from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Afghanistan, and the North Korean Nuclear Program

U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).
U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).

March 30, 2012

U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).
U.S. Army soldiers shield themselves as a Medivac helicopter takes off from Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Bob Strong).
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At least 26 US military and CIA strikes involving cruise missiles, aircraft, drones or naval bombardments have taken place in the volatile Gulf nation to date, killing hundreds of alleged militants linked to the regional al Qaeda franchise. But at least 54 civilians have died too, the study found.

In the latest attack, US drones struck three areas of the rebel-held city of Zinjibar on March 22, killing up to 30 al Qaeda-linked militants, according to Yemen intelligence officials. Naval vessels – possibly American – also bombarded the city.

The missile strike ‘targeted vehicles and bases of the al Qaeda group. A lot of people were apparently killed and their vehicles were completely destroyed at the scene,’ eyewitnesses told news agency Xinhua.

At least five US attacks – some involving multiple targets – have so far taken place in Yemen this month alone, in support of a government offensive to drive militants from key locations. In comparison, Pakistan’s tribal areas, the epicenter of the CIA’s controversial drone war, have seen just three US drone strikes in March.

U.S. officials said they are investigating 30 percent more cases this year than three years ago. U.S. agencies have deployed agents posing as arms brokers at more than 20 undercover companies targeting smugglers, said the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Undercover arms smuggling investigations typically take two to four years to unfold, one of the officials said, which is why he expects an increase in indictments soon.

"We’ve got some good undercover cases going," a senior U.S. official said.

A controversial proposal for a joint Australian-US military air base in the Indian Ocean could lead to the launch of drone spy flights across the region, according to officials quoted in Washington.

The proposed base on the Australian-controlled Cocos Islands would form part of a major expansion of ties between Canberra and Washington as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to south-east Asia.

QUESTION: But what about the whole idea that you don’t link food with political discussions?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this before. We talked about it on the day that this initially came up. We don’t link food with the nuclear issue, but we do have to have confidence in the commitments that the government is making to us with regard to the monitoring situation before one could go forward. This is a government that turned around in a matter of weeks and undid what it had said on the nuclear side, so how can one have confidence in what they’ve said on the monitoring side? And we’re not going to send food to a country where it might be diverted to the elites. That’s not what the American taxpayers want to support.

QUESTION: But that does make it sound like it’s a link.

MS. NULAND: There’s a link in the sense that we don’t have confidence in the good faith of the government.

QUESTION: I’m confused by that because you said that nutritional assistance, not food aid, would be done in such a way that it would be impossible to divert. You were talking about baby vitamins and things like this.

MS. NULAND: But again, we have to be able to get it in in the way that we’ve agreed, we have to be able to distribute it with the groups that we’ve agreed, we have to be able to have the monitoring ourselves on it that we’ve agreed to. All of that requires the government’s cooperation.

QUESTION: Well, have they said that they won’t cooperate on that particular issue?

MS. NULAND: We haven’t had those conversations. We’ve simply said: Do not have your space launch here.

QUESTION: So how do you know that they wouldn’t keep their word if it were a matter of --

MS. NULAND: Because we have no confidence in their good faith right now.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand on it. I’m sorry. Just – I don’t understand how this is not linking your dissatisfaction with them on the nuclear and political issue and the food assistance. You don’t know whether they would make good on their commitments to allow monitors and food, on the food, because you won’t talk to them because you’re mad at them about the nuclear issue.

MS. NULAND: We don’t have confidence in their good faith. If they want to restore our confidence in their good faith, they can cancel the plans to launch this satellite.

QUESTION: No, but how is that not linking it, Toria?

MS. NULAND: We – as I said, we have concerns about whether one can make a deal of any kind with this government. It’s a – they are separate issues, but they come together at the point of whether the government’s acting in good faith.

