Tag Archives: Bill Roggio

There Was A Very Heavy Fog Of War Today

Warning: Above video is not for children.


WikiLeaks has posted a video on its website which it claims shows the killing of civilians by the US military in Baghdad in 2007.

The website’s organisers say they were given the footage, which they say comes from cameras on US Apache helicopters.

They say they decrypted it, but would not reveal who gave it to them.

The WikiLeaks site campaigns for freedom of information and posts leaked documents online. There has been no Pentagon response to the video so far.

High-quality video

The video, released on Monday, is of high quality and appears to be authentic, the BBC’s Adam Brookes in Washington says.

It is accompanied by a recording of the pilots’ radio transmissions and those of US troops on the ground.

The video shows a street in Baghdad and a group of about eight people, whom the helicopter pilots deem to be insurgents.

It then shows the individuals on the street being shot dead with the Apache’s cannon.

Then, a van drives onto the scene, and its occupants appear to start picking up the wounded.

It, too, is fired upon. Altogether, around 12 people die. Two children appear to be injured.

Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post:

None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.

Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”

The helicopter crew, which was patrolling an area that had been the scene of fierce fighting that morning, said they spotted weapons on members of the first group — although the video shows one gun, at most. The crew also mistook a telephoto lens for a rocket-propelled grenade

Andrew Sullivan posts a reader’s e-mail:

A reader writes:

Soldiers are trained to kill and sometimes in the heat of combat they will engage in killings that are not strictly justified, for example, at Haditha.  But this — all of it — was simply gratuitous and the killing of the wounded journalist and the shooting up of the minivan trying to pick him up to save his life went beyond gratuitous and was just plain sadistic murder.

Forty years ago, when Charlie Company went into My Lai to inflict some collective punishment, a helicopter pilot watching from above saw the carnage and did something to stop it.  Nowadays, helicopter pilots make movies of their killings and beg a wounded man to make a suspect move so they can pump more 1 1/4″ rounds into him.  How completely depraved.

I served four years in the Armed Forces of the United States and was always proud of my service.  Not anymore.

Casual Observer at Firedoglake:

This video (Origin Wikileaks via arabic_news on Twitter) will speak for itself, just a couple of comments.

First, Greenwald has a related post up today regarding the chronic nature and scope of American war propaganda currently holding sway in our media. Highly recommended.

Second, President Obama just minutes ago tweeted that he is planning on “Opening the 2010 baseball season with the first pitch at Nationals Park today.”

The disconnect between our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and our awareness of them here at home is staggering.

John Cole:

They engaged several Reuters photographers, claiming the cameras were weapons, giggling the whole time. Then, when a van came to pick up the wounded, they claimed they were going for weapons and got permission to shoot the people picking up victims.

Fog of war, bitches. Fog of war.

Charli Carpenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

I will definitely be using this film in my class next year. But as an example of what I haven’t decided.

The disjuncture between the images captured by the camera and the information being verbally reported by the helicopter crew is striking. (For example, the crew reports that they are seeing adult males armed with AK47s, but the men on the ground appear unarmed.) Could the film be a fake, and how would we know? (Wikileaks has provided almost no information on its website about the video’s source other than a non-working link. The big “Click here to donate” link above the video on the Wikileaks site works fine, which is troubling.)

I am not saying I don’t believe some Apache gunners made gross errors and the military covered it up, only that user-generated content should always be verified before conclusions are drawn, and Wikileaks’ confidentiality policies make that difficult.

If the footage is completely genuine, what cognitive process is at work here that is leading the pilots to so drastically misinterpret what they are seeing? Or are they in fact wilfully mischaracterizing it and why?

What fascinates me the most is the almost relaxed professionalism with which the chopper crew and ground troops are operating. Does this allow us to infer anything about the rules of engagement US troops were operating with around that time? What can we infer from such footage that can help us in other low-intensity conflicts?

One thing is certain: this doesn’t look like a “firefight with insurgents” that the DoD claimed. BBC has a story about the video with some useful links. Michael Collins at The Agonist has more.

Richard Oppel in NYT:

After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.

The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.

A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.

The disclosure could not come at a worse moment for the American military: NATO officials are struggling to contain fallout from a series of tirades against the foreign military presence by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has also railed against the killing of civilians by Western forces.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

When one hears about something like this, it forces one to think about what the essential character of the American intervention in Afghanistan is. It’s possible to contextualise this sort of slaughter of innocents and subsequent mendacity as accidental collateral violence, followed by terrified stupidity. Perhaps these kinds of incidents are inevitable in war, and should not undermine America’s dedication to the overall effort. Or perhaps they can be prevented through technical measures; as Spencer Ackerman points out, General Stanley McChrystal has curtailed night-time raids and taken closer personal control over special-forces operations precisely to avoid any further such mistakes.

Or, on the other hand, this kind of unfortunate waste of human life may be the basic shape of the NATO intervention, while the noble mission of beating back misogynistic theocracy and building a stable, reasonably democratic government is in fact a fantastical utopian sideshow. This was the fundamental shape of the moral argument that rent American politics in two during the Vietnam war. The men who could never forgive John Kerry for his testimony before Congress were infuriated because he treated the war’s pointless slaughter and periodic atrocities as its essential character. In the view of many who fought, including many South Vietnamese, those things were collateral damage; most of those who fought were honourable, and the fundamental cause was just. But history has sided with Mr Kerry: the pointless slaughter was the essence of the Vietnam war, while the cause of a free and democratic South Vietnam was a weird fantasy.

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent:

The statement has a vague explanation for the February report about the women being bound and gagged: “this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs.” Presumably that means the women were shrouded, but that’s hard to square with U.S. forces being responsible for the actual killing. Additionally, The New York Times further reports that the “lack of forensic evidence” about those dead women civilians may be attributable to Special Operations Forces digging “bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.”

Last month, McChrystal, himself a former Special Operations commander, took greater control over the Special Operations chain of command in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s move was an attempt to end a semi-autonomous war effort that can too often place a giant asterisk on his strategy of prosecuting the war through protecting the civilian population. One area he apparently left untouched is detention operations. Will there be further clarifications in the future about ultimately-untrue statements about the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan?

Glenn Greenwald:

What is clear — yet again — is how completely misinformed and propagandized Americans continue to be by the American media, which constantly “reports” on crucial events in Afghanistan by doing nothing more than mindlessly and unquestioningly passing along U.S. government claims as though they are fact.  Here, for instance, is how the Paktia incident was “reported” by CNN on February 12:

Note how the headline states as fact that the women were dead as the result of an “honor killing.”


