, and lawmakers from all across the globe. Notable endorsees include the President of Argentina Alberto Fernandez, former President of Brazil Lula da Silva, former Prime Minister of Spain Jose Luis Zapatero, and UK MP Jeremy Corbyn. The only U.S. politicians on the list are former Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska and former Rep. Ron Paul from Texas.
The letter is addressed to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other UK officials and was written by the group Lawyers for Assange.
The letter demands the UK grant Assange his freedom: “We call on you to act in accordance with national and international law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing extradition proceedings and granting Mr. Assange his long overdue freedom—freedom from torture, arbitrary detention and deprivation of liberty, and political persecution.”
The group says that if Assange is extradited, he would not face a fair trial and could be subject to torture. The letter cites UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer: “Professor Nils Melzer has expressed with certainty that, if extradited to the U.S., Mr. Assange will be exposed to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison in London since April 2019. After examining Assange in Belmarsh with medical experts in May 2019, Melzer said that the publisher exhibited, “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and intense psychological trauma.”
The U.S. is indicting Assange on 17 counts of espionage. The letter says these counts, “Present standard and necessary investigative journalistic practices as criminal.” Assange is also facing an indictment on conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The letter says initial indictment criminalized Assange’s efforts to protect his source’s identity, which “falls squarely under the standard journalistic practice and duty of protecting the source.”
The U.S. added a new superseding indictment to its case in June, which Assange’s lawyers were not given sufficient time to prepare a defense for. “The new indictment has emerged unjustifiably late in the day, is based on no new information and the testimony of two highly compromised sources,” the letter reads.
Because of the reasons listed above, the letter says that if Assange is extradited, it would “gravely endanger the free press.”
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
Months after The New York Times reported that Russia secretly offered bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan, a top US commander says a detailed review of all available intelligence found no corroboration of the story.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. CENTCOM, spoke with NBC News about the matter. “It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” McKenzie said. “We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet.”
An unnamed military intelligence official also told NBC News that after reviewing the intelligence of attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the past several years, none had been linked to any Russian bounty payments.
McKenzie’s comments reflect statements made by other top military officials shortly after the Times story broke. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper took the position that the Pentagon did not have “corroborating evidence” to support the Times report back in June.
In a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee in July, Esper said all the defense intelligence agencies have been “unable to corroborate this report.” In that same hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley took the same position. Both Milley and McKenzie vowed to keep investigating the intelligence, and now, two months later, there is still no evidence to back up the claims.
Other intelligence agencies have strongly dissented from the claim that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban, most notably the National Security Agency (NSA). The National Intelligence Council produced a memo in July that showed the NSA only gave “low” confidence to the Russian bounty intelligence.
Intelligence agencies use confidence levels to reflect the scope and quality of the intelligence they are assessing. There are three confidence levels, “high,” “moderate,” and “low.” The same memo that said the NSA gave the bounty intelligence “low” confidence also revealed the CIA gave it “moderate” confidence, which still leaves plenty of room for doubt.
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave. This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
Almost four years of Democrats and liberal mainstream pundits hysterically blaming President Trump’s 2016 victory on Russia has done enormous damage to U.S. political discourse. Besides the immense danger of ramping up tensions with another major nuclear power, Russiagate has also influenced Republicans and right-wingers to use the same tactic to bash Trump’s opponent for 2020, and ramp up tensions with another nuclear power—China.
Of course, Russiagate would not be possible without help from the intelligence agencies who feed news outlets flimsy claims about Russian meddling and produce reports and assessment on the topic. Both sides were handed a gift last week when National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina released a statement that said the Intelligence Community assessed that Russia is hoping Donald Trump is reelected, and China and Iran prefer a Joe Biden victory in November.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” the statement reads. The only example Evanina uses in the statement is the fact that Moscow and pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmakers have criticized Biden for his role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine, and the corruption that followed, which are entirely legitimate grievances.
