Which way to the CIA?

Your clickbait is killing journalism which is how by George I will make Afghanistan relevant today.

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This was supposed to go out earlier, but a long tequila-fueled discussion on other things more pressing happened, and so here we are. I keep thinking I’ll do a “weekend” version of this thing, and probably will, but today this is what the “daily” version of this will look like until I change my mind again.

Because the point is to find something interesting from the day and deconstruct that for a minute, plus a few add ons of things that are probably worth knowing about national security for the day.

So instead of some barely coherent massive link dump, there’s going to be a “big” story with the words and the pictures and the GIFs, followed by some snarkerific commentary on some other links and things I thought were interesting today.

Plus, some other shenanigans when the urge strikes.


From the ‘gram

Yup, there’s an Instagram.

It has things like this in it.

"And I've got some follow ups about the spurs." #natsectacular
September 29, 2019

Quote of the day

Because “abandoning our Kurdish allies while sending our troops into harm’s way to guard Syria’s oil fields” felt a little too on the nose.


TIL that the CIA has a militia problem

I may have spent to much time in and on Afghanistan.

Too many days reading about how this place is circling the drain.

Put together a few too many words that said just that.

Which is one of the reasons why I quit blogging at Sunny In Kabul, because I wanted to think about someplace else. And because my timing sucks, about the time I made that decision, people started thinking a lot more about Afghanistan again.

So this is, yeah, going to be about Afghanistan, but more about how journalism can’t have nice things because lazy shits who can’t be bothered to tell the rest of us what’s really going on in the world are comfortable with the worn narratives that the CIA is awful and murdering people and oh shit we just learned this today so let’s amplify that.

Plus, some other folks who I didn’t think were lazy shits help continue that narrative.

Kids, people like Commander Azizullah here have been in Afghanistan for a while.

Just because the HRW releases a report about another CIA-backed militia doesn’t mean this is a new thing here. Just new to those of you who were either a) born after 9/11, or b) have been busy being woke about more important things, like whether we still like Obama or not.

To be clear, I woke up in a bit of a mood this morning.

That fact is unrelated to yesterday’s tequila is a thing I am telling myself today.

But I’m not here to talk about tequila even though I could and yes I get that tequila is now a thing because famous people are making it, but I like my añejo, and that’s got nothing to do with the CIA in Afghanistan.

Last week Human Rights Watch and its Perturbed Letter Writers division released a report detailing abuses by CIA-backed Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed Afghan forces have committed summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. These strike forces have unlawfully killed civilians during night raids, forcibly disappeared detainees, and attacked healthcare facilities for allegedly treating insurgent fighters. Civilian casualties from these raids and air operations have dramatically increased in the last two years.

It’s 53 pages, and if you’d like to read the whole thing for yourself, you can find it here. Attached to that report but still, a fun read on their own are the responses by both NATO and the CIA to the report.

From NATO:

War will never be “immaculate.” The nature of war is horrific, particularly when civilization is challenged by terrorists whose aim is to sow fear, instability and division through spectacular attacks. The battlefield is complex—the fighting is in crowded cities and in populated villages. Our challenges are immense because we face enemies who do not wear uniforms, who hide among women and children, and who use lies about the death of civilians to try and check our effectiveness. The Taliban purposefully operate in ways which result in civilian casualties. They intentionally seek the deaths of innocents by all parties to use them for propaganda and to sow insecurity and instability

From the CIA:

For many years, well-intentioned journalists and non-governmental organizations have published accounts of alleged abuses by Afghan forces like those contained in the Human Rights Watch report. The U.S. Government routinely reviews such serious allegations to determine their validity. Although Human Rights Watch did not provide the CIA time to study the particular allegations in this report, without confirming or denying any particular role in Government of Afghanistan counterterrorism operations, we can say with some confidence that many, if not all, of the claims leveled against Afghan forces are likely false or exaggerated. Past in-depth reviews of similar allegations have shown this to be the case.