All of this is a chronic problem, not an isolated one, with war reporting generally and events in Afghanistan specifically.  Just consider what happened when the U.S. military was forced in 2008 to retract its claims about a brutal air raid in Azizabad.  The Pentagon had vehemently denied the villagers’ claim that close to 100 civilians had been killed and that no Taliban were in the vicinity:  until a video emerged proving the villagers’ claims were true and the Pentagon’s false.  Last week, TPM highlighted a recent, largely overlooked statement from Gen. McChrystal, where he admitted, regarding U.S. killings of Afghans at check points:  “to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. . . . We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”  And as I documented before, the U.S. media constantly repeats false Pentagon claims about American air attacks around the world in order to create the false impression that Key Terrorists were killed while no civilians were.

UPDATE: On the Iraq story, Ed Morrissey:

In the video, starting at the 3:50 mark, one member of this group starts preparing what clearly looks like an RPG launcher, as well as some individuals with AK-47s. The launcher then reappears at the 4:06 mark as the man wielding it sets up a shot for down the street. In 2007 Baghdad, this would be a clear threat to US and Iraqi Army ground forces; in fact, it’s difficult to imagine any other purpose for an RPG launcher at that time and place. That’s exactly the kind of threat that US airborne forces were tasked to detect and destroy, which is why the gunships targeted and shot all of the members of the group.

Another accusation is that US forces fired on and killed rescue workers attempting to carry one of the journalists out of the area. However, the video clearly shows that the vehicle in question bore no markings of a rescue vehicle at all, and the men who ran out of the van to grab the wounded man wore no uniforms identifying themselves as such. Under any rules of engagement, and especially in a terrorist hot zone like Baghdad in 2007, that vehicle would properly be seen as support for the terrorists that had just been engaged and a legitimate target for US forces.  While they didn’t grab weapons before getting shot, the truth is that the gunships didn’t give them the chance to try, either — which is exactly what they’re trained to do.  They don’t need to wait until someone gets hold of the RPG launcher and fires it at the gunship or at the reinforcements that had already begun to approach the scene.  The gunships acted to protect the approaching patrol, which is again the very reason we had them in the air over Baghdad.

War correspondents take huge risks to bring news of a war to readers far away.  What this shows is just how risky it is to embed with terrorists, especially when their enemy controls the air.  War is not the same thing as law enforcement; the US forces had no responsibility for identifying each member of the group and determining their mens rea.  Legitimate rescue operations would have included markings on the vehicle and on uniforms to let hostile forces know to hold fire, and in the absence of that, the hostile forces have every reason to consider the second support group as a legitimate target as well.   It’s heartbreaking for the families of these journalists, but this isn’t “collateral murder” — it’s war.

The Jawa Report:

They’ve even embedded it on a site they call “Collateral Murder.”

These people are beyond stupid, they’re evil.

Worst case scenario this is a few innocent being accidentally killed in the fog of war.

But the video doesn’t even appear to be worst case scenario. It appears, in fact, that the video shows armed insurgents engaging or about to engage US troops. The Reuters camera men had embedded themselves with the insurgents. This makes them enemy combatants themselves and should have been shot.

Reuters has a long history of its local stringers embedding themselves with terrorist forces. Perhaps they do this because they are sympathetic, perhaps they do this to get “the story“, but it matters little to those engaging insurgents.

When you embed yourselves with terrorists you know the risk. You are producing propaganda for them. You have become one of them.

Anything less than this understanding is purposeful naivite about “objective journalism”. In war there can be no objective journalism. You’re either with us or the enemy. If you want to stay neutral stay out of the war zone.

As for those who went in to pick up the bodies? Perhaps they were innocents. I’ve no idea.

But you drive your van into an active military engagement? What the hell were you thinking?

You are stupid. Innocent, but stupid. You’re asking to be killed.

And if you brought children into the midsts of an ongoing military engagement that makes you more than stupid: it makes you criminally negligent.

“It’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle,” says one of the Americans on the video. Indeed it is.

People, this is war. This happens in war. It can’t be avoided. If you want to end civilian casualties then end war. Start by asking armed Islamists to put down their weapons. But you won’t do that because your real objection isn’t war, it’s America. Which is why anti-war activists around the globe never protest al-Qaeda, only America.

They’re not anti-war, they’re anti-American.

Gregg Carlstrom at The Majlis:

There are really two separate issues connected to this incident. One is the cover-up — opening fire on the ambulance, the Pentagon’s refusal to divulge how these people were killed, or to release the video — which is simply inexcusable.

And the attack itself? If you watch the entire video, one or two of the men in the square certainly appear to be armed (though it’s hard to tell from low-resolution gunsight video). Chmagh and Noor-Eldeen presumably knew the risks of standing with armed men in a public square in Baghdad in 2007, and the pilots presumably were on edge (east Baghdad was the site of a major coalition offensive at the time).

None of the men move to engage the helicopter, though; they’re not “committing hostile acts” or “exhibiting hostile intent,” the two conditions under which U.S. forces were authorized to use lethal force in 2007.

Clearly the second condition includes a lot of wiggle room — but I’ve watched the video twice, and I’m hard-pressed to identify anything in the video that appears to be hostile intent. The Apache also made no attempt to “use graduated measures of force” — warning shots, for example — as required by the rules of engagement that were in effect in 2007.

UPDATE #2: Sullivan with a round-up

Bill Roggio at TWS. More Roggio

James Fallows

James Joyner

David Kenner at Foreign Policy

Matthew Yglesias

Brian Doherty at Reason

UPDATE #3: Jawa Report

Megan McArdle

UPDATE #4: Stephen Colbert

Jawa Report on Colbert

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite on Colbert

Jules Crittenden on Colbert

Moe Lane on Colbert

UPDATE #5: On the arrest, Uncle Jimbo of Blackfive

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker


Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, Iraq

Black Widows In Moscow

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal;

Two female suicide bombers detonated their vests during morning rush hour at metro stations in Moscow, killing 37 people and wounding 65 more. The attack was carried out by the Caucasus Emirate’s ‘Black Widows,’ and was foreshadowed by the leader of the terror group in a statement in February.

The first suicide bomber detonated at the Lubyanka metro station at 7:52 a.m. local time, killing 24 people, according to RIA Novosti. The Lubyanka station is near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the notorious KGB.

The second blast took place about 40 minutes later, at the Park Kultury station, which is near the Kremlin, killing 13 people.

The FSB said that an estimated four kilograms of explosives was used in the first suicide attack and 1.5 kilograms was used in the second.

“At present the overall number of the dead as a result of the explosions at the Park Kultury and Lubyanka metro stations is 37, and another 65 were wounded,” Irina Adrianova, the spokeswomen for the Ministry for Emergency Situations told ITAR-TASS.

The FSB believes the attacks were carried out by the ‘Black Widows,’ members of the Caucasus Emirate’s female suicide bomber cadre. The chief of the FSB said the heads of two women have been recovered at the blast sites. The Black Widows are typically wives or daughters of family members killed during the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

The Black Widows have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater in 2003 (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); and the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed).

