U.S. confirms what it had denied for months: Blackwater is in Pakistan


Gates in Pakistan: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirms during his current visit to Pakistan that  Blackwater a.k.a Xe is operating in Pakistan.

Jeremy Scahill

No sooner did Defense Secretary Gates admit during a visit to Islamabad that Blackwater is in the country, than the Pentagon rushed to “clarify” his remarks.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that Blackwater is operating in Pakistan. In an interview on Express TV, Gates, who was visiting Islamabad, said, “They [Blackwater and another private security firm, DynCorp] are operating as individual companies here in Pakistan,” according to a DoD transcript of the interview. “There are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they’re contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.”
Today, the country’s senior minister for the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Bashir Bilour, also acknowledged that the company is operating in Pakistan’s frontier areas. Bilour told Pakistan’s Express News TV that Blackwater’s activities were taking place with the “consent and permission” of the Pakistani government, saying he had discussed the issue with officials at the US Consulate in Peshawar, who told him that Blackwater was training Pakistani forces.

When Gates was asked what the US response would be if the Pakistani parliament passed a law banning private security companies, Gates said, “If it’s Pakistani law, we will absolutely comply.”
As Gates’s comments began to make huge news in Pakistan, US defense officials tried to retract his statement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Defense officials tried to clarify the comment Thursday night, telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn’t employ Xe in Pakistan.”

[Left: Bashir Bilour, Senior minister in the NWFP government also confirms Blackwater presence in the frontier province of Pakistan].
Bilour’s statements are consistent with what a former Blackwater executive and a US military intelligence source told me in December — that Blackwater is working on a subcontract for Kestral, a Pakistani security and logistics firm. That contract, say my sources, is technically with the Pakistani government, which helps cloak Blackwater’s presence. From my article in The Nation:
Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

[Right: Blackwater founder & former CEO of the notorious mercenary army, Eric Prince].
According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said.
“You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting…and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”
When I tried to get confirmation of Blackwater’s work with Kestral, I was bounced around from agency to agency. Eventually, a spokesman for the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesman David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to my inquiries.
Kestral’s lobbyist, former assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, would not provide comment on the contract either. Noriega, according to federal lobby records, was recently hired by Kestral to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.”
All of this appears to be a contradiction of previous statements made by the Defense Department, by Blackwater, by the Pakistani government and by the US Embassy in Islamabad, all of whom claimed Blackwater was not in the country. In September the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In December in The Nation, after I reported on Blackwater’s work for JSOC and Kestral in Pakistan, the Pentagon did not issue any clear public denials, and instead tried to pass the buck to the State Department, which in turn passed it to the US Embassy, which in turn issued an unsigned statement saying the story was false. Shortly after my story came out in The Nation, ABC News reported that in 2006, “12 Blackwater “tactical action operatives” were recruited for a secret raid into Pakistan by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, according to a military intelligence planner. The target of the planned raid, code-named Vibrant Fury, was a suspected al Qaeda training camp, according to the planner.”
In Pakistan, there appears to be egg on the face of the country’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who has said on numerous occasions that he would resign if it is proven that Blackwater is operating inside Pakistan. Today, Express TV rebroadcast Malik saying in November, “There is no Blackwater.”
What’s that old saying? “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”
Source: Alternet.org
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Killing America’s kids


Cpl. Matthew Phillips (U.S. Army)
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KILLING AMERICA’S KIDS

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by Fred Reed

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[Note foWoP readers: Before you go to the following post by Fred Reed, here is a news item by Associated Press reporting death of Matthew B. Phillips. Matthew had plans to go fishing with his dad when he returned from Afghanistan in a few weeks.

The 27-year-old Army corporal was one of nine soldiers - and one of two from Georgia - killed in an insurgent raid on an American outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The Pentagon announced the deaths shortly afterwards. Family members said Phillips spent Christmas planning his own funeral so his loved ones wouldn't have to worry about it. He had been married just two years to his wife, Eve.

"I'd always tell him, 'You're going to be fine, you're coming home, the odds are with you,'" his father, Michael Phillips of Dawsonville, said. Matthew Phillips' sister, Mary Nix of San Antonio, gave birth to a son the day before she learned of her brother's death. She renamed the baby Matthew after hearing the news.