War is messy, Taliban lie, we’d love to end this, but they won’t stop.

The people attached to this report and some of the reporters covering the story are some of the smartest people I know on Afghanistan. Probably on other things, too, but I only know their work on the graveyard of smart journalism.

The bone I’m picking isn’t with them; it’s with the rest of the clickbait factory that’s been sharing snippets of this story, and making it out like this is something new and exciting and shiny and whatnot. Like this from about a week ago.

Mr. Taub is not a clickbait factory drone, it’s just indicative of my point, which is admittedly weak, but I’m too far gone on the original premise to back away now.

I am not my best self in the ensuing tweets.

Five years ago, I wrote for Vice News about one of the principal commanders of those units, the aforementioned Azizullah. Since I am a blogger and not an original reporting journalist which is a job that is hard while I’m the guy making popcorn and throwing it from the back row at it, my “piece” is built on other people’s work.

A warlord, an illiterate drug smuggler, and a CIA-funded killer walk into a war.

That's not the setup to a joke — it's the punchline to America's failed intervention in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama said yesterday that US forces would be all but out of the country by the end of 2016. That may be America's best political solution to Afghanistan's military problem, but the reduced footprint will make it much harder to keep an eye on the less savory characters the Americans have used there to help fight al Qaeda.

That post has not aged well: Raziq’s dead, Dostum’s in semi-disgrace, and I’m guessing Azizullah’s still around.

Most of what I had to say on him came from the great work done on Azizullah by Julius Cavendish in 2011.

An Afghan warlord backed by US special forces faces persistent allegations that he launched a two-year spate of violence involving burglary, rape and murder of civilians, desecration of mosques and mutilation of corpses. Yet, despite repeated warnings about the atrocities Commander Azizullah is alleged to have committed, he has remained on the payroll of the US military as an "Afghan security guard", a select band of mercenaries described by some as "the most effective fighting formation in Afghanistan".

Some of you will note that Azizullah’s referenced as being supported by US special forces, not the CIA. You are correct. But that region of Afghanistan is rife with CIA dollars and has been since the beginning. And SOF/CIA continue to operate as part of what have been called “cross-matrix” teams under the Omega program. If you’re curious about the recent(ish) history of the CIA and what they’ve been up to in Afghanistan, I’d recommend:

  • Spencer Ackerman’s 2011 piece on the CIA’s “killing machine”

  • Dan Lamothe in 2015 on US "kill missions”

  • Eric Schmitt in 2017 about a resurgent CIA in the country

And if you really just have nothing else to do but be horrified by what the CIA’s been doing in backing these militias, recommend reading The CIA’s “Army”: A Threat to Human Rights and an Obstacle to Peace in Afghanistan, which I heard of through the always-excellent Afghan Analyst Network’s writeup on the HRW report.

I am, again, really regretting my original pitch, that people are dicks for writing about the paramilitaries like it’s a new thing. Yes, that happens in coverage of this place. A lot. And probably anywhere else in the world where someone has a “beat” for more than three years.

Again, not a journalist, just someone who happened to work here and then started writing about it and has more fun being a dick about writing about it than not so here we are.

A long way around to say this: CIA paramilitaries…anywhere…are a bad idea.

Unless.

Unless what you want is a cowed population. Or an enemy that fears you enough to come to the table. Or if you want to keep a country just unstable enough that they’ll want you to stick around forever.

Then they’re fantastic.

To execute a certain kind of war, the kind that’s red in tooth and claw and doesn’t sound good at a party, then they’re the best. I mean that without irony. Because the problem with all the wars anymore is we don’t really know why we’re fighting them. There appears to be no end, and no clear objective.

So the CIA and its militias do what they’ve always done: go out at night and shoot people in the face. And they will keep doing that until someone makes them stop.

Guess we’ll need a bigger report.


The links

Here’s some other stuff worth reading.