The Black Widows are a unit within the members of the Riyad-us-Saliheen, or Garden of Paradise, martyr brigade.

Five quick thoughts on the Moscow subway bombing:

1)  Who gets the blame? As Clifford Levy points out in the NYT, “Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature.”  On the other hand, one could see Putin trying to shift the blame onto Russian president Dmitri Medvedev or Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a way to thwart future rivals.  On the other hand, a lot of Russians are already unhappy with the government, and diversionary tactics might not work this time.

2)  Is there an international dimension? Russia’s neighbors in the Caucasus and Central Asia, along with the United States and China, are praying right now that the suicide bombers were entirely domestic in origin and execution.  If there was an international link, one could easily envision nightmare scenarios about Russia’s international response.

3)  How screwed is the North Caucasus?  They were already pretty screwed because of the Putin administration’s attempts to crack down on secessionist groups in the region.  I seriously doubt that this attack is going to cause Russian leaders to rethink their strategy.  If anything, a doubling-down approach is the likely outcome.

4)  Hey, Europe might be relevant again!! The New York Times’ Steve Erlanger reported on the latest Brussels Forum meeting, at which European security and foreign policy officials kept saying, “we’re relevant!!” Given that the highest-ranking U.S. attendee was an Assistant Secretary of State, I’m pretty sure that U.S. officials didn’t think that dog would hunt ex ante.  A Russia ready to lash out, however, is guaranteed to force more transatlantic consultations.

5)  Obama’s counter-terrorism policies don’t look so bad in comparison.  This is unfair — the process matters just as much as the outcome, and it might be that the Obama administration is just luckier than the Medvedev/Putin administration.  Still, the comparison will be made (though Michelle Malkin attempts to link the attacks to Obama’s weaknesses on counterterrorism).


Michelle Malkin:

Here’s a reminder of how the MSM whitewashes jihad from news coverage of Muslim jihadi terrorism in Russia. And another one. And more. Note the difference in how religion is played up in the headline coverage of the FBI raids of obscure Christian militia groups in Michigan versus the headline coverage of the generic “female suicide bombers” who subscribed to the Religion of Pieces. And be prepared to be called an “Islamophobe” for pointing out the striking differences.

Ed Morrissey

Charlie Szrom at The Corner:

Some have concluded that the use of female suicide bombers in the terrorist attack shows how the Chechen conflict is “different than al-Qaeda” and “not about a religious ideology”. There is, however, no tactical difference between this attack and al-Qaeda attacks, and the links between the likely bombers — North Caucasus militants — and the al-Qaeda network is quite clear.

Al-Qaeda has used female suicide bombers. In Iraq, female bombers have taken numerous lives over a period of several years: As recently as February 1, one blew herself up near Baghdad, killing at least 54 pilgrims who were traveling to Karbala to mark the Shi’a holiday of Arba’in. In late January, unnamed U.S. security officials warned that another al-Qaeda franchise (there are three — in Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may be sending female suicide bombers to attack the United States.

No official statement has yet emerged claiming responsibility for today’s attacks in Moscow. However, it is relatively safe to assume that the attackers hailed from the North Caucasus, as the initial assessment by Russian officials has already concluded. After all, there have been no recent incidents of non–North Caucasus–linked terror in Moscow. We should not rush to judgment without a claimant, but it would be reasonable to assume that responsibility for today’s attacks lies with North Caucasus terrorists.

If this is true, today’s terror attack does have significant links to the al-Qaeda network through the North Caucasus insurgency. In April 2008, Ayman al Zawahiri declared the Caucasus to be one of the three primary fronts in al-Qaeda’s struggle. This followed the November 2007 declaration of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus (IEC) by North Caucasus insurgent leader Doku Umarov. Previous leaders of the movement, such as Aslan Maskhadov, had avoided such a move, which clearly aligned the North Caucasus insurgency with the global al-Qaeda movement. The IEC declaration represented the rhetorical culmination by which the most radical — and militant Islamist — portions of the North Caucasus militant groups have increasingly led the insurgency, moving from the support role that radical foreign fighters — including Zawahiri himself — played in the North Caucasus insurgency in the 1990s.

James Joyner:

As I noted in a January 2006 piece for TCS Daily (“Suicide Girls“) neither suicide bombing nor the use of women to carry them out are unique to Islamists.  Both the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Tamil Tigers used female suicide bombers well before the outbreak of the first Chechen War.   But, while the Chechens didn’t pioneer the practice, they did perfect it.

If in fact today’s attack was the leading edge of a new wave of Islamist terrorism against civilian population centers in Russia, it poses interesting questions for Putin and his political future.  His reputation for toughness is his prime asset, so one would expect an immediate crackdown and a gross overreaction would hardly be surprising.

It also provides yet another opportunity to reset his relationship with the United States.   After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration decided that the Chechen rebels were Islamist radicals that needed to be put down rather than freedom fighters under siege from an authoritarian government.  It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration feels about the matter.

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Filed under GWOT, Russia

Habeas In Gitmo’s World

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent:

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A suspected al Qaeda organizer once called “the highest value detainee” at Guantánamo Bay was ordered released by a federal judge in an order issued Monday.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was accused in the 9/11 Commission report of helping recruit Mohammed Atta and other members of the al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, that took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That doesn’t mean Slahi’s release from Guantanamo Bay is imminent, or even definite, said Nancy Hollander, the Albuquerque-based attorney who argued Slahi’s habeas case. “There’s figuring out where he can go, and if the government is going to move for a stay or an appeal,” Hollander said, adding that Slahi “doesn’t even know yet” that he won his case. Nor has Hollander read it: The ruling, by Judge James Robertson, is classified. Hollander or an associate will have to travel to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia just to have a hope of reading it.

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Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal:

Slahi is known to have recruited several al Qaeda operatives before his detention in Mauritania in November 2001. His most high-profile recruits were the top members al Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg, Germany — the key planners and operatives of the 9/11 attack. He was “a significant al Qaeda operative,” who was “well known to U.S. and German intelligence,” according to the 9/11 Commission’s final report.

While in Hamburg in 1999, Slahi arranged for Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the key facilitators of the 9/11 operation, and three of his cohorts to travel from Germany to Afghanistan so that they could train in al Qaeda’s camps and swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Binalshibh’s three friends were: Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah–the suicide pilots of American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, and United Airlines Flight 93, respectively.

Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah met with Slahi in late 1999. Slahi convinced the three terrorists to travel to Afghanistan for training instead of rushing off to Chechnya to fight the Russians. Slahi told the operatives to obtain a Pakistani visa and then provided instructions on “on how to travel to Karachi and then Quetta, where they were to contact someone named Umar al Masri at the Taliban office,” according to the 9/11 Commission.