The Pentagon listed Matthew Phillips' hometown as Jasper. His wife lives in Cumming. But Phillips also has ties to Hall County. His father said he attended both Flowery Branch Elementary School and Johnson High School, and his mother taught at Spout Springs Elementary School.

This and similar news coming from Afghanistan should be a turning point (for policy makers in Washington) which made Fred to pen down his highly thought provoking post which now follows. Nayyar] (more…)

From Iraq to Afghanistan, US Wars Not Going According to Plan


6th_iraq_war_anniversary_protest_us (1)Protesters brandished a plethora of handcrafted signs and banners reading: “Obama it’s your war now,” “America is losing its soul in Gaza,” “U.S. out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan NOW,” “College not combat,” “Hey Obama take a stand, U.S. out of Afghanistan” and “OK Democrats, now stop the war.” Bill Hackwel

by William Pfaff

Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was in Washington this week to consult with Barack Obama and American military and political officials, three weeks after the Status of Forces Agreement concerning U.S. forces in Iraq came into effect.
On the same day, in Iraq, tension was reported to be increasing between the Americans, whose combat forces were supposed to evacuate Baghdad and other cities at the end of June, and the Iraqi military and security forces, who were supposed to take over the Americans’ responsibilities.

cartoon_IraqWar

American commanders complain that the Iraq authorities have greatly reduced the number of joint patrols, supposed to continue, and in other ways “clearly are signaling that we are no longer wanted” — according to an American officer quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Iraqi commanders have told the Americans no longer to run patrols, and not to conduct raids on suspect locations, without coordinating them with the Iraqis.
A foreign diplomat in Baghdad has said that the Iraqis are determined to show that they are now in charge, in the run-up to national elections next year. Robert Gates, the U.S. Defense secretary, says that the situation is not bad. However, attacks have sharply increased in recent days, and some observers insist that the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated government must do more to reconcile the former ruling Sunni minority if sectarian conflict is not to break out again.

Maliki

The Iraqi prime minister is playing the nationalist card, a dangerous one to play when the Sunnis also have sectarian revindications, and a lot of grievances. Washington itself has a hand to play in this game, with 130,000 troops (and at least as many contract forces) still in the country, whom Barack Obama has promised to withdraw, and the American public wants withdrawn — and a demagogic American right, for whom national failure means treason.
This is not the way this war was supposed to end. For younger readers: Six years ago the American intervention was supposed to end in a multi-party democratic government, an ally of Israel against the supposed menace of Iran, the strategic base and headquarters for the U.S. as dominant actor in a “New Middle East,” and a permanent and secure source of oil for the United States. None of this has happened. Iran is the principal beneficiary.
Move to another front: Pakistan-Afghanistan. Here there was also supposed to be a straightforward job to do: drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan, into their refuges in the semi-inaccessible Tribal Areas of the Pakistan border. There, the Pakistan army, with American urging and help, would defeat and disarm them, asserting Pakistani national control over the region, as well as U.S.-NATO success in Afghanistan.
What actually is happening is unsurprising. Pakistan continues to look after its own national interests, as it has always defined them. This means that the separate radical religious and tribal movements that make up the Taliban continue to be considered an asset to Pakistan in its long-term struggle with India, in defense of its own security, and in order to recover Muslim-populated Kashmir, which India controls.
kashmi-under-indian-occupationThe “K”  word (the vale of Kashmir) in the Himalayan region continues to mar relations between two nuclear neighbours in South Asia.
The Taliban have also been for Pakistan an important instrument (originally supplied and financed by the United States — but there’s no time to go into that now, although the fact should be kept in mind), in keeping Afghanistan out of hostile hands in Pakistan’s equally long-term effort to control that country as providing Pakistan strategic depth and an additional Muslim bulwark against the threat of India.
Pakistan has made it clear now to Washington — to those who can read between the lines — that it wants no American troops inside Pakistan and no more collateral-damage bombing, and considers the American war in Afghanistan a futile and destructive effort, against whose consequences Pakistan must protect itself.
The growing opinion in Europe is that Afghanistan is the United States’ “new Vietnam.” The truth is that it is worse than Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the United States had a clearly identified enemy, supported by a responsible Communist state in North Vietnam with its government in Hanoi. The U.S. had a theory about what it was doing: suppressing the insurrection in the South, and bombing North Vietnam until the government stopped the war. All of this was, in principle, possible.
However the U.S. acted on a nonsensical theory about the world “going Communist” if the U.S. didn’t win, just as today the U.S. has an even more nonsensical theory about radical Islam conquering Muslim Asia and all of Europe, and then attacking the U.S., if Washington fails.
Unlike the Viet Cong, the Taliban are not a disciplined force acting under some government’s orders, and have neither the intention nor means to attack anybody outside Central Asia. They are motivated by nationalism, today focused against the United States, and by a desire to propagate their form of Islam.
In that respect it’s a war of ideas, which the United States has no theory about how to “win.” There is no way to make the Taliban surrender. At most they will temporarily fade away when U.S. and NATO forces begin to fade away, and fight again another day. There is no Taliban government to bomb. And there is no way to “make” Afghanistan a democratic ally of the United States. The “no’s” have it.
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Source: Mathaba / (c) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc. #
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The Pressure of an Expanding War


