The reported statement by former Israeli minister Diaspora Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior that Saudi Arabia will open its doors to Israeli visitors “much sooner than you dream about” will not come as surprise. To be sure, a critical mass is developing in the secretive Saudi-Israeli intercourse.
The Saudi regime has been chary about links with Israel for fear of annoying the ‘Arab Street’, whereas, Israel has been all along eager to flaunt the breach in the Berlin Wall of Arab-Israeli conflict. But Saudis seem to estimate that the time has come to be open about the relationship.
The point is, if the raison d’etre of the dalliance is the ‘containment’ of Iran, it is resource-sharing. An open relationship is needed to optimally develop security and military cooperation. The Custodian of Holy Places seems to think the Muslim world will learn to live with his country’s strategic cooperation with Israel.
Well, the Palestine issue no longer poses hurdles, either. Arab Spring, conflicts in Syria and Iraq, military coup in Egypt, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, breakdown in Iran’s ties with Hamas, Islamic State – all these have relegated the Palestine issue to the backburner. Besides, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is on a tight American and Saudi leash. Abbas even received in Ramallah recently a Saudi delegation led by former general Anwar Majed Eshki who visited Jerusalem and met senior Israeli officials, including the head of the foreign ministry Dore Gold.
Again, Saudi Arabia’s keen interest in taking possession of two Red Sea islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – needs to be understood as a move to be Israel’s ‘neighbor’. Sanafir and Tiran sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access Red Sea. King Salman personally camped in Cairo in April to persuade Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to transfer the two islands in lieu of a seductive multi-billion dollar offer to Sisi.
Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are making haste to position themselves for a new phase of the Middle East’s politics in the post-Barack Obama era. They expect Hillary Clinton to pick up the threads where George W. Bush left them — a muscular regional policy involving switch back to containment of Iran and resuscitation of the pivotal relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is willing to reconcile with the Iran nuclear deal. They are doing everything possible, no matter what it takes, to see that the deal gets derailed. On Saturday, Israeli Defence Ministry issued a harshly-worded statement slamming Obama and comparing the Iran deal with the 1938 Munich agreement to appease Hitler. (Jerusalem Post )
Equally, Saudis and Israelis have convergent interests in regard to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq — supporting extremist Sunni groups, promoting the Kurdistan project, creation of ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian and Iraqi territory, and ultimately, entrapping Iran in a quagmire that will exhaust the regime.
The Saudi-Israeli strategic regional realignment is something that Washington historically encouraged. It is just the underpinning needed for creating a regional security architecture supported by the NATO’s network of partnerships with the GCC states under the canopy of a US missile shield.
Alas, Turkey too could have been a key partner in this enterprise, but for the failure of the July 15 coup. Israel looked distressed when it transpired that the coup failed. As for Saudi Arabia, it probably played a role in the failed coup. (Sputnik )
Without doubt, it is against a complex backdrop that the recent reports regarding Israel and Pakistan taking part in a major air exercise hosted by the US also needs to be viewed. Neither Islamabad nor Tel Avi has denied the reports. Of course, the US always encouraged a Pak-Israeli proximity. Now, the big question is: With Saudi Arabia establishing ties with Israel, can Pakistan be far behind? (Times of Israel )
From the Israeli, Saudi and American perspective, it is of utmost importance that Pakistan aligns with Saudi Arabia instead of remaining neutral in regard of Iran’s rise. Pakistan’s role is crucial to any major plans of destabilization of Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia pretended until recently that they have a special thing going with Moscow, too, with a view to create ‘strategic ambiguity’. Moscow played along, while making a strategic decision that Iran is its ‘natural ally’ in the Middle East. This is perfectly understandable, because in the ultimate analysis, Israel and Saudi Arabia are bit players only, while Iran (or Turkey for that matter) is an authentic regional power credited with a world view.
It is possible to see the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran trilateral summit in Baku on Monday as a strategic counter-move by Moscow and Tehran.
The proposed North-South Transport Corridor is admittedly an old idea with a pronounced economic dimension, but in the present context, an access route for Russia to the Persian Gulf and Middle East via Iran’s territory becomes a geopolitical event of far-reaching significance in the regional alignment that is under way. (See my blog China’s One Belt One Road isn’t only show in town.)
Forbes in a report has hailed Iran’s success in the development of its gas industry and says the country can soon become a main rival over market access to key players like the United States.
The world’s leading business magazine says Iran owes the progress it has made in its gas industry to its high exploration success rate which it says stands at a whopping 79 percent.
The rate, it says, is specifically high given that the world’s average is only 30 to 35 percent.
The Forbes report further emphasizes that the progress in Iran’s gas industry could soon enable it to exploit the promising markets in India, Pakistan, Kuwait, and UAE.
It adds that the country’s planned reductions in subsidized pricing, which will help reduce wasteful usage, will free up more of its gas for exports.
Forbes further stresses that Iran’s plans to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) will specifically have a prosperous future.
“Iran is currently working on several options to join the same ‘international LNG club’ that the US is also joining,” wrote Forbes in its report. “And Europe is the mid- and long-term target. Europe’s gas demand is projected to increase 15-20 percent by 2025. This means that Iran is competition for the US”.