“Following Slahi’s advice, Atta and Jarrah left Hamburg during the last week of November 1999, bound for Karachi,” the 9/11 Commission report concluded. “Shehhi left for Afghanistan around the same time; Binalshibh, about two weeks later. Binalshibh remembers that when he arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, there was no one named Umar al Masri. The name, apparently, was simply a code; a group of Afghans from the office promptly escorted him to Kandahar. There Binalshibh rejoined Atta and Jarrah, who said they already had pledged loyalty to Bin Laden and urged him to do the same. They also informed him that Shehhi had pledged as well and had already left for the United Arab Emirates to prepare for the mission.”

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Read the whole Carol Rosenberg story. As she notes, the judge in question, James Robertson, has had just one other habeas case. And in spite of the fact that he found that case to be “gossamer thin,” he upheld that prisoner’s detention. Suggesting he has ruled Slahi released either because of the torture he underwent (including threats of death that–we know from the OPR Report–John Yoo had warned were clearly torture), or he was set up in a major way.

And, as Rosenberg further notes, Robertson is the guy who first ruled Hamdan’s case to be unconstitutional.

Golly, you think a judge will finally challenge the notion that the government can just detain someone indefinitely because we tortured him into a false confession?

There’s no way Obama and Holder will sign off on freeing a guy who’s directly connected to 9/11 when they’re mired in negotiations with Congress over closing Gitmo and promising that a decision on where to try KSM is merely “weeks away.” Quoth The One last May, while he stood in front of the Constitution: “I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people,” even if the evidence against them is so tainted as to make them untriable. Slahi is a textbook case; the question is whether Obama will keep his word and try to develop “clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category” or whether he’ll pack Slahi off to Canada or Mauritania or god knows where else in the hope that they’ll lock him up there. In the meantime, I assume they’ll delay by appealing the ruling: Even if they lose and the media has a fainting spell over the techniques applied to Slahi, the White House can blame Bush and celebrate this as a vindication of the due process principle by which untriable archterrorists must be returned to the battlefield.

Daniel Foster at The Corner

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That’s Not Santa On Their Roof

Bill Roggio at Long War Journal:

The leader and the second in command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as a radical, Yemeni-American cleric who is said to have inspired the Ft. Hood massacre, are said to have been killed during an airstrike in Yemen today, according to Yemeni officials. The deaths have not been confirmed by the US.

The Yemeni Air Force targeted Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his deputy Said al Shihri, as they gathered for a high-level meeting of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The terror group’s top leaders were thought to have been gathering at the home of Anwar al Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who provided religious justification for US Army Major Nidal Hasan to carry out a deadly shooting spree against US soldiers in Ft. Hood, Texas.

Wuhayshi and Shihri are said to have held the meeting at Awlaki’s home to plot a response to last week’s controversial cruise missile attack against terror camps in Sana’a and Abyan, Saba News, the official outlet of the Yemeni government, reported. The strike took place in the Al Said district in the Shabwa province. The government claimed that “about 30 al Qaeda suspects from Yemeni and foreign nationalities” were killed.

Wuhayshi is thought to have survived the strike, but the status of Shihri and Awlaki is unknown, according to the Yemen Observer.

US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the status of Wuhayshi, Shihri, or Awlaki, nor would they discuss any US role in today’s strike. The US carried out the Dec. 17 strike using air-launched cruise missiles.

Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard:

The rest of the piece goes on to explain that no one knows for sure yet who exactly was killed in the strike. In addition to Aulaqi, the top leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) may have been present. This includes Nasir Wuhayshi (an al Qaeda bigwig with direct ties to al Qaeda central’s leadership in northern Pakistan) and Said al Shihri (who is reportedly AQAP’s #2).

If the name Said al Shihri rings a bell it is probably because there were a significant number of reports on al Shihri’s rise earlier this year. Al Shihri is now among Guantanamo’s most famous alumni.

But, let’s get back to Aulaqi. When Aulaqi’s ties to Major Nidal Malik Hassan first surfaced in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, the FBI was quick to pooh-pooh them. The Bureau claimed that Hassan’s numerous emails back and forth with Aulaqi were consistent with Hassan’s research. (Maj. Hassan was reportedly researching the psychological effects of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

This was transparently false. There is no legitimate reason for a Major in the U.S. Army to contact a leading al Qaeda cleric with ties to the September 11 hijackers (Aulaqi assisted at least two of them en route to their day of terror as a “spiritual advisor”). Aulaqi does not have anything legitimate to say about the psychological effects of combat on U.S. troops other than, as a leading al Qaeda ideologue, he is all for them. Also, we’ve come to learn that Hassan said something to the effect that he couldn’t wait to join Aulaqi in the afterlife.

Got that? Major Hassan -– who professed his admiration of suicide bombings and offered a theological justification for them in a June 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Hospital -– told a top jihadist ideologue, who preaches the virtues of suicide bombings, that he couldn’t wait to be reunited in the next life.

Ed Morrissey:

If one was inclined to see  the well-deserved death of Anwar al-Awlaki in the Yemen strike as a gift from Santa Claus, perhaps we can consider Saeed Ali al-Shehri as a stocking stuffer.  Jake Tapper reports that Shihri, a former Gitmo detainee released by the Bush administration who returned to help lead al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed in the same strike that killed Awlaki and a total of 30 attendees of an AQ leadership meeting (via No Runny Eggs):

Those believed to have been present at the target in the eastern province Shabwa included the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahayshi, his No. 2, Saeed al-Shehri, and Anwar al-Awlaki, who was quoted telling Al Jazeera Web that Maj. Nidal Hasan, asked him “about killing U.S. soldiers and officers. His question was is it legitimate” under Islamic law.

Tapper reminds his readers of Shehri’s journey:

Saeed al-Shehri, a Saudi and former detainee at Guantanamo, was transferred to the Saudi government by the administration of President George W. Bush on November 9, 2007. He went through jihadi rehab at the “Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling,” where participants undergo a 12-step program to prepare them to return to society. Al-Shehri instead returned to al Qaeda.

If nothing else, this shows the folly of returning hardened terrorists to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a move that the Obama administration plans to make with almost 100 current Gitmo inmates.  Jihadi rehab has a fairly high recidivism rate, and they’re not curing alcoholics.  Shehri should never have been released in the first place, and the fact that we had to go after him twice should make us think twice about releasing any more, especially in Yemen.

Good news if true.  Yes, there are frequent false reports of senior terrorist leaders meeting their demise and, yes, they seem to be able to replace their top lieutenants and continuing marching forward.  On the other hand, as Bernard Finel and Christine Bartolf report, ” several indicators that suggest al Qaeda is losing relevance.”   While “overall Islamist terrorist violence has risen 20-30 percent since last year – which is the highest point it has ever been . . . evidence also shows that the reach and power of al Qaeda has diminished significantly and become more focused on local political leaders, rather than at the United States and the West.”