Concerning Beijing, Evanina’s assessment says, “We assess that China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter-criticism of China.” The statement lists things China has criticized the Trump administrations for, like its actions in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and more, all areas where the administration has been extremely aggressive.
Evanina’s statement also warns of Iran, and says the Islamic Republic “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions.” The statement says Iran’s efforts “probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.” It is no surprise that Iran would prefer a Biden victory in November since the Trump administration has been incredibly hawkish towards the country. And Biden was part of the administration that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal, a deal Trump scrapped when he reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018. But there is no indication that Iran is working to “undermine” democratic institutions in the U.S., which is demonstrated by Evanina’s lack of evidence for the claim, and the inclusion of the word “probably.”
Writing in The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin insisted that while Evanina’s statement mentioned China and Iran, their influence was nothing compared to big bad Russia. Rubin said the inclusion of China and Iran in the assessment “seemed to be a transparent political effort” to level the playing field for Trump. “Only one power is engaged in ongoing actions to influence the election, and that is for the benefit of one candidate, Trump,” Rubin wrote.
When discussing the new intelligence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took the same line as Rubin and said Russian and Chinese interference are not equal. “Russia is actively 24/7 interfering in our election. They did so in 2016, and they are doing so now,” Pelosi said. “The Chinese, they said, prefer Biden—we don’t know that, but that’s what they’re saying, but they’re not really getting involved in the presidential election.”
While Pelosi, Rubin, and the entire Democratic establishment still peddle Russiagate, the narrative has entirely collapsed. The conspiracy that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow fell apart with the release of the Mueller report. More recently, it was revealed by declassified House testimony from 2017 that the private cyber-security firm CrowdStrike had no proof that Russia hacked the DNC and liberated the emails that were published by WikiLeaks.
But these facts do not stop Pelosi and her ilk from framing every move Trump makes as a “gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, no matter how hawkish his actual policies are towards Russia. For example, the recent announcement by the administration that 12,000 U.S. troops are being pulled out of Germany was framed in the same fashion, with CNN saying the pullout might be Trump’s “last gift to Putin before the election.” This analysis ignores the fact that about half of the troops leaving Germany are being moved to Poland and the Baltic states, closer to Russia’s border. “We are moving many troops further east, closer to Russia’s border, to deter them,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a recent interview.
While the Democrats try to downplay China’s role in election interference, the Trump administration is trying to hype it up. On Sunday, in an interview with CBS, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said Chinese hackers have attacked election infrastructure. “They’d like to see the President lose,” O’Brien said. “China—like Russia, like Iran—they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure, with respect to websites and that sort of thing.”
O’Brien’s claims sound familiar. Russia was accused of hacking election infrastructure in 2016. The allegation originally came from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and was later included in a Senate Intelligence report that said Russia targeted the electoral websites of about 21 states. The report explains how only one of the 21 state websites was actually penetrated by a hacker, and the others were only scanned and probed.
After the DHS announced that they notified 21 states of Russian hacking that allegedly took place during the 2016 election, interviews with state officials in The Washington Post revealed these types of intrusions happen all the time. An official from Oregon said her team blocks “upwards of 14 million attempts to access our network every day. These attempts come from all over the world, including Russia, with the largest number from the U.S.”
“This was a scan, and many computer systems are regularly scanned,” a Colorado official said. “It happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times per day.” The one state that was breached was Illinois. Both the Post and the Senate Intelligence report said there was no evidence any votes were altered; only personal information of registered voters was exposed. A DHS official testified before Congress in 2016 and noted that the Illinois hack was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information,” since the data was stolen and not altered.
As far as attribution, the DHS said they identified where the hacks came from by identifying an IP address, and the Senate Intelligence report said this IP address “provided some indications the activity might be attributable to the Russian government [emphasis added].” Not exactly a slam dunk.
The frequency of these types of scans and attacks and the difficulty of finding out where the hackers are located—let alone if they are state-affiliated—shows O’Brien’s statement about China attacking election infrastructure does not carry much weight.
