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Terror Tuesday: Staking out the killing zone in the forever war

Days after Secretary of State Clinton parsed an apology for the deaths of 25 Pakistani soldiers in a US/NATO air attack last November, the CIA resumed its drone wars in Pakistan.

On July 6, a day after Pakistan ended the eight-month closure of its border to trucks supplying NATO forces at a cost to US taxpayers of some $800 million, a series of drone strikes in Northern Waziristan killed up to 24 people.  

The Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan immediately condemned the attacks and demanded to know the identity of those killed. He declared that both the US and Pakistani governments were grossly underreporting the number of civilians killed, that the strikes were a violation of international humanitarian law, and that the supply routes had been re-opened in defiance of popular will and Parliamentary resolutions.

Meanwhile, one of the founders of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba addressed thousands of his supporters at an impassioned anti-American rally in Islamabad, despite the $10 million bounty the US had placed on his head. 

The notion that the US “Homeland” can be made secure by checking off names on “kill lists” and eliminating those who seek to do us “imminent harm” has appeared increasingly illusory in a world in which we are increasingly incapable of distinguishing “enemies” from current or potential allies, or people who just want to be left alone.

Take a few recent examples. Hani Nour Eldin, a member of Egypt’s Gama’a al-Islamiyya which the State Department lists as a terrorist organization, recently got a visa to visit the State Department, in contravention of US law. 

Ibrahim Ahmad Hamuda bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, fought alongside NATO to overthrow the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. This was after Qaddafi had worked closely with the CIA on its extraordinary rendition program, and been provided by the CIA with information about members of another named “terrorist” organization, the Islamic Fighting Group, which was seeking to overthrow him. 

“We are committed to developing this relationship for the benefit of both our services,” the CIA had written to the Libyans.

A few months before journalists in Libya found documents detailing the relationship between Libyan intelligence and the CIA, the White House had attempted to spell out exactly who the enemy was in a “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” issued on June 29, 2011 by President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and kill list proponent John Brennan. 

“This Administration,” Brennan stated,  has made it clear that we are not at war with the tactic of terrorism or the religion of Islam. We are at war with the specific organization – al Qa’ida.” 

But lest bringing “every tool of American power” to bear on an organization which at the time was estimated to have only a few hundred members might appear excessive, “affiliates and adherents” of al Qa’ida – the latter including radicalized individuals who may be planning attacks within “the Homeland” – were added to the enemies’ list. They should be fought, the document asserts, while the US adheres to its “core values” and “upholds the rule of law.”

The secrecy with which the US is pursuing its “core values” makes it all but impossible to know the extent of its actions and what it now defines as the “battlefield.”  Reports of “mysterious” drone strikes aimed at militants in the Philippines and in Northern Mali raise the possibility that the US may in fact have taken its drone campaign beyond the declared war zone of Afghanistan and the broader drone zone of Pakistan (where CNN claims no civilians have been killed by drones in 2012), Somalia (where little is known about actual operations) and Yemen.  

In Yemen, the toll has been swiftly rising. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as many as 63 drone strikes occurred in the first half of 2012 (twice the total of the previous three years), with a death kill which could have exceeded 570 people – most if not all of whom have no doubt been classified as “militants” by keepers of kill lists.   

In a recent appearance on MSNBC, Middle East journalist Jeremy Scahill described the impact of strikes on Yemen and called them “murder.”

One thing is becoming increasingly clear – the global battlefield is swiftly expanding.  The US may not yet be conducting kill strikes in the Sahara, but drone bases fringe the region and US Special Operations and spy planes are rapidly expanding their presence in the arc of countries where “al-Qaeda affiliates” are now deemed to operate – Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Chad, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and southern Libya among them.

Supposedly, the primary role of the US Africa Command (or AFRICOM) is “to promote regional security and stability” and act “in support of anti-terrorist and anti-al Qa’ida actions.” It was formed five years after the African Oil Policy Initiative Group issued a report stating the US could get a quarter of all its oil from Africa (mainly in the region of the Sahara) by 2015.

AFRICOM may be presented as the engine of the “Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative,” but it appears equally focused on preventing China from becoming energy sufficient and from monopolizing the mineral resources of the continent.

An article by Craig Whitlock in the July 8 Washington Post underscores how little we know about the government’s steadily enlarging conflict zone. Whitlock writes about a “mysterious fatal crash” on April 20 in Bamako, Mali that killed three US Special Operations forces and three women identified by a senior army official as Moroccan prostitutes.  

The Special Operations forces were supposed to have left Mali in late March, after a military coup overthrew the president. But they reportedly stayed behind to “maintain situational awareness on the unfolding events.” 

One of the dead soldiers was from the “little-known and secretive branch” of the Army called the Intelligence and Security Command that works with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to kill terrorism suspects. Another, Capt. Daniel Utley, was eulogized by Senate Minority Leader McConnell on the Senate floor. 

What exactly were they doing in Mali? The Army isn’t saying. Perhaps they were taking part in one of the classified programs that the Pentagon has apparently been carrying out there over the last six years – programs with names like “Creek Sand,” and “Oasis Enabler.”

Current evidence suggests that if you want to ‘enable’ the kind of indigenous takeover by “al-Qaeda sympathizers” who are dismembering Mali’s ancient city of Timbuktu, send in JSOC and the CIA.  

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.