This, incidentally, belies the notion that Afghanistan — or even Pakistan — is the key to beating back al Qaeda.  They’re back to their roots as a series of regional Islamist terror cells, which means they can operate just as effectively in Yemen or any other country with a significant Islamist sympathy and a weak government.

Taylor Marsh:

Interesting interview on Obama’s shifting Yemeni strategy gives details behind recent strikes in that country, which takes our aiding Yemeni leaders with anti- support through equipment to another level.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald

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While You Were Watching The Continuing Tiger Woods Saga…

Steven Lee Myers at NYT:

A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials.

Five bombs in all, including at least three suicide attacks, struck near a college, a court complex in western Baghdad, a mosque and a market and a neighborhood near the Interior Ministry in what appeared to be a coordinated assault on the capital.

The blasts began shortly after 10 a.m. and reverberated through the city for the next 50 minutes, sending enormous plumes of black smoke into the air.

The attacks came as Iraq’s Presidency Council announced a date — March 6 — for the country’s long-delayed parliamentary elections. And furor over Tuesday’s bombings immediately became political, with prospective candidates blaming the security forces and the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for failing, once again, to secure the heart of Baghdad.


I don’t even know which war is the other war anymore.

BAGHDAD — A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials.

They’re still sucking on it, Little Tommy Friedman!!

Max Boot at Commentary:

Sigh. Another month, another bombing. Baghdad was rocked by massive car bombs in August and October. Now comes another one, this time killing at least 120 people. Odds are that al-Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for all these blasts, which underscores just how fragile the security situation remains despite all the progress that has been made since 2007. But in the “two steps forward, one step back” (or is that one forward and two back?) routine that has become characteristic of Iraq, there is also good news to announce: a date has finally been announced for Iraq’s next national elections — March 6. That’s later than was supposed to be, but better a late agreement than none at all.

Will the good continue to outweigh the bad in the future, as it has so far in 2009? Or will al-Qaeda’s attempts to trigger a wider conflict pay off? It is impossible to know. All we can know for sure is that the presence of U.S. troops provides a vital stabilizing element that prevents Iraq from going off the rails entirely. That is why it is so important that the Obama administration continue to show flexibility in its troop drawdown and not get locked into a premature exit that could jeopardize all the progress that has been made so far.

Andrew Sullivan:

So between August and September 2009, US forces have actually had to increase their support of Iraq’s security forces, not decrease it on the way out.

Now, of course, emergency response to this kind of spectacular mass murder is different than day-to-day policing. And the pace of attacks remains much much lower than the worst period. But what you have here is a Sunni Qaeda terror group still able to attack largely Shiite targets – in the recent case, even a particularly wicked attack on a school.

Sectarian tension pushed the election back two months; and al Qaeda is determined to exploit it again to rip the country to pieces. And this is happening with 120,000 US troops still in the country, and before elections that could generate any number of sectarian tensions.

Those who believe Iraq is over as a story are not, in my judgment, paying attention.

Eli Lake at The Washington Times

UPDATE: Bill Roggio at Long War Journal

UPDATE #2: Matthew Duss from Think Progress and Eli Lake on Bloggingheads

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More Things Happen In The World Than Kanye West’s Mouth


Bill Roggio at The Weekly Standard:

Yesterday’s bold raid in Somalia by U.S. Navy SEALs that kiled senior al Qaeda leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was a big victory for those seeking justice in two of East Africa’s most deadly terror attacks. SEALs swooped in on helicopters near the southern town of Barawe, shot up Nabhan’s car, dismounted from the helos to recover Nabhan’s body, and quickly left the scene. This happened in territory controlled by Shabaab, the al Qaeda surrogate in Somalia. Nabhan was also a senior leader in Shabaab who has been a major player in trying to get the two groups to merge.

Nabhan has been one of the most sought after al Qaeda operatives in Africa. He is wanted for involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attack in Nairobi, Kenya, resulted in 212 killed and more than 4,000 wounded. The attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, resulted in 11 killed and 85 wounded. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; and Abu Taha al Sudani, the leader of al Qaeda’s network in East Africa, were also behind the attacks. Sudani was killed during the fighting to oust the Islamic Courts in early 2007.

Nabhan is also wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with the 2002 attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, against a hotel and an airliner. In near-simultaneous attacks, Nabhan targeted a hotel frequented by Israelis and an Israeli-chartered airplane. Suicide bombers rammed a truck into the lobby of a hotel popular with Israeli tourists; 13 were killed and 80 wounded. At the same time as the hotel attack, al Qaeda launched two Strela surface-to-air missiles at an Arkia Airlines jet. The missiles missed their targets.

Steve Benen

David Kopel


While there was not much enthusiasm from commenters here for giving credit to President Obama after the pirate standoff ended, since there was some question about whether the White House specifically authorized force in April or simply permitted the ROEs to stay in place (after some delay), the signing of an EO in this case leaves little doubt. So, props to President Obama for approving the whacking of this terrorist.

Steve Hynd:

Given a far smaller footprint of US and allied troops in Afghanistan, say around 20,000, there’s no obvious reason that spings to my mind why this raid couldn’t be duplicated in Afghanistan as part of a Rory Stewart style counter-terrorism effort there.

Spencer Ackerman:

It’s a poor idea to set strategy based on one specific example, but. Special Forces troops appear to have pulled off a raid in Somalia that killed the asshole who tried to down that Israeli passenger jet in 2002 and now serves (well, until yesterday) as a link between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal areas. The attack occurred by helicopter and was based from a “small Naval vessel,” according to the Post‘s Karen DeYoung. Now that is how you do offshore-based counterterrorism. Steve Hynd argues that, with sufficient adjustments, this could be a model for counterterrorism in the tribal areas. (Obviously, for instance, we’re talking about a landlocked area, etc.)  And: maybe. Let’s let the smoke clear and then examine the exportable and the specific aspects of the attack.

Tom Maguire

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In The Club, They’re Playing “Bombs Over Baghdad” Again


(Photo by Khalid Mohammed, AP)

Sam Dagher in the New York Times:

At least 95 people were killed and 563 wounded in a series of truck bombings and other attacks on Wednesday that rocked areas around official buildings in central Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

Taken together, the attacks were among the most devastating in Baghdad since the withdrawal of American forces from street patrols at the end of June. American soldiers and officials in the area were left helpless to oversee the devastation, as the most six soldiers could do was snap a few quick pictures from personal cameras before ducking out of the streets.

The explosions, at least one of them close to the heavily fortified Green Zone security area, sent plumes of dark smoke billowing over the capital, ripped a gaping hole in a compound wall and set cars ablaze, trapping drivers inside.