  • Lt. Col Alexander Vindman did the right thing by testifying about what he heard on that Ukraine call. But since it may not have been the legal thing to do. he could still be court-martialed for it.

  • Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, would like the world to buy American, because the Chinese make crappy military shit: “He began by pointing to four Chinese-made Harbin Z-9 helicopters purchased by Cameroon in 2015, one of which crashed soon after purchase. Similarly, Kenya bought a handful of Chinese-made Norinco VN4 armored personnel carriers, ‘vehicles that China’s own sales representative declined to sit inside during a test firing. Since going ahead with the purchase regardless, sadly dozens of Kenyan personnel have been reportedly killed in those vehicles.’” Sounds like a ton of fun at parties.

  • Mentioned in the tweet above, but the US is sending the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) into Syria to secure the oilfields after abandoning the Kurds to Turkish incursion in other parts of the country. No blood for Kurds is not a catchy anti-war slogan.

  • The DoD’s getting 13% off its F-35s for the next three years, but it costs 100% more to fly per hour than other fighters. This Groupon sucks.

  • And even the other planes the Air Force flies are getting too expensive, since it costs more to keep a small fleet running than it does a larger one. Expect more multi-role aircraft purchases in the future, yeah?


This, but elsewhere

Does anyone notice when Trump pulls out?

And why you shouldn't hold your breath on that Delta book about the al-Baghdadi raid

Going with some bullets instead of the grafs today. Shoot me a line if you like it, hate, or just want to tell me how awesome this thing is. Expect some workshopping in coming weeks because I’m still finding the “voice” of this thing and super committed to just “shipping” the damn thing even if as I’m doing right now I’m wincing as I hit “publish.”


  • If you’re a non-naturalized veteran and you beat your spouse or shoot up a car, and you get busted in the United States, you’re likely to end up back in your country of origin, something one advocate calls a “life sentence.” Not sure about comparing someone’s home country to prison is the direction I’d take that, but I figure if you’ve served in uniform, and you’ve done time in the US, that probably wraps that up.

  • Someone in Congress wants to help the Kurds who helped the US fight ISIS in Syria by making them eligible for special immigration visas. Hey Kurds, this visa puts you everywhere you want to be, so long as you don’t want to be in Syria.

  • Just like George Lucas had a hard time explaining Jar Jar Binks, the DoD is having a hard time explaining what the hell its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) $10 billion cloud contract just awarded to Microsoft actually does. Further clouding (sorry not sorry) the issue is that at some point Trump wanted to fuck Amazon, the leading bidder, because of The Washington Post and that publication’s propensity for printing facts about the president. Any guesses how many times someone in Congress asked the Pentagon what would happen to their computers if it rained?

  • The Pentagon is loving them those McDonald’s procurement practices, because the Golden Arches is “very good at managing and acquiring goods and services by category,” so do you want fries with that F-35, ma’am? Fun bit in this story: the DoD had 22 different contracts for 2 x 4s, some of them with the same vendor.

  • Because everyone needs a participation trophy, the USAF is introducing the Remote Combat Effects Campaign Medal so that the IT guy at Creech who updated the Predator software has something to talk about over beers at the next DroneCon, which is probably not a thing.

  • Heritage Foundation just released the 2020 version of its Index of Military Strength, and they gave the military pretty good grades overall, but warned that the US should only fight one big war at a time, instead of two. Because we need more think tanks to explain how trying to keep two wars going at the same time is bad, which is pretty much all the life lessons we can derive from Gone With The Wind, Sweet Home Alabama, and Spider-Man.

  • Because the “D” in “Delta Force” stands for “Don’t want the credit,” it’s unlikely there will be a book tour from the commandos that chased al-Baghdadi into that tunnel. Which is a nice change of pace after bin Laden, capped by the SEALs, because the “S” stands for “Send me that advance and please join my training course.” Hey! Remember that time when Jim Jeffries outshot Rob O’Neill at the range? No? Here ya go, then.