The report emphasizes that Iran’s LNG plans are expected to become operational after 2020, adding that the country could benefit from the growing demand over the succeeding years particularly given that Europe’s gas demand, for example, is projected to increase 15-20% by 2025.
The US government today claimed it has killed between 64 and 116 “non-combatants” in 473 counter-terrorism strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between January 2009 and the end of 2015.
This is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian casualty range recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from reports by local and international journalists, NGO investigators, leaked government documents, court papers and the result of field investigations.
While the number of civilian casualties recorded by the Bureau is six times higher than the US Government’s figure, the assessments of the minimum total number of people killed were strikingly similar. The White House put this figure at 2,436, whilst the Bureau has recorded 2,753.
Since becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama has significantly extended the use of drones in the War on Terror. Operating outside declared battlefields, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, this air war has been largely fought in Pakistan and Yemen.
The White House’s announcement today is long-awaited. It comes three years after the White House first said it planned to publish casualty figures, and four months after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the data would be released.
The figures released do not include civilians killed in drones strikes that happened under George W Bush, who instigated the use of counter-terrorism strikes outside declared war zones and in 58 strikes killed 174 reported civilians.
Today’s announcement is intended to shed light on the US’s controversial targeted killing programme, in which it has used drones to run an arms-length war against al Qaeda and Islamic State.
The US Government also committed to continued transparency saying it will provide an annual summary of information about the number of strikes against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities as well as the range of combatants and non-combatants killed.
But the US has not released a year-by-year breakdown of strikes nor provided any detail on particularly controversial strikes which immediately sparked criticism from civil liberty groups.
Jamel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “While any disclosure of information about the government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome, the government should be releasing information about every strike—the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. Perhaps this kind of information should be released after a short delay, rather than immediately, but it should be released. The public has a right to know who the government is killing—and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that.”
The gap between US figures and other estimates, including the Bureau’s data, also raised concerns.
Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said: “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone programme. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organisations. The only thing those numbers tell us is that this Administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed. Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed “only 60” civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only 4 more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes?
“The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed. Today’s announcement tells us nothing about 14 year old Faheem Qureshi, who was severely injured in Obama’s first drone strike. Reports suggest Obama knew he had killed civilians that day.”
The US government said in a statement: “First, although there are inherent limitations on determining the precise number of combatant and non-combatant deaths, particularly when operating in non-permissive environments, the US Government uses post-strike methodologies that have been refined and honed over years and that use information that is generally unavailable to non-government organsations.”
Bibi Mamana was a grandmother and midwife living in the the tribal region of North Waziristan on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
On October 24 2012, she was preparing for the Muslim festival of Eid. She used to say that the joy of Eid was the excitement it brought to children. Her eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela was reported to be in a field with her as she gathered vegetables when a drone killed Mamana.
“I saw the first two missiles coming through the air,” Nabeela later told The Times. “They were following each other with fire at the back. When they hit the ground, there was a loud noise. After that I don’t remember anything.” Nabeela was injured by flying shrapnel.
At the sound of the explosion, Mamana’s 18-year-old grandson Kaleem ran from the house to help. But a few minutes later the drones struck again, he told the BBC. He was knocked unconscious. His leg was badly broken and damaged by shrapnel, and needed surgery.
Atiq, one of Mamana’s sons, was in the mosque as Manama gathered vegetables. On hearing the blast and seeing the plume of smoke he rushed to the scene. When he arrived he could not see any sign of his mother.
“I started calling out for her but there was no reply,” Atiq told the Times. “Then I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards. It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected many different parts from the field and put a turban over her body.”
Atiq’s brother Rafiq told Al Jazeera English he received a letter after the strike from a Pakistani official that said the attack was a US drone strike and that Mamana was innocent. But nothing more came of it, he said. The following year Rafiq, a teacher, travelled to the US to speak to Congress about the strike.
“My job is to educate,” he said in an emotional testimony. “But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand?”
Picture credit: BBC
Evaluating the numbers
The administration has called its drone programme a precise, effective form of warfare that targets terrorists and rarely hits civilians.
With the release of the figures today President Obama said, “All armed conflict invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”
In June 2011 Obama’s then counter terrorism chief, now CIA director, John Brennan made a similar statement. He also declared drones strikes were “exceptionally precise and surgical” and had not killed a single civilian since August 2010. A Bureau investigation in July 2011 demonstrated this claim was untrue.
Most of the Bureau’s data sources are media reports by local and international news outlets, including Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times.
The US Government suggests it has a much clearer view of post-strike situations than such reporting, suggesting this is the reason why there is such a gap between the numbers that have been recorded by the Bureau, and similar organisations, and those released today.
But the Bureau has also gathered essential information from its own field investigations.
The tribal areas have long been considered a difficult if not impossible area for journalists to access. However, occasionally reporters have been able to gain access to the site of the strikes to interview survivors, witnesses and relatives of people killed in drone strikes.
The Bureau conducted a field investigation through the end of 2011 into 2012, in partnership with The Sunday Times. Through extensive interviews with local villagers, the Bureau found 12 strikes killed 57 civilians.
The Associated Press also sent reporters into the Fata, reporting its findings in February 2012. It found 56 civilians and 138 militants were killed in 10 strikes.
Access to affected areas is a challenge in Yemen too. But in December 2009 a deputation of Yemeni parliamentarians sent to the scene of a strike discovered the burnt remnants of a camp, which had been set up by several families from one of Yemen’s poorest tribes.
