Pentagon commanders worried moves will undermine military justice
Even with all the wars the US is presently involved in and all the shady activity that goes with that, it’s fairly unusual for the military to get around to charging personnel with war crimes. When they do, however, military commanders try to emphasize the importance, both to show the military doesn’t let everyone get away with everything, and to deter personnel from ignoring the chain of command.
Golsteyn was told by an Afghan tribal elder that the murder victim, Rasoul, was Taliban, and detained him on that basis. The military required Rasoul’s release after the maximum time of detention without charges, so Golsteyn let him go, and ambushed and murdered him outside the base. Golsteyn has recently tried to rebrand this as a legal ambushing, arguing that he suspected Rasoul was “trying to rejoin the Taliban” since he was released.
Lt. Clint Lorance was convicted of two murder charges for ordering troops to murder Afghans on motorcycles. He had been serving 19 years in prison. The killing was detailed in the Starz documentary “Leavenworth,” where platoon members discussed the killings.
SEAL Edward Gallagher was facing a murder charge for posing for a photo with a corpse, in addition to already being found guilty of posing for the photo in general. Trump not only pardoned Gallagher, but restored his rank to Chief Petty Officer.
The Pentagon’s commanders are deeply concerned about these moves, and had been trying to talk Trump out of them. They argue that military discipline will suffer if soldiers believe they can ignore military rules on the assumption of a pardon.
Trump’s position is built around showing that he is so pro-military that he can excuse war crimes, including murder, on the basis that the soldiers are supposed to be killing the enemy anyhow, and it’s unfair to judge just how they kill.
In an interview Sunday on ABC, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley predicted that US troops would stay in Afghanistan “for several more years,” the first such estimate offered since President Trump scrapped a peace plan that was ready to be finalized.
Milley defended the idea of years more Afghan War, already at nearly two decades, by arguing that the mission was to make sure Afghanistan would have sustainable internal security to protect the US, and “that mission is not yet complete.”
Of course, 18 years deep, it isn’t as though the Afghan government is any closer to being self-sufficient now than they were in 2002. That makes it difficult to say how long it will take to “complete” this mission, or indeed if it ever will be.
Though officials have suggest that the US troop level in Afghanistan may drop going forward, the whole decision to scrap a negotiated peace plan and exit strategy really means what will happen from here on out is purely up to the administration, as it is a pure war of choice.
These forces are meant to deny Syria access to the Syrian oil, and as President Trump has recently indicated, will be staying there while the US starts taking the oil for themselves.
Some 500 US ground troops are currently involved, along with M2A2 Bradley vehicles. Tanks are also reportedly going to be deployed to the area, though it’s not clear any have actually arrived yet.
Estimates are that 700 to 900 US troops are going to remain in Syria under this plan, which is a minor decline from the 1,000 troops believed to be present when the US moved out of the north to facilitate the Turkish invasion. Ultimately, this means US troop levels aren’t dramatically changed, even though the military goals in the country have radically changed.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, President Trump bragged about his efforts to try to get the US “out of wars,” then warned that “we may have to get in wars, too. OK?“
Trump continued on talking about how ready the US is for a war with Iran, and how Iran will get hit “like they’ve never been hit before.” The implication is clear that Trump is nominally ending wars, but that America’s hawks will get fresh, new wars to replace them.
That’s likely a rather cynical political ploy, given how much political heat the administration is under for appearing to almost end the Syrian War. That war may not be ending, but offering to trade it for a much bigger Iran War would probably placate many critics.
It’s likely also related to Trump’s interest in portraying himself as generally tough and the best at war. That, and his fondness for threatening Iran with unprecedented horrors seem destined to keep threatening an Iran War forever a possibility.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all of this is, while Trump clearly elaborated in talking about Iran, he said “wars,” which suggests he may be envisioning multiple new military conflicts on the horizon.
But Trump did also say “wars” in the part where he was ending them, suggesting that in addition to Syria, a war which he isn’t ending by any stretch of the imagination, he may be going to do something that appears to end another extent conflict.