4-PAKISTAN-5-MCT.standalone.prod_affiliate.8Trying to escape the war: People frantically running away from battle zones in Swat. Almost 2 million people are rendered homeless living in tents and some with their relatives.

Going for Broke

Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding
by Tom Engelhardt
Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”
General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)
McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there,Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.
In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.
Behind McChrystal lies a string of targeted executions that may run into the hundreds, as well as accusations of torture and abuse by troops under his command (and a role in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Army Ranger and former National Football League player Pat Tillman). The general has reportedly long thought of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single battlefield, which means that he was a premature adherent to the idea of an Af-Pak — that is, expanded — war. While in Afghanistan in 2008, the New York Times reported, he was a “key advocate… of a plan, ultimately approved by President George W. Bush, to use American commandos to strike at Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” This end-of-term Bush program provoked such anger and blowback in Pakistan that it was reportedly halted after two cross-border raids, one of which killed civilians.
All of this offers more than a hint of the sort of “new thinking and new approaches” — to use Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s words – that the Obama administration expects General McChrystal to bring to the devolving Af-Pak battlefield. He is, in a sense, both a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era and the first-born child of Obama-era Washington’s growing desperation and hysteria over the wars it inherited.

Hagiography

And here’s the good news: We luv the guy. Just luv him to death.
We loved him back in 2006, when Bush first outed him and Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry dubbed him “a rising star” in the Army and one of the “Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls ‘the shadows.’”
It’s no different today in what’s left of the mainstream news analysis business. In that mix of sports lingo, Hollywood-ese, and just plain hyperbole that makes armchair war strategizing just so darn much fun, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, for instance, claimed that Centcom commander General David Petraeus, who picked McChrystal as his man in Afghanistan, is “assembling an all-star team” and that McChrystal himself is “a rising superstar who, like Petraeus, has helped reinvent the U.S. Army.” Is that all?
When it came to pure, instant hagiography, however, the prize went to Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who wrote a front-pager, A General Steps from the Shadows,” that painted a picture of McChrystal as a mutant cross between Superman and a saint.
Among other things, it described the general as “an ascetic who… usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours’ sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod… [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists… [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians…” and so on. The quotes Bumiller and Mazzetti dug up from others were no less spectacular: “He’s got all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.” “If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal… I think of no body fat.”

From the gush of good cheer about his appointment, you might almost conclude that the general was not human at all, but an advanced android (a good one, of course!) and the “elite” world (of murder and abuse) he emerged from an unbearably sexy one.
Above all, as we’re told here and elsewhere, what’s so good about the new appointment is that General McChrystal is “more aggressive” than his stick-in-the-mud predecessor. He will, as Bumiller and Thom Shanker report in another piece, bring “a more aggressive and innovative approach to a worsening seven-year war.” The general, we’re assured, likes operations without body fat, but with plenty of punch. And though no one quite says this, given his closeness to Rumsfeld and possibly Cheney, both desperately eager to “take the gloves off” on a planetary scale, his mentality is undoubtedly a global-war-on-terror one, which translates into no respect for boundaries, restraints, or the sovereignty of others. After all, as journalist Gareth Porter pointed out recently in a thoughtful Asia Times portrait of the new Afghan War commander, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld granted the parent of JSOC, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), “the authority to carry out actions unilaterally anywhere on the globe.”
Think of McChrystal’s appointment, then, as a decision in Washington to dispatch the bull directly to the China shop with the most meager of hopes that the results won’t be smashed Afghans and Pakistanis. The Post’s Ignatius even compares McChrystal’s boss Petraeus and Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, to “two headstrong bulls in a small paddock.” He then concludes his paean to all of them with this passage — far more ominous than he means it to be:
“Obama knows the immense difficulty of trying to fix a broken Afghanistan and make it a functioning, modern country. But with his two bulls, Petraeus and Holbrooke, he’s marching his presidency into the ‘graveyard of empires’ anyway.”
McChrystal is evidently the third bull, the one slated to start knocking over the tombstones.