A subsequent investigation by journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed a deception that hid US responsibility for the deaths of 41 civilians at the camp – half of them children, five of them pregnant women.
The reality on the ground flew in the face of the US government’s understanding of events. A leaked US diplomatic record of a meeting in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, between General David Petraeus and the Yemeni president revealed the US government was ignorant of the civilian death toll.
Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber
Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a 40-year-old father of seven, was exactly the kind of man the US needed in Yemen. A widely respected cleric in rural Yemen, he delivered sermons in his village mosque denouncing al-Qaida.
He gave just such a speech in August 2012 and earned the attention of the terrorist group. Three anonymous fighters arrived in his village two days later, after dark, calling for Jaber to come out and talk.
He went to meet them, taking his policeman cousin, Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, with him for protection. The five men stood arguing in the night air when Hellfire missiles tore into them.
A “huge explosion” rocked the village, a witness said. Jaber’s father, Ahmad bin Salim Salih bin Ali Jaber, 77, arrived on the scene to find people “wrapping up body parts of people from the ground, from here and there, putting them in grave clothes like lamb.”
All the dead were al Qaeda fighters, unnamed Yemeni officials claimed. However Jaber’s family refused to allow him to be smeared as a terrorist.
For three years they fought in courts in America and Germany for recognition that he was an innocent civilian. In November 2013 they visited Washington and even managed to arrange a meeting in the White House to plead their case. In 2014 the family said it was offered a bag containing $100,000 by a Yemen national security official. The official said it was a US strike and it had been a mistake.
By late 2015 the family offered to drop their lawsuits against the US government if the administration would apologise. The Department of Justice refused. In February 2016 the court dismissed the family’s suit but they have not stopped fighting: in April they announced they would appeal.
Picture credit: Private
Falling numbers of civilian casualties
The White House stressed that it was concerned to protect civilians and that best practices were in place to help reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties.
The Bureau’s data does show a significant decline in the reports of civilian casualties in recent years.
In Pakistan, where the largest number of strikes have occurred, there have been only three reported civilian casualties since the end of 2012. Two of these casualties – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – were Western hostages held by al Qaeda. The US, unaware they were targeting the American and Italian’s captors, flattened the house they were being held in.
The accidental killing of a US citizen spurred Obama to apologise for the strike – the first and only time he had publicly discussed a specific CIA drone strike in Pakistan. With the apology of a “condolence payment to both the families,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told the Bureau. However, they have yet to receive any compensation from the US government for their loss.
Families who have lost relatives in Pakistan have not reported being compensated for their loss. In Yemen, money has been given to families for their loss but it is not clear whether it actually comes from the US. The money is disbursed by Yemeni government intermediaries, nominally from the Yemeni government’s coffers.
Tariq Khan was a 16-year-old from North Waziristan who attended a high-profile anti-drone rally in Islamabad in October 2011. Only days later, he and his cousin were killed in a drone strike.Tariq was the youngest of seven children. He was described by relatives as a quiet teenager who was good with computers. His uncle Noor Kalam said: “He was just a normal boy who loved football.”
On 27 October, Tariq made the eight-hour drive to Islamabad for a meeting convened by Waziri elders to discuss how to end civilian deaths in drone strikes. The Pakistani politician Imran Khan, his former wife Jemima, members of the legal campaign group Reprieve and several western journalists also attended the meeting.
Neil Williams from Reprieve said Tariq seemed very introverted at the meeting. He asked the boy if he had ever seen a drone. Tariq replied he saw 10 or 15 every day. He said they prevented him from sleeping. “He looked absolutely terrified,” Williams said.
After a four-hour debate, the audience joined around 2,000 people at a protest rally outside the Pakistani parliament. After the rally, the tribesmen made the long journey home. The day after he got back, Tariq and his cousin Wahid went to pick up his newly married aunt, according a Bureau reporter who met Tariq at the Islamabad meeting. When they were 200 yards from the house two missiles slammed into their car. The blast killed Tariq and Wahid instantly.
Some reports suggested Wahid was 12 years old.
An anonymous US official acknowledged the CIA had launched the strike but denied they were children. The occupants of that car were militants, he said.
Picture credit: Neil Williams/Reprieve
Most of the dead from CIA strikes in Pakistan are unnamed Pakistanis and Afghans, according to Naming the Dead – a research project by the Bureau. Over three years the Bureau has painstakingly gathered names of the dead from US drone strikes in Pakistan. The project has recorded just 732 names of people killed since 2004 – 329 of which were civilians.
The fact that so many people are unnamed adds to the confusion about who has been killed.
A controversial US tactic, signature strikes, demonstrates how identities of the dead, and their status as a combatant or non-combatant, eludes the US. These strikes target people based on so-called pattern of life analysis, built from surveillance and intelligence but not the actual identity of a person.
And the CIA’s own records leaked to the news agency McClatchy show the US is sometimes not only ignorant of the identities of people it has killed, but also of the armed groups they belong to. They are merely listed as “other militants” and “foreign fighters” in the leaked records.
Former Deputy US Secretary of State, Richard Armitage outlined his unease with such internal reporting in an interview with Chris Woods for his book Sudden Justice. “Mr Obama was popping up with these drones left, right and down the middle, and I would read these accounts, ’12 insurgents killed.’ ’15!’ You don’t know that. You don’t know that. They could be insurgents, they could be cooks.”