  • The DoD wants everyone to know that the timing of the al-Baghdadi raid had nothing to do with Trump’s pulling out of Syria. Probably not the first time Trump pulling out had no affect whatsoever.

    Looks like the Zillow listing has gone to shit, though.

A lumberjack walks into an impeachment

From the "Real World" to the next world

I’m a drone, and I’m here to help him kill you

Because all the big money’s in defense contracts, even Zipline with its lifesaving drone delivery technology is getting into the nationalized murder business.

Drone company Zipline partnered with the DoD and Naval Medical Research Center to deploy its drones during four multinational military forces exercises in Australia between July 30 and Sept. 5. Zipline made more than 400 deliveries, including mock blood resupplies to shock trauma platoons.

Because the drone debate isn’t just about whether our new robot overlords will kill us all and use our bodies for fuel, it’s about whether lifesaving tech can be used to do evil. Even if that evil is on behalf of an idea like freedom, or apple pie.

The irony is that the money coming into Zipline will mean they’ll be able to deliver a whole lot more medicine in places where people are going to end up shot in the face by the US forces that other Zipline drones are keeping alive by getting blood to the front lines.

No, I don’t have a point.

I don’t have any big ideas.

What I have is a keyboard and a propensity to the absurd.

You’ll always be the chief of bad ideas to us

The good news is that Eddie Gallagher gets to retire with some rank after he thought it would be a good idea to take pics with a dead Syrian fighter. Just not as much as rank as he’d have liked.

The long saga of accused SEAL war criminal Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher might’ve come to an end on Tuesday, with a ruling that will let him retire as a petty officer first class, convicted only of posing for a photo with a dead detainee.

Gallagher and his lawyer think he should have been allowed to retire as a chief petty officer. His new rank means he’ll only get $1.5 million in pension, vs. the $1.7 million he would have earned otherwise.

The whole story sucks, and pretty sure Gallagher pissed off a lot of people on his way up, given that he was the only one put on trial for the dead Syrian fighter shenanigans.

Lancers Bone their way to Saudi and back

Really trying to make this rapid deployment of B-1 bombers to KSA into a dick joke because these are the internets and I am a child.

Multiple B-1B Lancers took off Thursday from Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City and flew to Saudi Arabia, according to the Air Force.

The B-1s have since returned home. The deployment was intended to demonstrate an ability to deploy rapidly anywhere and anytime in the world, and to demonstrate lethal strike options for military commanders, according to a news release.

They're pitching this as a capabilities exercise, and maybe a plea for relevance. And another push at a strategic level to disperse assets in support of CENTCOM that aren't actually sitting in CENTCOM's AOR. Because that’s how the next war will be fought, from a great distance.

All of which should worry the shit out Qatar which spent a fuck ton of money trying to make Al Udeid a place where the Americans would keep prosecuting the forever war in the Middle East.

Sounds like we need a moat, not a wall

Remember when we were all worried about that crisis at our southern border and we were worried about all the kids and the camps and whatnot? Turns out it’s still a problem, even though Trump’s moved from his racist dog whistling to actual dog whistling trying to get us all to forget about Ukraine.

A top U.S. Border Patrol official has a warning: The crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is not over.

Even though crossings have been down over the past few months and news of custody deaths and teeming facilities full of children and families has faded from front pages and talking points of politicians, the number of migrants coming over border is still high. And resources are still stretched.

"It is kind of a new norm. We're at risk at any time," if some recent deterrent efforts are blocked by the courts, like a policy forcing asylum seekers to wait out their claims in Mexico , Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement operations at Border Patrol said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Here’s some fun numbers:

  • In FY 2019, 859,150 apprehensions by Border Patrol - previous high was 2014, with 479,371 apprehensions by CBP

  • 110,000 legal attempts that CBP found to be otherwise

  • 140,000 border crossers evaded the Border Patrol

  • 4,900 rescued by CBP, including 742 river rescues, up from 86 the previous year

  • More than 200 groups of 100 or more migrants dropped by smugglers

That last one is important, because that many migrants at once means that the CBP station has to shut down for the entire day just to process that many possible migrants.

