Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: CIA in Pakistan, Syria, Special Ops in Trans-Sahara

by Micah Zenko
July 26, 2013

Kathy Gannon and Sebastian AbbotCriticism Alters US Drone Program in Pakistan, ABC News, July 25, 2013.

The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called “signature strikes” — hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program…

Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.  Senior Pakistani army officers made it clear that the program could not continue at the tempo it was being carried out and expressed concern that civilian casualties were breeding more militants, said the U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media…

Senior U.S. officials insist they continue to have a secret agreement with Pakistan, or at least from the army, to conduct drone strikes.

(3PA: It is unclear if there has beena formal U.S. government decision to end the practice of signature strikes in Pakistan. The CIA has expanded and contracted signature strikes in the past based upon inter-agency opposition to the practice. In that respect, this week’s article was comparable to the November 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, “U.S. Tightens Drone Rules.” As I wrote this week, signature strikes are indefensible–which is why the U.S. government has never acknowledged that they conduct them–and should be publicly condemned and ended by President Obama.)


A reluctant refuge for al-Qaeda, The Economist, July 25, 2013.

For sure, it is undisputed that fighters loyal to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the Obama administration has marked down as a direct threat to the United States, hide in the province. But local tribes have not given them an eager welcome. Rather, AQAP fighters have exploited the security vacuum in areas where tribal structures have broken down and people are too weak to drive them out…

Most locals, in any event, say that drone attacks on suspected militants in the area make matters worse. The New America Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, lists more than 60 such attacks in Yemen since the start of 2012, most of them south and east of Marib. Some of those drone attacks were against AQAP fighters who last year seized much of Abyan province and then lost control of it. Although the raids on targets in Marib province, which is not an active battlefield, are smaller in number, they still serve to recruit young men to the jihadist cause by spreading fear, increasing a sense of the province’s marginalisation and fuelling even greater distrust of the central government which co-operates with America.


Greg Miller, CIA closing bases in Afghanistan as it shifts focus amid military drawdown, The Washington Post, July 23, 2013.

U.S. officials stressed that the CIA is expected to maintain a significant footprint even after the pullback, with a station in Kabul that will remain among the agency’s largest in the world, as well as a fleet of armed drones that will continue to patrol Pakistan’s tribal belt…

Despite the pullout of U.S. troops and CIA operatives, officials said the drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere is expected to continue for years. Mike Sheehan, the assistant defense secretary for Special Operations, testified recently that such counterterrorism operations will probably last an additional 10 years or more.  The administration official said others believe the end is closer. The strikes will probably last “some period of years,” the official said. “But I don’t think you can project out five or 10.”


Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2013.

The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids.

The new century brought the war on terror and, with it, new rationales and new resources for militarizing police forces. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out $35 billion in grants since its creation in 2002, with much of the money going to purchase military gear such as armored personnel carriers. In 2011 alone, a Pentagon program for bolstering the capabilities of local law enforcement gave away $500 million of equipment, an all-time high…

SWAT teams have their place, of course, but they should be saved for those relatively rare situations when police-initiated violence is the only hope to prevent the loss of life. They certainly have no place as modern-day vice squads.

Many longtime and retired law-enforcement officers have told me of their worry that the trend toward militarization is too far gone. Those who think there is still a chance at reform tend to embrace the idea of community policing, an approach that depends more on civil society than on brute force…


Chris Woods, Get the Data: The Pakistan Government’s Secret Document, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, July 22, 2013.

The Bureau is publishing in full a leaked internal document – titled Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA - which contains the Pakistan government’s own estimates of how many people have died in specific CIA drone strikes…

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children…

(3PA: In response to the publication of this internal document, a U.S. official provided a statement to the Voice of America (VOA): “the notion that the United States has undertaken operations in Pakistan that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis is ludicrous.” According to the VOA, the statement also contended that the document is not credible because it relies “in part on erroneous media reporting.” The United States has never provided any public estimates of the number of civilian casualties caused by targeted killings, nor what methods they would use to do so. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported: “The [CIA] tells U.S. and Pakistani officials that there have been very few civilian deaths—only 60 over the years.” This was a remarkable estimate, given that a classified CIA estimate (which I have read) of 114 drone strikes over a fourteen-month period ending in October 2011, claimed that of approximately 600 people killed, only one was a “civilian.”)


Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Evan Braden Montgomery, By Land and By Sea: Balanced Forces for a Complex Region, Foreign Affairs, July 19, 2013.

On past occasions, U.S. allies have been reluctant to support American military operations when the target of an attack was expected to remain in power and retain its ability to retaliate — which would likely be the case if the United States launched an attack on Iran…

Compounding this dilemma, when a country’s population is opposed to U.S. actions, its leaders are often reluctant to risk a backlash at home by supporting American military operations abroad. In 1996, for example, all of the GCC states rebuffed Washington’s requests to launch attacks against Iraq from their territory due to widespread public disapproval…

To date, most GCC countries have been unwilling to accept permanently stationed U.S. forces on their territory, and there is little reason to believe this will change in the future. Consequently, the United States deploys units on a rotational basis, allowing local countries to consider American forces “temporary guests.”


Jim Garamone, Dempsey: Military Must Be Part of Larger Strategy for SyriaDepartment of Defense, July 24, 2013.

Responding to reporters’ questions, the general prefaced his remarks on Syria by saying it is one of the most complex issues he has studied in his 39 years of military service. “My job as a military leader is to provide options and then to make sure that the men and women whom we may ask to do it are ready to do what we ask them to do,” Dempsey said. “That’s my focus at this point.”…

The chairman said many people look to the military instrument as the first choice in an international crisis. This may be because “we are so well-organized, we are so agile and we are so well-trained,” he said. “But before I would recommend a military solution to this issue, because of the complexity and the myriad actors that are involved, I would have to be convinced that the aftermath of military action would not lead to a failed state in which the suffering would be worse,” he said.


Department of Defense, Contracts, July 24, 2013.

U.S. Transportation Command

Berry Aviation Inc., San Marcos, Texas, is being awarded a $10,725,000 fixed-priced, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for Trans-Sahara short take-off and landing (STOL) services.  The Trans-Sahara STOL contract provides for casualty evacuation, personnel airlift, cargo airlift, and air drop services.  Work will be performed throughout the recognized political boundaries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda, with an expected completion date of June 27, 2017.  The maximum value, including the base period and three one-year option periods, is $49,092,472.  Joint Special Operations Air Detachment 3400 Operations and Maintenance funds in the amount of $1,500,000 are being obligated at time of award.  $9,225,000 will be obligated via Task Order on July 25, 2013.  This contract was a competitive acquisition solicited using the Federal Business Opportunity website, and five offers were received.  The contracting activity is U.S. Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., (HTC711-13-D-C013).

(3PA: Pentagon contracts are often a useful indicator for the location of future covert military operations. In this case, the potential for a Joint Special Operations air detachment coordinating STOL missions related to “casualty evacuation, personnel airlift.”)

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