Follow Jack Serle and Abigail Fielding-Smith on Twitter and sign up for the monthly update from the Bureau’s Covert War project.
The prospect of Hillary Clinton being President of the United States of America is one to fill our minds with dread concerning the likely posture of Washington in foreign affairs should she ever attain the Oval Office. There is no doubt she would continue or even increase the intensity of Washington’s military confrontations with China and Russia — and enjoy smacking the wrists of smaller countries whose actions might displease her. Indeed her castigation might go further, even to the extent of rejoicing in the murder of national leaders such as President Gaddafi of Libya, about whom she laughed “We came. We saw. He died.”
Who might be next, with Hillary at the helm?
Under her reign the US military presence around the world would be maintained or expanded — but no matter who is in the White House, the hundreds of military bases surrounding China and Russia will continue operations and the US nuclear-armed fleets that roam the seas and oceans will maintain their aggressive posture.
Drone assassinations will also continue and more innocent people like that poor taxi driver in Pakistan will be killed by US Hellfire missiles guided by gleeful techno-cretins who move control sticks and prod buttons while playing barbaric video games from their comfortable killing couches in drone-control bases.
That taxi driver?
To remind you: on May 21 a taxi driver called Mohammad Azam was earning his tiny daily wage by picking up passengers who crossed the Iranian border into Pakistan. Sometimes he would take them only to nearby villages, but that day he picked up a client who wanted to go to the city of Quetta, eight hours drive away. He drove off in his Toyota Corolla, and a few hours later, when he stopped for a rest, Obama’s Hellfires struck and blasted the car to twisted shards of metal — and reduced Azam and his customer to smoking corpses.
Another case of “We came. We saw. He died.”
Azam’s passenger was the evil Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, travelling under a false name. His sought-for anonymity didn’t do him much good, because he had been traced and tracked, and while he was in Iran or when he was going through border crossing examination on the Pakistan side it’s likely that a US-paid agent planted a chip on him or in his baggage that signaled his whereabouts to the drone-controlling video-gamers.
Azam the taxi-driver didn’t know Mullah Mansour and was not associated with the Taliban or any such organization. He was an entirely innocent man trying to earn enough money to feed his family — his wife, four small children and a crippled brother who stayed with them.
But Azam was killed by the same US Hellfire missiles that killed Mullah Mansoor.
The Pentagon stated that “Mansur has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict.” So they killed him. And without the slightest hesitation they also killed the taxi driver Mohammad Azam.
If a person in a foreign country that can’t retaliate to drone strikes is considered an enemy of the United States there is no question of arrest, charge and trial. When it can be done they are killed by drone missile strikes, personally authorized by President Obama who stressed that there must be “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,” and that “the United States respects national sovereignty and international law.”
But the US president ordered the assassination of two people in a country whose prime minister said that the US drone attack was a gross violation of national sovereignty. And although the White House and the Pentagon might — just might — be able to convince a War Crimes Tribunal that their killing of Mullah Mansur was in some fashion reasonable, how could they possibly claim that their murder of the taxi driver Azam was justified? When did it become “respectful of international law” to deliberately slaughter a taxi driver?
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, declared that Mansoor’s obliteration “sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan.” Which was no doubt solace to Azam’s widow and her two little boys and two little girls when his hideously charred fragmented corpse arrived next day.
People like Obama and Kerry and Clinton and countless millions of others simply don’t care about the smashing, flashing, hideously agonizing death of the innocent taxi driver Azam.
The US President’s professional video-gamers had killed yet another totally innocent non-combatant, but no doubt they all slept soundly on the night that Azam’s children began to realize their terrible loss.
Three weeks after the drone murder of taxi driver Azam there was a massacre of 49 people in the US city of Orlando. It was horrible. Much of the world was aghast, and there was emotion displayed in Europe and North America, with candle-lit vigils, solemn silences of respect in parliaments and other demonstrations of sympathy and solidarity. And when a British female Member of Parliament was killed by a lunatic on June 16 there was an amazing outpouring of grief in the country. Her husband said after her murder that “the two things that I’ve been very focused on is how do we support and protect the children.”
Quite right. And understandable and most admirable.
But who is going to support and protect the children of the US drone-killed taxi driver Azam?
The slaughter of innocent human beings is an everyday occurrence in Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan, where countless thousands have died — without a single western candle being lit in sorrowful commemoration of any Iraqis, Libyans or Afghans who have died in the savage chaos caused by the catastrophic military fandangos in their countries by US-led western powers.
Western countries are highly selective in displaying disapproval and grief following killings, be they mass or individual, and it could hardly be expected that the US assassination of a Pakistani taxi driver would attract the slightest sympathy or censure.
The murder-by drone of taxi driver Azam by the Pentagon’s video-gamers could be summed up by Hillary Clinton’s happy rejoicing about the murder of President Gaddafi during the US-NATO blitz on Libya, when she laughingly declared that “We came. We saw. He died.”
And thinking about the future . . . Would you be surprised if in twenty years or so one of the children of taxi driver Azam were to take up a gun and kill Americans?
The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced influential religious figure Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after confirming supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US drone strike.
“Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him,” the insurgents said in a statement.
It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of US forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.
Haibatullah was one of two deputies under Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike on Saturday, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.
Mansour’s killing is a major blow to the militant movement just nine months after he was formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle, and sent shockwaves through the leadership.
Haibatullah’s appointment comes after the Taliban’s supreme council held emergency meetings that began Sunday in southwest Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.
Taliban sources told AFP the supreme council members were lying low and constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid new potential air strikes.
The British government is providing military training to the majority of nations it has blacklisted for human rights violations, a new report reveals.
In a report published on Sunday, the Independent revealed that 16 of the 30 countries on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s “human rights priority” watchlist are receiving military support from the UK despite being accused by London itself of issues ranging from internal repression to the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts.
According to the UK Ministry of Defense, since 2014, British armed forces have provided “either security or armed forces personnel” to the military forces of Saudi Arabia , Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burundi, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Britain is a major provider of weapons and equipment such as cluster bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in its year-long military aggression against Yemen that has killed nearly 9,400 people, among them over 2,230 children.
Since the conflict began in March 2015, the British government has licensed the sale of nearly $4 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudi kingdom.
British commandos also train Bahraini soldiers in using sniper rifles, despite allegations that the Persian Gulf monarchy uses such specialist forces to suppress a years-long pro-democracy uprising in the country.
Bahraini forces visited the Infantry Battle School in Wales last week, accompanied by troops from Nigeria, the Defense Ministry said.
Nigeria’s top military generals are accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes by causing the deaths of 8,000 people through murder, starvation, suffocation and torture during security operations against the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorists, according to the report.
Andrew Smith, with the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said Britain should not be “colluding” with countries known for being “some of the most authoritarian states in the world.”
Pakistan has denounced the US drone strike believed to have killed the Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
In a statement issued to the media, Pakistan’s foreign office said the drone strike was a violation of its sovereignty, adding that information about the drone strike was shared with the prime minister and the army chief after the strike.
“It may be recalled that the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) held on 18th May had reiterated that a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan and called upon the Taliban to give up violence and join peace talks,” the statement said.
Afghanistan’s spy agency known as National Security Directorate (NDS), senior officials in Kabul and some militant sources on Sunday confirmed that the Taliban leader was killed after the US drones targeted his vehicle in a remote area of in a remote area of south-west Pakistan, near the Afghan border, on Saturday.
On Saturday, the US Department of Defense announced in a statement that it had mounted the strike against Mansour “in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
File photo shows a picture of the leader of Taliban militant group, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
The Pentagon announced on Saturday that the operation had been authorized by President Barack Obama.
The development comes as relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tense in recent years over the ongoing militancy.
Senior Afghan officials blame elements inside the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for supporting the Taliban militants and sheltering its leadership, while Islamabad blames the Afghan government for giving shelter to the militants on its side of the border.
Moreover, senior officials in Kabul have been frustrated by what they see as Islamabad’s refusal to honor a pledge to force Taliban leaders based in Pakistan to join negotiations.
They have long blamed Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban militant group whose leadership is widely believed to be based in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar, near the border.
The Taliban has seen a string of defections ever since the news about the death of its founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, broke in late July 2015.
Mullah Omar died at a hospital in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in April 2013.
Pakistan, which wields influence on the insurgent group, mediated the first round of direct peace talks between delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last summer, but a planned second meeting was canceled after news broke that Taliban’s founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. In recent months, a four-member group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been attempting to revive the talks.
There have also been growing differences among Taliban elements over the negotiations, with some vowing to fight for power instead of taking part in the talks.
In his first public comments on the US drone campaign in Pakistan, President Obama described it as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on.” In 2011, then-national security advisor to the president John Brennan said of the CIA drone campaign that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Popular American mythology in the Obama era has held that drones are the surgeon’s tool in the endless, global war on terror. American soldiers and spies can knock off terrorists without bogging down the military in ground occupations, or killing civilians.
So says the myth. The reality is starkly different, according to scholar Micah Zenko.
Zenko examined civilian deaths from US military operations and found that drones kill more civilians than do piloted US aircraft—not fewer. “Drones are far less precise than airstrikes conducted by piloted aircraft, which themselves also conduct “precision strikes.” Drones result in far more civilian fatalities per each bomb dropped,” Zenko writes.
Zenko’s analysis shows us that the claims officials have long made about the supposed accuracy of drone strikes are dead wrong. But we don’t know why, in part because the US government refuses to disclose basic information about how it designates drone targets, or under what circumstances commanders order killings. It could be, as Zenko posits, “that the standards that need to be met before authorizing a [drone] strike are less rigid than Obama’s purported principle of “near certainty that the terrorist target is present.” This wouldn’t be surprising given that Obama continued the George W. Bush administration’s practice of “signature strikes” — killing anonymous suspected militants who appear to be associated with terrorists based upon their observable activity.”
If that’s the case, the US public and the victims of drone strikes have a right to know. But government secrecy and judicial evasiveness have conspired to keep us all in the dark about even the most basic legal theories upon which the CIA and military base their drone programs.
That secrecy has recently been reified. Just last week, a Washington D.C. federal appeals court tossed an ACLU lawsuit against the CIA seeking information about its drone operations. The court sided with the government, holding that releasing information about the drone program “could reasonably be expected to damage national security.”
As ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said, “Secret law is always invidious, but it’s particularly so here because of the subject matter.” Now we know the stories officials have been telling us for years about the laser-like accuracy of drone strikes are false. But thanks to secret law, we don’t know why.
A man claiming to be on a western “kill list” of people to be targeted by US airstrikes has appealed to both the British and American governments to stop trying to kill him.
Malik Jalal, a tribal elder from Waziristan, a border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, says he has been targeted in at least four drones strikes, narrowly missing what he believes are attempts on his life.
Traveling to Britain following an invitation from Lord Ken MacDonald, the former Director of Prosecutions, Malik Jalal told BBC Radio 4 that he had been warned by various authorities in Waziristan that he is on a western “kill list” adding that his children are “terrified” of dying in an attack.
In one close call, he says a missile hit a car traveling behind him.
“I heard the explosion and the back window of my car shattered. The car behind was in flames and the passengers were in pieces.”
A tribal elder of the region, Malik Jalal believes he is being targeted because of his connection with the North Waziristan Peace committee (NWPC) — a group facilitating peace talks between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.
While Malik Jalal says he plays an important role in trying to bring peace to the region, there have been criticisms of the NWPC, with some suggesting the committee provides Taliban members with a safe haven in Waziristan.
‘I Came Close to Being Bombed Four Times’
In a letter, addressed to UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who is responsible for MI5 and the National Crime Agency (NCA), and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who has responsibility for GCHQ and MI6, Malik Jalal has called for a meeting to clear up concerns that he may be on a government kill list.
“I had a special role to improve security and we were making progress and that’s why I think Americans targeted us […] I came close to being bombed four times, so in the end I realized they were on to me,” he told the BBC.
“I have had to leave Waziristan. In my own family there are six people who are mentally destabilized because of the strikes. In Waziristan there are more than 400,000 people who have mental problems because of the drones. My own son is too scared to go back to Waziristan.”
The US ambassador to the UK has also been copied into the letter, with Malik Jalal calling on Britain to try and influence the US to stop what he believes have been attempts on his life and others in Waziristan.
“I have a peaceful role in Pakistan. I am not involved in terrorism. I came to Britain because I feel like Britain is like a younger brother to America. I am telling Britain that America doesn’t listen to us, so you tell them not to kill Waziristanis.”
Concerns Over Long-Term UK Involvement in US ‘Kill List’
The comments follow the release of an explosive report, accusing British law enforcement and intelligence agencies of drawing up an extra-judicial kill list targeting some of the world’s most wanted terror suspects and drug smugglers.
The report, released by human rights organization Reprieve, claimed that the UK has been a long-time partner in the US’ “shoot to kill” policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the report alleging that drug smugglers, as well as terrorists were among those targeted.
The findings follow a separate Vice News investigation that claimed that UK military personnel were exploiting a legal loophole to play a “critical” role in the US drone kill list program in Yemen.
Citing interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American and Yemeni officials, UK forces were alleged to have taken part in so-called “hits” in Yemen, “triangulating” intelligence for kill lists, and preparing “target packages.”
The reports of long-time collaboration with the US shoot to kill policy have led to suggestions that UK Prime Minister David Cameron misled parliament on September 7, 2015, when he said that the assassination of two British nationals in Syria was a “new departure” for the UK.
Commenting on the latest developments, Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said: It is horrifying that, in the 21st Century, we have drawn up a list of people we want to kill.
“For a country that loudly proclaims its opposition to the death penalty even after a fair trial, the notion that we would execute him without a trial at all stunningly hypocritical. Malik Jalal puts a very human face on the horror of this policy.”
The UK government has said they don’t comment on matters of intelligence.
Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to scale back US military engagement in the Middle East and to keep America’s soldiers from getting bogged down in never-ending regional civil wars. President Obama has kept park of that campaign promise, with America’s troop presence abroad reduced. But US military engagement, as a whole, has increased significantly, through the use of unmanned drones and the deployment of troops in combat and security situations in more countries than in 2009.
Obama’s White House ended the previous administration’s Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom — combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that continued to fester following George W. Bush’s attempts at regime change in Baghdad and the bombing of mountains into submission around Kabul. Today, despite recent reports that the Defense Department has understated the US troop presence in Iraq, troop levels in each country are down.
Nonetheless, Obama followed up his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize by expanding US military actions to nearly every country in the Middle East and North Africa, while reviving a Cold War posture toward Russia and China.
For instance, during the so-called Arab Spring, the US undertook a military campaign against Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, leading to the leader being deposed and killed in the streets. The ousting of Qaddafi turned the once thriving country into a hotbed for Daesh extremists and today Libya is largely considered a failed state.
Under Obama, the US has expanded drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria with limited results and many civilian deaths.
Reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggest that the majority of US drone strikes result in civilian casualties, but under Obama these casualties have been defined away by invoking a macabre redefining of the “kill box” – anybody within a certain proximity to targeted victim is deemed a combatant.
The US today now finds itself performing aggressive joint military exercises with the South Koreans, seen as dress rehearsals for a full-scale invasion of North Korea — a nuclear capable country. American and NATO forces are posted along the Russian border in Norway to prepare for potential offensive actions against Moscow justified by the fantasy of Russian military aggression in Europe. US forces are now fighting in not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The paradox of the Obama Administration is how a president who campaigned on getting us out of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has now committed the US to the escalation of several recent wars.