The biggest problem, is that many of the border crossers are families from Central Mexico, vs. the single Mexican men of the past. Which means that the CBP has to work even harder, and border facilities aren’t equipped to handle it.

It’s less a security issue than a humanitarian one, and one of the Americans’ own making, as many of those families are fleeing regimes put in place or at least supported by the United States.

Finally an immigrant who should terrify Trump

It’s possible you haven’t heard of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Most of us hadn’t before this week, but now know him because he’s testifying about what really happened with that Ukraine call.

“I sit here, as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, an immigrant,” he plans to tell investigators, adding, “I have a deep appreciation for American values and ideals and the power of freedom. I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics.”

It’s possible you haven’t heard of Sean Duffy either before, but he’s got some thoughts on Vindman, as any good reality star and former professional lumberjack would.

That last part’s not a joke, it’s how Duffy paid for law school.

Check the video out, where Duffy refers to a man whose family brought him to the US when he was 3 years old as a “former Ukrainian.”

New CNN analyst and former MTV Real World star Sean Duffy, a former Republican congressman from Wisconsin who has already drawn criticism during his brief tenure with the network, used almost identical language to describe Vindman during a spot on CNN's New Day Tuesday morning.

I see London, I see France

Worst. Craigslist. Ad. Ever.

Tinkering with some formats, lining some things up.

Probably going to be less of a daily link dump.

Not 100% sure what this will be, just pretty clear on what it’s not.

So that’s something.

Oh, and because everyone’s doing it, podcast coming.

1st episode drops 11 November.


Bet they were briefs right there at the end

Probably heard by now that Delta went full Delta on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, former ISIS leader and super shitty Harry Potter cosplayer.

Remember when your dad swore he would turn the car around if you didn’t stop fighting in the backseat? As the leading candidate for World’s Worst Dad, Baghdadi opted to go out with a bang, along with three of his children.

And a whimper, if Trump is to be believed.

SPOILER: he should not be. About anything.

This gets creepy at about the :28 mark.

Since the body was all blown up, verification had to come via DNA.

Somewhere there’s a Damascus Craigslist ad that is creepy as hell.

Hey, one man’s fetish is another man’s terrorist identification.

Also, there was a very good dog involved.

Dear Mr. President: do us all a favor and try to grab this one by the pussy.

And because Trump’s gotta Trump, he called the Russians before Congress to let his pee boy Putin know about the raid, per House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration's overall strategy in the region. Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from Washington."

Afghans: Still Bulletproof

I used to have this Tumblr showing American troops hanging out with their Afghan counterparts. Called it Bulletproof Afghans. Lots of pictures like this: US soldiers all geared up while their Allies were bebopping around in just their uniforms. This is from this month so it’s still happening and I still think it’s funny.

Relationship Status: Kurdled

Speaking of those allies, hey-o Kurds!

#LifeGoa: find someone who looks at you the way the Kurds look at the United States.

Someone who no matter how many times you let them down, they keep coming back.

And if you keep letting them down, quit that. Stop being an asshole. Seriously.

Because no one should be in a codependent relationship as bad as this.

Here’s the tl;dr GIF on the US/Kurdish relationship.

Asked about Trump’s comment that Turkey had to ‘clean out’ the border area northeast Syria, Ahmed said it seemed as if the American president was endorsing ethnic cleansing.

In spite of this, Ahmed said the SDF is still willing to cooperate with the U.S. on future counter-terror operations. She called on the Trump administration to stop Turkey’s invasion from going any further, and to use what leverage it has to get Turkey-backed rebel forces out of northeast Syria.

Hard to believe that this was published just a couple of years ago.

