Posts Tagged ‘Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Destabilizing Pakistan

February 9, 2010
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee , TomDispatch.com, February 7, 2010.

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — that is, pilot-less drones — shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in:  a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died.  The numbers are often remarkably precise.  Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from.  In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead.  They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you.  Here’s the reality:  There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate.  Let’s just consider the CIA side of things.  Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness.  As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception.  There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value.  They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report — and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

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Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos

November 14, 2009

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report, November 14, 2009

photo
Blood on the floor and walls of a cell at Abu Ghraib. Defense Secretary Robert Gates invoked his new authority to block images like these from being released under the Freedom of Information Act. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, using authority just granted to him by Congress to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to keep the images under wraps on national security grounds.

In a brief filed with the US Supreme Court late Friday, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said Gates “personally exercised his certification authority” on Friday to withhold the photos and “determined that public disclosure of these photographs would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States.”

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Anti-war Protesters Arrested Outside White House

October 6, 2009
Published on Monday, October 5, 2009 by WJLA News – ABC News (Washington)

In the wake of terrible news out of Afghanistan, there is renewed debate at the Pentagon and White House over the future of the war.

[As the US led war in Afghanistan begins its ninth year this week, activists brought a strong message to the White House that war, torture and drone bombing are outrageous, unacceptable and must end immediately. Sixty-one people were arrested during the protest. (Image source: Flckr by mike.benedetti)]As the US led war in Afghanistan begins its ninth year this week, activists brought a strong message to the White House that war, torture and drone bombing are outrageous, unacceptable and must end immediately. Sixty-one people were arrested during the protest. (Image source: Flckr by mike.benedetti)

In the first five days of the month, there have been more deaths of U.S. service members than in all of October in 2008. And the calls for an end to the war were increasingly loud outside the White House Monday afternoon.In a defiant display with hopes of influencing the president’s plan on Afghanistan, hundreds of people marched from McPherson square chanting and holding signs. Some chained themselves to the White House fence, demanding we leave Afghanistan now and wondering aloud, where’s the “change” they were promised.

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Obama Orders Update to Iran Attack Plan

May 23, 2009
Gates Says “All Options Are On the Table”

by Jason Ditz | Antiwar.com,  May 22, 2009

On NBC’s Today Show this morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that President Obama has ordered him to update the plans for a US attack on Iran, plans which were last updating during the Bush Administration. Gates says the plans are “refreshed” and insists that “all options are on the table” with respect to the potential attack.

It was only a month ago that Secretary Gates was warning vigorously against the potential attack, saying that it would create a “disastrous backlash” against the United States to hit Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. The Obama Administration has insisted it is intending to pursue the matter diplomatically with Iran, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said the administration doesn’t expect diplomacy to work, and the effort seems to be primarily to rally international support for more measures against Iran.

The US has also been sending secret missions to Israel in recent days, reportedly to caution them against launching any surprise military attacks against Iran of their own. It was unclear how successful the warnings were: Prime Minister Netanyahu said he remained confident that the US would respect Israel’s right to attack Iran.

It is unclear whether Gates’ revelation portends a serious potential for an imminent US attack on Iran, or whether the move is more international posturing. Still, it seems unlikely the news will be greeted warmly in Iran, which is in the middle of an election campaign in which potential US talks are a major issue.

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Why Obama Should Reconsider His Afghanistan Pledge

February 16, 2009

Col. Daniel Smith | Foreign Policy In Focus, February 16, 2009

Last week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates briefed President Barack Obama on Afghanistan and the Pentagon’s proposal to send 15,000 more troops there by late spring. Obama is expected to accept the plan as a “down payment” on his pledge during the campaign to put more troops into the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban insurgents. These troops are only about half the number requested by the field commanders, and Gates will return with a new request soon.

This decision — and the original campaign pledge — gave many pause about supporting Obama. It doesn’t serve the interests of either the United States or Afghanistan. After all, no U.S. “vital national interest” is involved. President George W. Bush chose to use military force as a form of retribution for September 11, 2001. And as long as foreign military forces are in Afghanistan, the Afghan people and government can’t exercise full sovereignty in accord with their traditions.

Nor is this decision a positive development for the U.S. soldiers and Marines expected to pick up the pace of operations in Afghanistan. With the “insurgents” adopting tactics from their Iraqi counterparts, the terrible toll of Iraq will be repeated, indeed compounded, in Afghanistan.

The units to be sent as “down payment” will be two Army Brigade Combat Teams and one of Marines. Originally slated for Iraq, they’re going to Afghanistan because security in Iraq has “improved” to the point that fewer U.S. troops are needed there. One unit that had undergone training for deployment to Iraq is already in the process of establishing its base camp in southern Afghanistan.

The Wrong War

Afghanistan isn’t the “good war.” It’s wrong not only for Afghanistan but for U.S. soldiers. Before he agreed to Gates’ request, Obama should have paid close attention to three recent developments.

The first was the Army’s announcement that once again in 2008, a record number of service members — 128 — committed suicide. No Pentagon official was prepared to go on record to discuss the causes of this annual record-setting death toll. Even off-record murmurings were generally confined to the usual financial, personal, legal, and work-related factors. But if one examines the records, what jumps out is the correlation between multiple combat tours (until recently 15 months’ duration), the number of cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and suicides. Over the last four years, 30% of suicides occurred during deployment and 35% after completing a deployment. As for PTSD among soldiers with multiple tours, the rates of occurrence continue to be substantially higher than among soldiers on their first deployment.

There has also been an increase in instances of domestic violence and an accelerating divorce rate for returning troops. For some months, the Pentagon has known that one-third of women serving in the military claimed they were victims of sexual harassment. Last week, CBS News, in a two-part report, said that nationwide police statistics reveal that in 50% of domestic violence cases, at least one person involved was in the military. Over the last 10 years, almost 90 women have been killed.

High-Altitude Assignment

The third development involves the particular geography of Afghanistan. The United States plans to base its reinforcements in an extremely rugged and high-altitude part of Afghanistan. Despite these conditions, the weight of equipment and protective personal armor the individual soldier is expected to carry has gone from a maximum of 65-80 pounds — even as an infantry platoon leader I never came close to carrying such a load on a “forced march” during training — to 130-150 pounds for a typical three-day mission. That’s as much as three times the recommended weight load of 50 pounds per Marine in a 2007 Department of the Navy study. The combination of high altitudes with thinner oxygen, rugged terrain that limits vehicle usage, and the weight of equipment deemed essential is causing a new kind of stress that is putting more troops out of commission. The Army lists 257,000 acute orthopedic injuries (muscular or skeletal stress or fractures) for 2007, up by 10,000 from 2006.

The increased number of troops Obama plans to send to Afghanistan — together with the growing number of temporary and, more seriously, “permanent non-deployables” from physical and psychological stress — could leave the Army once again resorting to enlist anyone who can walk and carry a weapon. That will include many who suffer from PTSD but who, being part of the “warrior culture,” are reluctant to seek help.

Obama was elected in part because the American public was tired of more and more veterans returning home mentally and physically damaged by experiences they didn’t need to endure. Obama may find that, if he continues down this path, “the war Bush forgot” will all too soon turn into “Obama’s war.” And he’ll have to shoulder the responsibility for all the damage done to Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers alike.

Daniel Smith is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. You can contact Dan at dan (at) fcnl (dot) org or reach him at his blog The Quakers’ Colonel.


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