Obama is no dove, and the world is no safer. With unmanned drone use increasing overseas, perpetual war has never been rebranded so effectively.
For the second time in 2016, Pakistani Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, paid an official visit to Riyadh in March. He took part in the closing ceremony of the Northern Thunder military exercise in the Saudi desert. The intensity of the visits is dictated by the importance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the foreign policy of Pakistan, as well as the need to maintain a balanced approach to the countries of the region as a whole, given the recent intensification of relations with Iran. It is noteworthy that it is also the second time that the Prime Minister was accompanied by Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif on a foreign trip to the KSA. Much remains yet to be clarified.
Military contacts between Islamabad and Riyadh have been maintained for several decades. The first bilateral agreements were signed back in the 60’s; in the 80’s, two teams of Pakistani ground troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the commands of the two capitals hold annual joint military exercises, for example, Al Shihab-1 in 2015.
Despite the significant financial support from the KSA of social, economic, military and other projects in Pakistan, the relationship between the royal dynasty and the military and civil administration of Islamabad were not always smooth. The most recent failure occurred in March 2016. The royal family appealed to the Prime Minister, N. Sharif (and he publicly promised) to post part of the Pakistani army in the zone of military conflict in Yemen against Huthis Shiite in support of the KSA. But after ten days under the pretext of protecting only the holy places, the National Assembly of Pakistan (the lower house of parliament) refused. The Pakistani media wrote about a certain pressure the generals applied to parliamentarians.
The latest of Riyadh’s military appeals to Islamabad, announced in December 2015 as part of an alliance of 34 countries to combat the terrorist threat in the region, once again caused a lot of questions from the military leadership of Pakistan, as well as Malaysia and Lebanon about the goals and objectives of the new military campaign, the place and role of each participating country. For a long time, issues remained unclear related to the operational strategy, antiterrorist working methods, management, control and composition of the proposed cooperation. For two months, Islamabad did not comment. Sharif’s visit to Riyadh in March lifted the veil. According to the Pakistani media, Rawalpindi (the location of the Army headquarters) plans for its participation to include the exchange of intelligence information, the supply of military equipment and the development of counter-extremist propaganda.
Pakistan once again refused to participate in the armed conflict, putting forward several arguments: first, the reluctance to get involved in a so-called “foreign” war; secondly, the desire to avoid the explosion of separatist and sectarian movements within Pakistan; and thirdly, that new and promising markets (Iran) and possibilities are opening up, given the recent geopolitical developments in the region.
In the February issue of this year’s Pakistani military magazine Hilal, the author of the article entitled ‘Balanced Approach Towards the Middle East’ underlines the importance as never before, of the diplomatic efforts to solve the “raging” conflicts. It’s hard not to agree with Mr. Masood Khan and his statement: “it is not clear, in which direction the Middle East will move in 2016 … fine balancing is required … in order to prevent a major war in the region, protect our interests and save Pakistan from sectarian faults.” Thus, in contradiction to the centrifugal tendencies conducted by KSA in the vast region, Pakistan, on the contrary, promotes and supports centripetal forces. Its policy of non-participation in armed conflict puts obstacles in the way of splits, the formation of secessionist movements and / or fragmentation of its territory. Islamabad experienced the disease of separatism in 1971, allowing the separation of the Eastern Province and the proclamation of the independent Republic of Bangladesh on the territory in 1973.
At the same time, Pakistan is aware of the need to preserve traditional solidarity with the Saudi royal family, yet maintain that the time of its leadership in the region is in the past.
Islamabad is opening itself to radically new transnational projects of the 21st century in the region. Islamabad regards rapprochement with Tehran as a positive direction, despite the fact that, in general, Teheran’s step towards the Western world has made the region “feverish” (in the words of Mr. Masood Khan). In February 2016, Pakistan also lifted sanctions against Iran, supporting the decision of the “Six” (the permanent UN Security Council members and Germany). In addition to the prospective energy and hydrocarbon supplies to the country, Pakistan is set to earn a huge profit by using its strategic geographical position. The area will act as a transport bridge from the Chinese border and further to Central Asia, Iran, and then to the West under the revived China’s Silk Road project (one belt – one road). In February 2016, Beijing and Tehran signed a series of agreements.
Despite the fact that in January 2016 the Minister of Defense of the KSA rejected the mediation efforts of Pakistan in resolving the crisis with Iran (after the rift in diplomatic relations in early January 2016), Islamabad, for various reasons, remains one of Riyadh’s few opportunities to maintain civilized dialogue with Tehran and to stabilize the situation in the region.
The position of neutrality, which Pakistan upholds, and above all, the Army generals (given that the Pakistani army is one of the strongest in the region), is a guarantee their own security.
At the same time, the Northern Thunder military exercise (participated in by 21 states), led by the KSA, is a kind of demonstration of military force of the Sunni wing of Islam to the Shiites, in particular the leadership of Iran and the Yemeni Huthis.
The non-interference policy of a number of states in the region, in particular, Islamabad, is a deterrent to the further military ambitions of the new leaders of the Saudi dynasty and thus counteracts the emerging destabilization mechanisms. The Middle East will not sustain another armed conflict.