The US forces in northern Syria long served as a de facto buffer force, positioned in between Turkey and both the Syrian government and Syrian Kurds. With US forces withdrawing, Russia is taking over that role, moving into that space the US formerly filled.
For Russia, it’s a bit more pro-active than what the US was doing. Russia describes its forces as patrolling along the “line of contact” between Turkey and Syria, and that’s a key aspect of why they are there. In addition to patrols, Russia has also taken over at least one former US base in the area, one hastily abandoned by US forces.
Russia, after all, is a close ally to Syria, and keen to support them. At the same time, Russia has tried to maintain ties with Turkey to keep the situation on the border from falling apart. Even now, Russia is engaging with both parties.
That’s something the US would’ve never done as a buffer force. The US has ties with Turkey as a consequence of NATO membership, and was aligned with the Kurdish forces in Syria, but refused to officially talk with Syria, and US diplomats seemed to go out of their way to undercut any regional diplomacy on Syria, believing it would weaken their vision for a post-war Syria, a regime change and a US-friendly government replacing a long-standing Russian ally. The US never thought much of anyone else’s goals, even the Kurds’ hopes for autonomy were dismissed by US officials who wanted a strong central government in Syria.
While it’s not clear what Russia is going to do for the Syrian Kurds, their presence at all likely complicates parts of the Turkish invasion, particularly where they are coming up against Kurdish towns that were handed over to the Syrian government to defend. The last thing Turkey wants is to start a fight with Russia on foreign soil.
The deal sees the Kurds unilaterally handing over two important cities, Kobane and Manbij, both in the Aleppo Province, to the central government to rule. This means Turkey’s invasion of those cities would be a direct invasion of Syrian cities under government control. Those two cities are also where Syria’s Army is heading first. This would make Turkey attacking those cities more controversial, and also raises the possibility of Russia intervening on the government’s behalf.
Kobane is a Kurdish-dominated city on the immediate border with Turkey. It was repeatedly contested by ISIS during the war, and would likely be an early target as Turkey’s troops fan out in the 30 km safe zone. Manbij, an Arab-majority city seized from ISIS in a US-backed offensive, is about 30 km from the border, but would clearly be a prize Turkey’s Arab rebel allies would covet.
While the terms of an overall deal are not publicly known, superficially the plan seems to be for Syria’s military to assume defense of the western-most territory of what Turkey is attacking, freeing up more Kurdish fighters to resist the offensives further to the east.
Syria had initially expressed an aversion to talking with the Kurdish SDF at all, calling them separatists and “agents of Washington” because of their long-time ties with the US. It’s not clear that’s entirely warranted, as the Kurdish political leadership had long envisioned a post-war solution with semi-autonomy within a federalized Syria. Russia, who had advocated a federal system post-war, clearly wanted to get these two sides together.
The Syrian government never agreed to Kurdish autonomy, and it is speculated that this deal might spell at least a partial end to that. In the near-term, however, both sides are more worried about slowing a Turkish invasion than about running day-to-day operations across eastern Syria.
Protesters and their supporters were armed in places as well, where security situations quickly worsened, and battles erupted. While this started in Baghdad and to the city’s immediate south, before long it was a nationwide issue.
Protests have been a recurring issue for months, almost always culminating with the government promising some reforms, and those reforms having by and large been forgotten.
The more this escalates into violence, the harder it’s going to be for the Abdul Mahdi government to back down and make promises to end the unrest. Continued fighting risks the public demanding bigger, and real, changes.
Instead of the Taliban building they thought they were raiding, it turns out the airstrike pounded an ongoing wedding reception. The Afghan government has already admitted to what happened, saying they are “saddened” by the deaths and want to take extra caution in the future.
Because the US is on one of those kicks where they don’t take responsibility for anything, the US statement confirmed the airstrike but denied killing civilians. They claimed the attack targeted al-Qaeda, and suggested any civilians “died from al-Qaeda weapons,” and not from the US dropping bombs on them.