Playing into the narrative that China wants to see a Biden presidency, President Trump said on Tuesday that if he loses, China will “own” the U.S. “If I don’t win the election, China will own the United States — you will have to learn to speak Chinese,” Trump told radio host Hugh Hewitt. Trump’s top donors also like to accuse Biden of being China’s favorite candidate. A major pro-Trump Super PAC, America First Action, funds the website Beijingbiden.com, a site dedicated to attacking the former vice president for his “weak stance” on China.
While the president did not exactly accuse China of interfering in the election, it is an accusation he’s hurled at Beijing in the past. “Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November,” Trump told the UN Security Council ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, offering no evidence for the claim.
The Biden campaign seems to be just as hawkish on China as they are on Russia. The coronavirus pandemic has caused the Trump administration to sharply increase hostile rhetoric towards China, with the president and many officials accusing Beijing of a “cover-up.” But according to the Biden campaign, Trump has not been tough enough on China. The campaign released an ad in April that said Trump “rolled over for the Chinese” and praised China too often at the beginning of the outbreak. “Trump praised the Chinese 15 times in January and February as the coronavirus spread across the world,” the ad said.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign official, had harsh words for Trump in response to the president’s recent comments about Americans “speaking Chinese” if Biden wins in November. “Trump has been the weakest president in American history with respect to China. As the most devastating public health crisis in 100 years rapidly spread, he echoed Chinese Communist Party propaganda to downplay the threat and justify inaction,” Bates told Business Insider.
In recent months, the Trump administration has acted against Beijing in all different arenas, sinking U.S.-China relations to possibly their lowest point since Richard Nixon’s trip to the Asian country in 1972. The administration has sanctioned Chinese officials over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, formally rejected China’s claims to the South China Sea, signed orders to ban Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat, and sent a U.S. official to Taiwan in the highest-level visit to the island since 1979. Along with the change in policy towards the South China Sea, the U.S. has drastically increased its military presence in the waters, sending two aircraft carriers to the region and breaking records for the number of military flights near China’s coast in July.
This idea that Trump has been the “weakest president” in history on China coming from the Biden campaign ignores these enormous provocations, the same way Russiagate forces many to ignore the administration’s frequent provocations towards Moscow. If both sides are willing to out hawk each other on China and Russia, the intelligence agencies will happily play along and provide ammunition in the form of dubiously sourced assessments. It is not clear if we will see a Biden victory or a Trump victory this November, but either way, it will be a win for the War Party and the new Cold Warriors in Washington.
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com and is based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave. This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
The U.S. Navy conducted massive drills in the South China Sea on Saturday, with two aircraft carriers involved in the exercises. According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of jets, helicopters, and surveillance planes took off from the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan in Washington’s largest military drills in the region in recent years.
“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Force celebrated Independence Day with unmatched sea power while deployed to the South China Sea conducting dual carrier operations and exercises in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement.
The exercise is a show of force aimed at Beijing, who held its own drills over the weekend near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago that China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all lay claim to. China’s build-up of military and research facilities on the Paracel Islands and the Spratly islands, another contested archipelago, has drawn the ire of Washington.
Since 2015, the U.S. has run what it calls Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, increasing tensions in the region. The FONOPs usually involve sailing a warship near the contested archipelagos and always draw sharp condemnation from Beijing.
“The fundamental cause of instability in the South China Sea is the large-scale military activities and flexing of muscles by some non-regional country that lies tens of thousands of miles away,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Friday.
The Bashi Channel, a waterway just south of Taiwan, has turned into another flashpoint for the US and China. Friday marked the 13th day in a row that US military aircraft flew over the Bashi Channel. The South China Morning Post reported that the U.S. sent six large reconnaissance aircraft and two refueling tankers on Friday’s mission. The planes were reportedly searching for Chinese submarines in the area.
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave.This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
An airstrike from the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition hit a vehicle carrying civilians in north Yemen on Monday. The airstrike killed 13 people, including four children. The same day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed the Saudi coalition from a global list of parties who have harmed children in conflicts.