Alsumaria, an Iraqi blog:

A car bomb in Taji killed five people while a joint Iraqi and US patrol escaped the bombing that occured in traffic jam.
In Mosul, two policemen were killed and a civilian was wounded when a gunman opened fire on a checkpoint in central the city.
An awakening force member was killed and two others were wounded in Al Musayyib District, security sources reported.

James Joyner:

Sadly, the terrorists will likely always have the capability to wreak havok in this manner.  That’s true even in very secure societies, with Israel being the most obvious example.

We’ll simply never be able to withdraw from Iraq if perfect security is the benchmark.  It’s in our interest to continue to provide logistical and technical support indefinitely; but we’ve past the point where a continued large scale military presence will provide additional benefits.

Spencer Ackerman:

The New York Times reports the mood on the street:

The reporter saw six American soldiers take photographs at the wrecked ministry and then quickly leave, apparently to avoid the anger of Iraqis who blamed the attack on the 2003 American invasion.

“This country is finished. It’s just robbery and killing,” saud Jamil Jaber, 45, whose five-room home behind the foreign ministry had been flattened by the explosion, crushing to death a four-month-old child. “Dam America. Dam Bush,” he said.

Any day now, Jamil will move to rename some street in Baghdad the George Bush Liberation Avenue. It’s coming!

Bill Roggio at Long War Journal:

While no terror group has taken credit for the attack, al Qaeda in Iraq is the primary suspect. Security forces detained two members of an al Qaeda bombing cell as they attempted to plant a bomb to be used during today’s attack.

Today’s strike is the largest in Baghdad since Iraqi forces took control of security in the capital and in the major cities in June. The month of July had the lowest recorded casualties in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The coordinated attack may lead the Iraqi government to reconsider its decision to remove the concrete blast walls that were erected throughout the city in 2007 and 2008 to contain the effects of large bombings and restrict the movement of bombing cells.

UPDATE: Christian Brose in Foreign Policy

Chris Dierkes at The League and, via Dierkes, Steve Hynd

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Are You Sleeping Soundly At Night? Well, We Can Change That


Shuan Gregory started a commotion with this CTC Sentinel article on Pakistan nukes. In it, he cites Bill Roggio’s Long War Journal, here and here.

Peter Bergen in Foreign Policy:

A subset of the question how stable Pakistan is is the question of how secure are its nuclear weapons. By far the best-informed and well-calibrated response (pdf) I have yet seen to this question can be found in the July issue of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center’s indispensible online monthly The Sentinel.

Shaun Gregory, a professor at Bradford University in the UK, acknowledges the great strides the Pakistanis have made in securing their weapons (with some US help he doesn’t mention) but he also points out something that was news to me (and shouldn’t have been) which is that a series of attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facilities have already happened. According to Gregory, “These have included an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan’s nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan’s main nuclear weapons assembly sites.”

The Lede Blog at NYT:

At a news conference on Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, was asked about Mr. Gregory’s article and reminded reporters that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have repeatedly said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure. Mr. Morrell said:

I can just repeat what you’ve heard time and time again from Chairman Mullen and from Secretary Gates, that they are comfortable with the security measures the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military have in place to ensure that their nuclear arsenal is safeguarded.

Even if these attacks were not launched to help militants seize nuclear material, Mr. Gregory’s article does underscore that Pakistan’s nuclear sites do tend to be located in uncomfortable proximity to the part of the country Islamists now control.


Shaun Gregory, whose article is discussed above, responded to a note from The Lede after this post was published. Mr. Gregory said that he fears that his words “have been misrepresented in some quarters” and made it clear that he did not mean that the attacks themselves were on the nuclear weapons or weapons components but on bases known to have nuclear weapons or a role in the nuclear program.

He wishes to make clear that he was not arguing that the Islamist militants had made it inside the bases, or that they were specifically targeting the nuclear materials. He told The Lede that he had hoped to convey the notion encapsulated by the phrase “the barbarians are at the gate,” to echo, he said, the Roman idea of a threat outside a citadel.

He stressed that his point was that Islamist militants had reached the gates of bases believed to hosue some parts of in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and had the potential in the future to conduct different type of operations, using the combination a suicide bomb attacks and ground combatants — as, he notes, the militants have done in other parts of the country — to either seek to destroy or gain access to nuclear weapons or components.

Declan Walsh at The Guardian:

A military spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said Gregory’s claims were “factually incorrect” and part of a western propaganda campaign to “malign Pakistan and its nuclear facilities”.

The bases at Wah, Sargodha and Kamra were used to manufacture conventional weapons, ammunition and fighters jet, he said. “There are military facilities, not nuclear installations.”

The suicide attacks were widely reported when they occurred and generally were not linked to Pakistan’s secretive nuclear programme, which has an estimated 60 to 100 warheads.

Gregory cited a US website, the Long War Journal, as the source for his claims, the most contentious of which surrounds the Wah complex. When it was bombed in August 2008, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, saying it was retaliation for army-inflicted civilian deaths in the tribal belt.

Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst who ran the factory for eight years in the 1980s, said the nuclear link was “absolute nonsense”.

Lisa Curtis at The Heritage Foundation:

Before jumping to conclusions that al-Qaeda is about to grab a Pakistan nuke, though, observers should note that the U.S. has been assisting Pakistan with improving the security of its nuclear assets since 9/11 and has spent some $100 million on programs to increase personnel reliability and to establish permissive action links on nuclear facilities. Second, even before 9/11, the Pakistan army had an interest in safeguarding its nuclear facilities and therefore almost certainly has dispersed its nuclear assets throughout the country, making it nearly impossible for terrorists to gain access to an assembled nuclear weapon, especially through a single violent attack.

A more plausible scenario is one in which extremists infiltrate the nuclear establishment slowly over time and gain access to nuclear materials or technology that could help them eventually build a nuclear device themselves or even a dirty bomb. The fact that elements of Pakistan’s army and intelligence service retain links to extremists who they view as strategic assets in pursuing goals vis a vis Afghanistan and India opens the door for the unwelcome possibility of Pakistani officials (with access to nuclear information) developing sympathy for al-Qaeda goals. Earlier revelations about a group of former Pakistani military officials and nuclear scientists who met with Osama bin Laden in August 2001 remind us of the very real possibility of al-Qaeda gaining nuclear know-how from former Pakistani officials with access to such information.

Vipin Narang in Foreign Policy:

So what are the primary risks to the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

In answering this question, it is important to differentiate between the various organizations involved with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and where and when nuclear assets are more or less vulnerable to internal and external threats. The bigger threat is probably not the Army losing control of nuclear assets, but rather insider-outsider collusion or diversion of nuclear material from the civilian nuclear agencies during either the production phase or transfer to Army locations.

The good news is that once the Pakistani Army takes custody of nuclear assets, the threat of terrorists successfully boosting a warhead or fissile cores — either through direct attack or facilitated by insiders — is reassuringly low. The Pakistani Army has every incentive to ensure firm control over the country’s nuclear assets since, should they be lost or stolen, there would literally be hell to pay.