This all comes just days after an incident in Nangarhar Province, where the US attacked and killed scores of civilian farm laborers who were hired for a pine nut harvest. This attack was launched even though the village in question specifically informed everyone weeks in advance that the harvest was happening, and got assurances they wouldn’t be attacked.
The Pentagon’s priorities on Afghanistan have changed repeatedly throughout the war, sometimes admitting to and apologizing for civilian casualties, while other times they deny everything. Either way, the end result is to sweep it under the rug with no policy changes, and the number of civilian deaths continues apace.
The Houthis reported that the prison was well known, and that the Red Cross had visited several times. The Red Cross has concurred, and was critical of the Saudis for attacking the site.
The Houthis reported that the prison was used in large measure to hold fighters loyal to the pro-Saudi government. The Red Cross said the number of casualties were “staggering” and that people not taking active part in combat shouldn’t be targeted by airstrikes.
The Saudis condemned the Red Cross for not informing them about the site, and also said they hold the Houthis fully responsible for all the prisoners they killed in the airstrike.
Though it’s possible the Saudis didn’t know, they have carried out airstrikes to a preposterous number of schools and hospitals which also would’ve been on “no strike lists” nationwide throughout the war, so claims they didn’t know must always be doubted somewhat.
Says US will ‘always’ have a presence in Afghanistan
Attempts by US negotiators to finalize a peace deal to get US troops out of Afghanistan continue to struggle in the face of President Trump’s comments, which continue to focus on all the troops he’s not going to get out of Afghanistan.
Trump said there would be “a determination” about Afghanistan at some point, but that the US will withdraw some troops, and leave 8,600 in Afghanistan, saying it would be “very well controlled.” This is less than half of the US presence.
Less than half falls dramatically short of the number of troops the Taliban wanted to leave Afghanistan, which is every single one. Trump only added to trouble in negotiating that by vowing that the US will always “keep a presence” in Afghanistan even if a deal is reached.
Trump does sometimes over-promise for the sake of audience he’s addressing, but months of fruitful negotiations on getting US troop levels to zero can’t coexist with a Trump promise to keep troops there no matter what, and that’s almost certain to be a problem the next time the US meets with the Taliban for talks.
In contrast to the aid packages a few years ago, which were emphasized as purely non-lethal aid not intended to exacerbate tensions, this new aid package seems to be chock full of lethal options for the military.
It is, however, clear that such weapons would be brought to bear against the eastern rebels in Ukraine, where a ceasefire tends to hold only tentatively at any given time, and US-provided arms might convince the military that they have another opportunity to resolve what is meant to be a negotiated settlement through military means.
Trump declared the emergency in late May, intended to bypass a 30-day review period by Congress. There was no sign that any of the arms would actually be shipped within 30 days, but rather Trump just wanted to avoid Congressional votes, which had been leaning toward opposing the sales.
Debate on the floor heavily focused on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, and the large number of civilians being killed in the Saudi bombing of Yemen. Opponents argued that the Saudi kingdom needs these arms because of hostility toward Iran, and also argued that the new arms are so good they’d likely reduce civilian deaths.
The passage of the resolutions to block the sales are likely to set up a battle with the White House, as President Trump will almost certainly veto them. Though the votes at this point do not appear to support an override in the Senate, opposition to the Saudi arms sales seem to be growing by the day, and a successful override cannot be ruled out.
In addition to blocking sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the resolutions also mentioned related transfers to Italy, Spain, Britain, and Northern Ireland. Jordan was also mentioned, by way of the UAE intending to buy 500 missiles to give to Jordan as a gift as part of this emergency.
Talk of blocking Saudi arms sales over the Khashoggi murder has been under discussion since the October killing. The use of an emergency to try to bypass Congress seems to have given particular impetus to this round of resolutions, however, and blocking arms sales to the Saudis after today may well be the new normal, instead of the rare outlier.
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