The international humanitarian group Save the Children said the victims were on their way home from a local market when the vehicle was suddenly bombed. The Houthi’s Health Ministry identified eleven of the victims, which included one woman and four children, ages 12-14.
The coalition often targets civilian infrastructure, which is why Guterres’s move to remove them from the “blacklist” drew sharp condemnation from human rights groups. Saudi warplanes have hit schools, hospitals, water treatment plants, markets, weddings, and other civilian targets.
The UN special representative for children in armed conflict said Guterres made the decision to remove the Saudis from the blacklist following “sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to airstrikes.” While it is true the worst of the bombing took place in the early days of the war, bombs still fall on civilians in Yemen regularly.
Saudi Arabia’s effort to drive out the Houthis and reinstate President Hadi started in 2015 with the full support of the United States, the UAE, and other Gulf allies. The airstrikes, blockade, and siege on the country has always been a war on civilians.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave. This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper used the term “battlespace” to describe protests in US cities in a phone call with governors on Monday. “I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal,” Esper said.
Over 17,000 troops in 24 National Guard jurisdictions have been activated to deal with the civil unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The troops are also being used to enforce curfews across the country. More than 40 cities have set curfews in place.
“The president says he wants to dominate the streets with National Guard, with a police presence,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing on Monday, explaining the president’s comments.
In the phone call, Trump also said he was putting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “in charge” of the protest response. Gen. Milley is technically the highest-ranking military official in the country. It is not yet clear exactly what his role will be.
“General Milley is here who’s head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, a fighter, a warrior, and a lot of victories and no losses. And he hates to see the way it’s being handled in the various states. And I’ve just put him in charge,” Trump said.
Taking things a step further than bringing in the National Guard, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called on President Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would allow the president to deploy active-duty troops to cities across the country. The act was last invoked in 1992 as a response to protests and looting in Los Angeles after the Rodney King incident.
“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” Cotton said on Twitter. President Trump retweeted Cotton and said, “100% Correct. Thank you Tom!”
Press Secretary McEnany said the Insurrection Act is an option for Trump. “The Insurrection Act, it’s one of the tools available, whether the president decides to pursue that, that’s his prerogative,” McEnany told reporters.
Speaking at the White House Monday evening, President Trump said, “if a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Trump went on to address his plan to deal with protests in Washington DC, demonstrations that drove the president to seek shelter in an underground bunker on Friday. “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,” Trump said, speaking of measures he is taking in Washington.
This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in court today in London in hopes of delaying his US extradition case. The judge told Assange he will not have any extra time to gather evidence to help his case, and the hearing will start in February as planned.
Reports of the trial sounded grim, Assange was holding back tears while he spoke and told the court that he could not “think properly.”
Assange was taken from the Ecuadorian embassy in April, charged with skipping bail and sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh prison. His sentence was up September 22nd but a judge ordered him to remain in prison while he awaited his extradition trial.
The US wants to extradite Assange and charge him with 18 counts under the espionage act, which could total 175 years in prison. The allegation is that Assange helped former Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning break into a Pentagon computer. Manning was pardoned under President Obama but now sits in jail for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks in front of a grand jury.
Assange was asked if he understood the events in the court, that’s when he said, “Not really. I can’t think properly.” Then he appeared to make his case the best he could, “I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources.
“They are saying journalists and whistleblowers are enemies of the people. They have unfair advantages dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children’s DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here.”
Since Assange has been held in Belmarsh there have been reports that he experienced psychological torture. Just last week, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer and two medical professionals told reporters, “We came to the conclusion that he had been exposed to psychological torture for a prolonged period of time. That’s a medical assessment.”
Monday morning before the hearing Amnesty International released a statement that urged the British government to not extradite Assange. “The British authorities must acknowledge the real risks of serious human rights violations Julian Assange would face if sent to the USA, and reject the extradition request,” the statement read. “The UK must comply with the commitment it’s already made that he would not be sent anywhere he could face torture or other ill-treatment.”
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