Why, the Kurds asked, would Washington oppose their inalienable right to self-determination, one that Americans themselves once exercised, after they proved themselves to be Washington’s steadfast allies in Iraq after 2003, especially in the fight against ISIS? And why had America led them to believe they were on the path to independence, only to chastise them when they expressed this deepest aspiration?

Not sure if being allied while brown is a crime to the Americans, but it sure seems that way. Of course the world’s first elected sentient bag of Cheetos seems prepared to go after everyone who’d like to think of us as a friend. But especially the one who don’t do the English so good.

Microsoft? More like MicroSatan

That is not a good headline.

Turns out Bill Gates and Co. are pretty OK with funding things like public surveillance, even though they publicly are opposed to using things like facial recognition tech to infringe on people’s civil rights.

In a December 2018 blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said, “We need to be clear-eyed about the risks and potential for abuse” and called for government regulation of facial-recognition technology. He noted that it can “lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy” and that when used by a government for mass surveillance can “encroach on democratic freedoms.”

AnyVision, funded by Microsoft, does not get blogs, and has used its software to help the Israelis keep all the eyes on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

According to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank. One source said the project is nicknamed "Google Ayosh," where "Ayosh" means occupied Palestinian territories and "Google" denotes the technology’s ability to search for people.

If you’re not the tip, you’re the shaft

From The Unit to SEAL Team what we see on the small screen is only the super cool guys with the Gucci kit taking down the bad guys. And if we see the support element it’s someone buried in a bunker somewhere monitoring a bank of high-tech screens. We never see the rest of the support element for special operations, people like Sgt. First Class Jeffery M. Dawson from the 28th Ordnance Company, an EOD unit that does bomb disposal exclusively fro the Rangers.

Dawson and his company offer a case study illustrating how Army explosive-ordnance disposal, or E.O.D., soldiers have been increasingly relied on to accompany American Special Operations forces on the front lines but continue to suffer from a lack of training, equipment and manpower.

It’s been said that special operators aren’t special people, they just have a special job. With that comes a lot of special requirements, many of them medical. And for folks directly part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) like the Delta kids, that means a whole network of doctors and specialists to make sure they’re fit to fight.

But for people like SFC Dawson no such special treatment exists. Even though the 28th, undermanned and underequipped, is absolutely critical to the success of Ranger missions in places like Afghanistan. And, by extension, the missions of the CIA’s Ground Branch, which relies on the Rangers to provide security with the OGA does its OGA thing.

The forever war and the political reluctance to go to war the way we used to (Remember that time we leveled Dresden? Or burned Toky? Yeah, man. Good…no…GREAT war. The greatest, in fact.) means a continued over-reliance on special operations and their smaller footprint in places where the US continues to shoot people in the face.


If you like this, you’ll love me elsewhere:

Why so Syrious?

That's a weird way to wag the dog, Mr. Trump

Been on vacation for a bit, which means that I haven’t been writing about all things national security for a couple of weeks, but I sure as hell have been following the news.

Because I kind of want to be there when it all implodes and we get to see the Republic go down in flames for good. What can I say? There’s just something about a dumpster fire.

Right now we’re all warming our hands over Syria. That might change by the time this posts, because it’s that kind of a news cycle anymore. Peak 2019 means we can’t even keep track of the lunacy at this point.

Remember Wag the Dog?

That movie dropped at a seminal point in my own awareness that the world was run by corrupt idiots, and seeing the bartender from Cheers play a rapey convict rehabbed as a war hero for the perception machine was something that struck a chord with me.

I want to believe that what Trump’s doing at this point is wagging the dog.

That his withdrawal of US troops from Syria, abandoning the Kurds yet again, is just his way of distracting us from the impeachment.

Yeah, not sure that’s how you do that, Mr. President.

Because it failed spectacularly.

Anyway, time to ship this.

They will get longer, so stick around.

And as always, thanks for reading.


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