Natalia Zamaraeva, Ph.D (History), Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan section, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Since 2001, the United States has been killing people with weaponized drones, most times not knowing the identities of the victims.
The victims of drone strikes are nameless and invisible, despite the fact that most of them are civilians.
The Pentagon announced this week that more than 150 al-Shabab fighters have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in Somalia. The Pentagon spokesmen repeatedly talked about “fighters” and “terrorists” which “posed an imminent threat to the U.S.” But as usual, he offered no proof of his claims.
This kind of language has become normalized when it comes to the U.S. drone war, which is not just taking place in Somalia, but also in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. What is significant regarding the regular attacks in these countries is the media coverage. In fact, it practically does not exist. The many victims of drone strikes are nameless and invisible. And if they appear in any media reports, all of them are completely dehumanized and described as “terrorists,” “suspected militants” or any other similar euphemism.
This was also the case after the latest strike in Somalia, a country the U.S. is officially not at war with. Shortly after the Pentagon’s announcement, many news outlets adopted the U.S. government’s version of the incident. The New York Times, for example, wrote about the killing of “150 fighters who were assembled for what American officials believe was a graduation ceremony.” “Militants” was also the term the Washington Post used to describe all the victims. It is necessary to point out that many other well-known media outlets from all over the world did the very same thing. As usual, there was a huge lack of any critical scrutinizing. Instead, media once again became a mouthpiece of the U.S. government by quoting its military officials and spreading their one-sided views constantly.
Since 2001, the United States has been killing people with weaponized drones, most times not knowing the identity of the victims. As of today, at least 6,000 people have been killed by these drone strikes. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 4 percent of drone victims in Pakistan were identified as a-Qaida members. But vastly more than 2,000 people have been killed there by drones during the last years.
Another country which is suffering heavily under drone strikes is Afghanistan, the most drone bombed country in the world. Between 2001 and 2013, 1,670 drone strikes took place in the country. It was in the city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s former stronghold, where the first strike by a weaponized drone took place in October 2001. The target, Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, was not killed on this day, but many other unknown people have been in the years since.
One of these people was Sadiq Rahim Jan, a 21-year-old food vendor from Paktia, eastern Afghanistan. He was murdered by a drone strike in July 2012. A few days later, media outlets in Kabul described him as a “Taliban commander.” The family members of Aisha Rashid have also been killed by a drone strike. The Afghan girl was four years old when a missile hit the pick-up of her family in Kunar, also in the east of the country. Fourteen passengers, including Aisha’s parents, were murdered. Only she survived – barely – with a ragged face. Initially, all the victims were described as “militants” by Afghan government officials and local media outlets.
Tariq Aziz, from North Waziristan shared a similar destiny. The 16-year-old anti-drone activist was killed by a drone strike in November 2011, together with his 12-year-old cousin Waheed. Unlike the case of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pashtun girl which was nearly killed by a member of the Pakistani Taliban and received a Nobel Peace Prize, Tariq’s case is widely unknown.
In all the mentioned cases, as well as many other, significant media coverage was nonexistent – or it described the victims as terrorists, extremists, militants, al-Qaida members, and so on. This is happening on a daily basis and there are also reasons why it is happening.
In the case of Sadiq, for example, his family became outraged after they noticed that local media outlets described their son and brother as a “Taliban commander.” On that day, the young Afghan was the only person who has been killed in the area. He never had any connection with any insurgent group, not to mention being a commander of them. One of the media outlets which spread these news was Radio Azadi, an Afghan branch of the US government’s external broadcast services. It should be more than obvious that the main aim of such a media platform is not spreading objective information.
Another example for this behaviour is Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s leading mainstream television channel. Last year, the channel’s news website reported that in July 2015 drone strikes in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed “nearly 250 Taliban and Daesh [Islamic State] insurgents.” The main source for this “reporting” was the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service, which was built by the U.S. in the first days of the NATO invasion.
Tolo TV was created in 2004 by Saad Mohseni, an Afghan businessman who is being called an “Afghan Rupert Murdoch” and is considered one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan. The channel’s creation was mainly funded by the notorious United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is widely known as one of the most important foreign policy tools of the White House.
In general, one can assume that many media outlets in Afghanistan were not created to support journalism and press freedom but to install media institutions who can be useful to represent particular interests. This is also the case in other countries which suffer from drone strikes.
Noor Behram, an investigative journalist from Northern Waziristan, is known for taking pictures of the drone murder scenes and spreading the victims’ faces. After Behram talked with journalists from Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, he experienced that for them, a beard, long hair and a turban or a pakol, a traditional Afghan cap, is enough to describe male drone victims as “terrorists.” But nearly every man in this area looks like that. According to this logic, everyone, even myself when I am staying there, must be a terrorist.
Besides, Behram’s results fit into Washington’s practice that all military-aged males in a strike zone are considered as “militants.”
The U.S. and its allies needed propaganda organs to construct and justify their war on a medial level. Despite the question if this is moral or not, one should agree that it is also very logical because every war is based on propaganda – it was always like that and probably will never change.
But what remains is the question why so many people still believe such a biased media coverage and its constructed narrative of a good war which is only hitting the bad guys.
Emran Feroz is an Afghan-Austrian journalist, writer and activist currently based in Germany. He is the founder of Drone Memorial, a virtual memorial for civilian drone strike victims.