An Expanding Af-Pak War

Of course, there are now so many bulls in this particular China shop that smashing is increasingly the name of the game. At this point, the early moves of the Obama administration, when combined with the momentum of the situation it inherited, have resulted in the expansion of the Af-Pak War in at least six areas, which only presage further expansion in the months to come:
1. Expanding Troop Commitment: In February, President Obama ordered a “surge” of 17,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by 50%. (Then-commander McKiernan had called for 30,000 new troops.) In March, another 4,000 American military advisors and trainers were promised. The first of the surge troops, reportedly ill-equipped, are already arriving. In March, it was announced that this troop surge would be accompanied by a“civilian surge” of diplomats, advisors, and the like; in April, it was reported that, because the requisite diplomats and advisors couldn’t be found, the civilian surge would actually be made up largely of military personnel.
In preparation for this influx, there has been massive base and outpost building in the southern parts of that country, including the construction of 443-acre Camp Leatherneck in that region’s “desert of death.” When finished, it will support up to 8,000 U.S. troops, and a raft of helicopters and planes. Its airfield, which is under construction, has been described as the “largest such project in the world in a combat setting.”
2. Expanding CIA Drone War: The CIA is running an escalating secret drone war in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan, a “targeted” assassination program of the sort that McChrystal specialized in while in Iraq. Since last September, more than three dozen drone attacks — the Los Angeles Times put the number at 55 — have been launched, as opposed to 10 in 2006-2007. The program has reportedly taken out a number of mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but also caused significant civilian casualties, destabilized the Pashtun border areas of Pakistan, and fostered support for the Islamic guerrillas in those regions. As Noah Shachtman wrote recently at his Danger Room website:
“According to the American press, a pair of missiles from the unmanned aircraft killed ‘at least 25 militants.’ In the local media, the dead were simply described as ’29 tribesmen present there.’ That simple difference in description underlies a serious problem in the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. To Americans, the drones over Pakistan are terrorist-killers. In Pakistan, the robotic planes are wiping out neighbors.”
David Kilcullen, a key advisor to Petraeus during the Iraq “surge” months, and counterinsurgency expert Andrew McDonald Exum recently called for a moratorium on these attacks on the New York Times op-ed page. (“Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly ‘precision.’”) As it happens, however, the Obama administration is deeply committed to its drone war. As CIA Director Leon Panetta put the matter, “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”
3. Expanding Air Force Drone War: The U.S. Air Force now seems to be getting into the act as well. There are conflicting reports about just what it is trying to do, but it has evidently brought its own set of Predator and Reaper drones into play in Pakistani skies, in conjunction, it seems, with a somewhat reluctant Pakistani military. Though the outlines of this program are foggy at best, this nonetheless represents an expansion of the war.
4. Expanding Political Interference: Quite a different kind of escalation is also underway. Washington is evidently attempting to insert yet another figure from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era into the Afghan mix. Not so long ago, Zalmay Khalilzad, the neocon former American viceroy in Kabul and then Baghdad, was considering making a run for the Afghan presidency against Hamid Karzai, the leader the Obama administration is desperate to ditch. In March, reports — hotly denied by Holbrooke and others — broke in the British press of a U.S./British plan to “undermine President Karzai of Afghanistan by forcing him to install a powerful chief of staff to run the Government.” Karzai, so the rumors went, would be reduced to “figurehead” status, while a “chief executive with prime ministerial-style powers” not provided for in the Afghan Constitution would essentially take over the running of the weak and corrupt government.

(more…)

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