Now, for the potentially bad news. As Gregory, Khan, and Mowatt-Larssen all suggest, the primary risk to the Pakistani Army’s ability to safely secure nuclear assets in its custody would likely be during crisis scenarios — either against India or due to a perceived Western threat to the integrity of Pakistan’s arsenal — that might cause Pakistan to move to a higher state of nuclear readiness. If the Army feels compelled to rapidly disperse or relocate nuclear components and loses the defensive advantage of protecting them in secure fixed locations, insider foreknowledge of movements and the loss of centralized control could increase the probability of theft or loss.

Shuja Nawaz in Foreign Policy:

Unfortunately, the message published on the AfPak Channel was picked up worldwide with the speed of a brush fire and its assumptions are not supported by the facts about these three attacks. None of them was aimed at getting into or seeking control of nuclear assets.

Bear in mind the following:

The facility at Wah is a massive ordnance complex that is known to manufacture conventional weapons. It may or may not have nuclear weapons facilities inside its enormous perimeter. Gregory does not offer any evidence on its nuclear activity. The attack of  August 21,  2008, on one gate and another explosion in a bazaar near another gate of the Wah facility was acknowledged to the BBC by Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar as retaliation for the deaths of “innocent women and children” in the tribal territory of Bajaur. No mention of any intent to penetrate or capture nukes.

The attack of November 1, 2007, on the Pakistan Air Force bus carrying trainees near Sargodha in Central Punjab also was not an attack on a nuclear facility or storage site. It was a lone suicide bomber on a motorcycle who crashed into the bus carrying the airmen. Security experts saw this as retaliation for the air force attacks the previous months in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan.

Again, one may assume that the Sargodha air base might be used for loading or launching airborne nuclear weapons. But there was no indication that this was an attack aimed at the Pakistani nuclear facilities or capabilities. Sargodha lies on the road often used by Sunni Punjabi militant groups traveling to the Afghan border region where they support the Pakistani Taliban, and sometimes al Qaeda, as franchisees. This may well have been their bloody handiwork against a target of opportunity. But there’s no evidence of any attack on nuclear facilities here either.

The third attack on Kamra in December 2007 again does not provide any evidence of a plan to penetrate the aeronautical complex where military and civilian aircraft and spare parts are manufactured. The target was a bus carrying more than 30 children of Air Force personnel on their way to a school inside the complex. At least five of them were injured. Kamra produces, among other things, parts for the Boeing 777. There is no evidence offered by Gregory of any nuclear work being conducted at Kamra.

The blogosphere has now picked up this story and no doubt it will become part of the hyperbolic record on Pakistan’s nuclear safeguards. Unless it is retracted or clarified by the source: Shaun Gregory.

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He’s The Terrorist Version of Abe Vigoda


Is he dead or alive?

Let’s start with the idea of him being dead.

Andrew Sullivan:

Killing the leader of the group that protected bin Laden seems like a big deal to me. Think for a minute about the attempt to paint Obama as Carter. Now think of three real-time operations – the killing of the Somali pirates, the release of the NoKo hostages, and now the targeted killing of the Taliban’s leader. Does that sound like Jimmy Carter to you? Now how about getting Osama? Wouldn’t that be a coup? I suspect he’s working hard on it.

Ed Morrissey:

Who gets to take Mehsud’s place as the bulls-eye for NATO forces now?  The BBC lists three potential candidates, including one of Mehsud’s family and Maulana Azmatullah.  None of them are well-known by Westerners, but all are high-ranking leaders in the Pakistani Taliban.  Mehsud’s death would strike a blow at TiT, but not one that would be fatal to the network.  It would, however, disrupt their communications with al-Qaeda and introduce the risk of infighting as various factions jockey for power.

If the BBC is correct at Mehsud has reached room temperature, then it’s a victory for NATO.   It’s not the end of the war, but it’s a step closer to victory.

Marc Ambinder:

It’s easy to speculate how his death will effect Pakistani public opinion toward the U.S, but I’m not an expert, and so I’ll leave the speculation to others. Mehsud was an enemy of the government, but he is one of many, and his organization remains intact.

Domestically, the death may help solve a legitimacy problem the administration is confronting.

President Obama and his generals have been inundated with bad news from Afghanistan and even worse news about the public’s willingness to tolerate the U.S. presence there. As the administration completes its latest theater-wide review, it’s widely expected that the options given to the president will be pared down to two: if you want to win, we need a lot more troops and money. If we think the region is stable enough, we should begin to leave.

The Obama administration would prefer to “win” — that is, significantly weaken the Taliban infrastructure in Pakistan and Afghanistan and isolate Al Qaeda, but it is by no means clear that Congress agrees that this goal ought to be a foreign policy priority. There is almost zero political will among Democrats in the House, in particular, to significantly increase funding for what’s now called “overseas contingency operations.” Yesterday, administration counterterroism chief John Brennan made it clear that the fight against Al Qaeda cannot be won without priority being given to “upstream” factors like development, civil society and engagement. The irony — and what makes the administration anxious — is that if Congress refuses to spend more money, the military and intelligence arms of the war will be prioritized over the building of civil society and the engagement with Afghans and Pakistanis.

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal:

The likely death of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has reportedly initiated a meeting of the Taliban shura to choose his successor.

Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud, both cousins of Baitullah, have long been thought to be the main rivals for leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group Baitullah formed in December 2007. Others mentioned include Waliur Rahman, a Taliban commander in South Waziristan; Azmatullah Mehsud, a close aide to Baitullah; and Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan.

Hakeemullah is reported to be in the lead to fill Baitullah’s role as the emir of the Pakistani Taliban, according to a report in AKI.

The Jawa Report

Steve Benen

DiA at The Economist on right-wing blog response:

OFTEN when news breaks, I look around a few blogs I know well to take the temperature of how it’s playing. The National Review has long been my temperature gauge for mainstream conservativism—it’s about as orthodox as Republican outlets get. The writers at the Corner blog seem to get up early: there are already 16 posts up today. As of this typing (10:02 am), there is a post laughing at the Obama administration’s efforts to “ban” the phrase “war on terrorism” (of course nothing is being banned: the administration has just decided, sensibly, to stop using the phrase.) Cliff May gets in a non-sequitur joke, that now we should start calling the two world wars “Overseas Contingency Operation I” and “Overseas Contingency Operation II”.

Curiously unmentioned on the blog is that the CIA has killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The actual war on terrorism (if you must) is, apparently, of no interest to modern conservatives. Playing lame word-games to show that the administration is not serious about terror is more important than noting, in any form whatsoever, the killing of the man believed to be behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and countless terror attacks. It’s the biggest one-man death since Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed. And at National Review, crickets, tumbleweed and, for Pete’s sake, two posts already today on Trotsky.