(3PA: As I pointed out in a previous blog post, when the latest U.S.-North Korea deal was reached, the Obama administration claimed that a rigorous monitoring system was in place to assure that the 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance—delivered in monthly shipments—would not be diverted to the regime in Pyongyang. Since North Korea announced that they will launch a ballistic missile—in violation of that agreement and earlier UN Security Council resolutions—apparently that rigorous monitoring system will no longer work.)

For the first time in three years, a majority of Americans voice opposition to the mission in Afghanistan, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,012 American adults, 52 per cent of respondents oppose the military operation involving American soldiers in Afghanistan, while 38 per cent support it. Since February 2010, support for the mission has fallen by 16 points, while opposition has risen by 14 points.

(3PA: For the full report, click here.)

Leahy should redirect his attention from asking for memoranda from the Justice Department to focus his committee’s energy on the real issue facing Congress: Should the president of the United States be able to order the killing of an American citizen with no review outside his own executive branch advisors? Even if Leahy trusts this president to tread cautiously with such enormous, unchecked power, what about the next one, or the one after that?

The illegality of this successful export business means that its multi-billion-dollar profits go to criminal gangs. Their battles for market control have a high cost: according to the UN, eight of the world’s ten most violent countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean. Drugs are not the only business of organized crime, but they account for the bulk of the gangs’ income and thus their firepower. Honduras, a strategic spot on the trafficking route, has the world’s highest murder rate, about 80 times that of western Europe.

REP. HUNTER: If you were to fully fund defense and take away a hundred percent as best as you could, a hundred percent of risk using your own threat assessment tools and analysis, what would that funding be? What would you ask for?

SEC. GATES: I have only half-jokingly said in meetings in the department that if we had a trillion-dollar budget, I would still have unfunded requirements.

REP. HUNTER: Yeah, that’s right.

SEC. GATES: The services would still be able to come up with a list of things that they really need. I think that the budget that we’ve provided at $553 billion for FY ’12 mitigates risk to the extent that I think is reasonably possible. And I think that we have -- we are investing in new capabilities -- the $70 billion that the services are going to be able to invest from their savings in new capabilities or in added numbers I think helped mitigate that risk. You can never reach a point -- just as there is no such thing as perfect security, there is no such thing as eliminating risk.

REP. HUNTER: Mr. Secretary, if I may, and I’m going to run out of time and I have one more totally separate question. If you got to that highest point that you could where you started getting diminished rate of return, what would that number be, roughly?

SEC. GATES: I think that we are at a point with the 553 (billion dollars) where we can do that.

REP. HUNTER: Okay. So fully funding defense and every requirement is at 553 (billion dollars)?

SEC. GATES: We will never fund every request.

REP. HUNTER: But if you did, sir, what I’m asking is, what’s that number, roughly?

SEC. GATES:  I have no idea how much --

REP. HUNTER: You haven’t thought about what it would cost to really satisfy the requirements of all the different services?

SEC. GATES: Nobody lives in that -- nobody lives in that world.

REP. HUNTER: No, but what you’re supposed to do is tell us how do we – how get to zero threat, and Congress then decides what to fund.

SEC. GATES: And I’m telling you you are never going to get to zero threat.

REP. HUNTER: We can try.

SEC. GATES: You could spend $2 trillion and you’ll never get to zero threat.

REP. HUNTER: But that’s what we would like to hear from you, Mr. Secretary, is that it would cost --

SEC. GATES: I’m just telling you.

REP. HUNTER: -- $2 trillion, and we could cut that by 75 percent, and here we are at the 550 (billion dollars), right?

(3PA: Yesterday, Representative Paul Ryan told a forum on the defense budget: “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don’t think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget." Ryan’s comments brought to mind this exchange between Hunter and former Secretary Gates. There are some hawks on Capitol Hill who simply do not believe that the Pentagon budget proposal process could ever contain a ‘high enough’ number.)

(3PA: The Syria Tracker is a map developed through crowdsourcing by individual activists and NGOs to track the violence in Syria.)


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