Maybe that is indicative. During the struggle against communism, William F. Buckley’s magazine cared deeply about the outcome. It was a necessary publication in a scary world. Perhaps better to think about those good old days. Baitullah who? Hey, look over there! A Mexican immigrant!

Three posts from Spencer Ackerman, here, here and here. Ackerman:

It’s not that Mehsud is an unimportant figure, or that movements can’t fracture with the deaths of their leaders. A commenter, Abdullah, at the Windy, noted, “Mehsud is/was a person who was increasingly isolated in Pakistan and even in his own Mehsud Tribe. He lost support after people saw his men blasting hotels, mass killing ordinary people and blowing up girls schools.” But the issue is that insurgent groups tend to organize themselves precisely for survivability in the event of decapitation. In Iraq, the U.S. killed and detained a lot of al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, but only when the Sunni Iraqi population decisively turned against AQI did the terrorist network find itself, for all strategic purposes, defeated.

I’m not saying that what happened in Iraq is guaranteed to repeat itself in Pakistan. But the New York Times reports that already Mehsud’s deputies are meeting to see who replaces him and where the movement goes next. This is an opportunity that the Pakistani military and its government can seize or can miss. And like Abu Muqawama, my sense is that the Pakistanis are primed to miss it. “The successors are all non-entities,” a former tribal-area security chief scoffed to the Times.

We’re only deluding ourselves if we think that the decisive moment for Pakistan’s victory over the Taliban was Mehsud’s death. And after eight long years of this, we have no excuse for those delusions.

Spencer links to Annie Lowrey at FP:

One initial thought: If Mehsud is dead (and keep in mind, it’s been falsely reported before), it counts most as a major victory for U.S. proponents of drone strikes. The argument against drone strikes is that they are too bloody, too ineffective, and too divisive among local populations and governments.

But if the U.S. military can kill such looming figures in the radical world without sacrificing a single troop, or ground efforts, or too many civilians? We’re looking at a very different vision of counter-terrorism and war.

But is he dead? The Indian news:

A lieutenant of Pakistan’s enemy no. 1 Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday rejected reports of the Pak-Taliban chief’s death in a US drone strike.

BBC quoted Commander Hakimullah Mehsud – who some analysts suggest may be positioning himself to succeed Baitullah Mehsud – as saying that the reports of Mehsud’s death were the work of US and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

“The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies. We know what our enemies want to achieve – it’s the joint policy of the ISI and FBI – they want our chief to come out in the open so they can achieve their target,” Mehsud said.

He said the Pakistani leader had decided to adopt the tactics of Osama bin Laden and stay silent. He said he would issue a message in the next few days.

Huffington Post

UPDATE: So he’s alive, we’re thinking?

Michael Crowley at TNR

Bill Roggio at TWS

UPDATE #2: No, he’s dead

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The War Continues On All Sides

Pfc Bowe Bergdahl captured by the Taliban.

The Jawa Report:

Until Bowe Bergdahl’s captors are dead I will not rest. For those who speak of coming to some sort of agreement with the Taliban I would remind you of the kind of scum we are talking about.

I wasn’t planning on coming back to the blog for a few days in order to sort my personal affairs out after a prolonged vacation went very very bad. To be honest I was questioning whether or not I would come back at all.

But it’s as if I’ve been awakened from a slumber and I can’t recall why I ever went to sleep. This video reminds me why I began to blog in the first place. I want these Taliban dead. Killed. Annihilated.

I’m back, and I declare war on the Taliban.

Joseph Weber in the Washington Times:

Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban, is known as a born adventurer around his hometown of Ketchum, Idaho — a town made famous for its breathtaking wilderness and those drawn to its challenges.

“Bowe’s a pretty impressive young man,” said Sue Martin, Pcf. Bergdahl’s former employer at Zaney’s River Street Coffee House and a family spokeswoman. She spoke to The Washington Times America’s Morning News radio show on Monday morning. “You don’t miss him. He’s a strong presence, very interesting, very diverse — an adventurer. He’s a really great guy.”

The coffee shop, trimmed in yellow ribbons and posters, has become the unofficial home for friends and well-wishers of the Bergdahl family and is about 10 miles outside of Sun Valley and Ketchum, whose valley streams and nearby mountains attracted and inspired American novelist Ernest Hemingway.

Bill Roggio in TWS:

If you watch the complete Taliban propaganda video of the U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan, you can see that the Taliban are extremely media savvy. They are closely following U.S. newspapers. The soldier was asked about American support for Afghan warlord General Dostum despite accusations he slaughtered thousands of captured Taliban fighters in 2001. That story was just breaking here as the soldier was being interviewed. The video shows other timely questions taken from current news.

I fully expect the captured soldier to be required to respond to Secretary Gates’ remarks in a future Taliban video. The soldier has already been forced to comment upon about US troop morale and the mission in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates just handed the Taliban the ideal follow-up question on a silver platter.

Jules Crittenden:

This remains an unusual case. Unclear what this kid was doing, what the intentions of his captors may be. The Taliban have shown significantly more interest in horsetrading than al Qaeda, which has been mainly interested in shock value. This captured soldier is of significantly higher value than the assorted aid workers captured before, and there is probably a fair amount of angling going on over who gets to keep him and what they’ll do with him. There is also the question of what kind of deal, if any, the United States might be willing to make, or allow to be made on its behalf by others.

Michelle Malkin questions:

Received from a USARPAC soldier this morning:

“Please don’t list my name– I am here in Afghanistan– I know the story and the accounts that he was drunk or that he was lagging behind on patrol are not true– this soldier planned this move for a long time. He walked off the post with a day’s supply of water and had written down before that he wanted to live in the mountains. He has violated the Code of Conduct in his 28 minute speech and he is an e[m]barrassment to everyone who has worn the uniform. He made it to two towns and was asking for water when the locals turned him over to the Taliban. That is really all I can say– since we are still looking for this soldier.”

P.J. Tobia:

Now, somebody close to the people searching for Bergdahl has repeated this assertion saying that the soldier left “a note behind that said he was going to the mountains to find himself. He took a journal and 4 or 5 knives with him.” My source tells me that Bergdahl arrived at a village and asked if anybody spoke English. That’s when he was captured.

My source tells me that there is no doubt Bergdahl deserted, which in a time of war is punishable by a court martial at the least, or even execution.

Spencer Ackerman:

This is so loathsome and repugnant I want to note this without comment. Peters needs to apologize to Pfc. Bergdahl’s family, and then, when, insh’allah, Bergdahl comes home safely, to Bergdahl’s face.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #2: More Sullivan, checking up on the story.

UPDATE #3: More Sullivan

UPDATE #4: Peter Worthington at FrumForum


Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, Military Issues