Fifteen years ago today, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American planes, used them as guided missiles, brought down the World Trade Towers, severely damaged the Pentagon, and four terrorists were overpowered by Americans over a field in Pennsylvania. The suicide terrorist attacks killed 2,996, caused more than $100 billion in damages and stole America’s innocence.
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According to a new Pew Research Center poll, the 9/11 attacks continue to be a powerful memory for Americans: 91 percent of adults remember exactly where they were or what they were doing when they heard about the terrorist attacks.
So how has the 15–year “war on terror” changed America? Looking back and forward, can Americans really believe they are safer?
First a bit of history, the “war on terror” rightly started in the tribal nation of Afghanistan. Brand-new President George W. Bush summoned his top advisors to the Oval Office and chose Cofer Black, former CIA whiz, to implement a devastating retaliation for the nearly three thousand deaths. Black offered no mercy and told the rookie president that this effort required a few hundred specially trained military forces, 110 CIA officers, direct firepower, a bunch of money and his plan would end with what Black called – using an old Angola War expression – “when this is all over, the bad guys are going to have flies walking across their eyeballs.”
After 10 weeks, Black and his stealth-fighting machine proclaimed victory. All the Taliban cities, as well as their government, had been toppled.
In a 2013 Men’s Journal interview Black was asked if he briefed the Russians about the impending attack and how the Ruskies responded to his plan. They said, “You’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you.” Black replied, “We’re going to kill them – we’re going to put their heads on sticks… and you know what, the Russians loved it! After the meeting was over, two senior Russian officials, whom I will not name, said to me, ‘Mr. Black, finally America is acting like a superpower!’”
The follow through earned Black and the US the respect that had been sorely lacking.
The success should have ended there. But as we know, it didn’t. Bush ensnared the country into an ill-defined and ill-conceived “war on terror” that continues today.
Whether you agree with the “war on terror” or not, the consequences are very real and very alarming. With the advent of comprehensive counterinsurgency, COIN or nation-building, thanks General Petraeus, the taxpayers have spent trillions of dollars in a region made up of tribal nations.
Case in point, in a recent interview, Commander of Afghanistan US and NATO Forces, General John Nicholson told PBS the war’s progress is tedious. “We’re trying to build an airplane while in flight, OK? So they’re fighting a war while we’re trying to build an army. This is very hard,” he explained.
It must be said that the “war on terror” falls under the asymmetrical category. The sneaky “stateless” armies must be defeated with clear goals and end-state solutions. It’s here where the most powerful armed forces on the planet have stumbled.
In his book the Field of Fight, retired Army three-star General Mike Flynn describes the best way to defeat marauding radical Islamic terrorists. Flynn says to win the battle against radical Islam we must destroy the jihadi armies, kill or capture their leaders, discredit their ideology, create a 21st-century alliance and must hold countries, like Saudi Arabia, accountable for supporting terrorism.
“The best plan gives you the most options at the last possible minute. Right now we don’t have the best plan. A real strategic discussion about what it is that we are trying to achieve. Is it the defeat of radical Islam? It has to be beyond that and that’s where an alliance of nations has to get it together,” Flynn said.
It cost Osama bin-Laden roughly $500,000 to bring down the Twin Towers and Pentagon. In return, the US has suffered tens of thousands of casualties and flushed away trillions of dollars into the Middle East black hole. Plus, hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died and more than 12 million of refugees are now stateless. Newt Gingrich said this week the US has failed so badly in the Middle East that we are giving the number one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, $1.7 billion in cash, just like a drug cartel.
“So 15 years after 9/11, we’re not winning. We’re not winning in Afghanistan. We’re not winning in Iraq. We’re not winning in Syria. We’re not winning in Libya. We’re not winning in Yemen,” Gingrich emphasized (mimicking Donald Trump). He’s right.
One reason for the protracted war may be the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. American arms and technology companies export, firearms, fighter jets, tanks, as well as Patriot Missile batteries.
The big winner in the Department of State’s 2017 budget includes $5.7 billion for Foreign Military Financing. The main recipients of the proposed budget will be Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($350 million), Pakistan ($265 million), and Iraq ($150 million).
While the Middle East tops the list, funding for Africa in 2017 will double from last year. Due to ISIS’ expansion into Africa, countries like Mali, Somalia, and Nigeria will see an influx of American weaponry. But why do American leaders want to militarize the African continent? Of course, the prominent argument is; “if the US doesn’t do something then other countries will do it.” However, no other country on the planet finances military sales like the US.
The US and its band of misfit coalition partners have implemented a massive military build-up on the Arabian Peninsula and Israel. Let’s take a look at the military arsenal provided to a few coalition partners, most of which are also classified as human rights violators according to the State Department (link to other FMS article).
For the last three years, the US has provided tens of billions of dollars in military weaponry through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to the United Arab Emirates (UAE); population 5.6 million, Qatar; population 2.1 million, Kuwait; population 2.7 million and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA); population 27.3 million.
The US has also provided both offensive and defensive weapon systems – some are designed to protect against airborne missile retaliation and air attacks. For example, the US supplied Qatar ($9.9B), Kuwait ($4.2 billion), and UAE ($1.1B) with Patriot anti-missile systems and UAE also acquired a $6.5B theater anti-air defense (THAAD) system. This type of weaponry typically protects against missile attacks from such weapons as SCUDs and the MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) like the 880 launchers the Islamic Republic of Iran operates. The MLRS has a range of approximately 300 kilometers, making it easily capable of reaching any of the Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and even KSA.
America also sold KSA $6.7 billion worth of KC-130 aerial refueling tankers, the UAE $4 billion and KSA $6.8 billion of munitions including “bunker buster bombs,” (typically used to attack harden targets like nuclear facilities); Qatar a $1.2 billion early warning radar suite; KSA $1.3 billion for 30 patrol boats for use in the Gulf of Hormuz; KSA $4 billion to upgrade its national guard; Qatar spent $3 billion on Apache Longbow attack helicopters used for special operations insertions. The list also includes the Globemaster long-range air transport planes, Javelin missiles, F-18’s and F-16’s, and Sidewinder anti-air missiles.
Also for last few years, the US has been quietly aiding the rebel insurgency in Syria trying to overthrow the Iranian-backed government of Bashir al-Assad. There have been multiple news reports, (including this report) that the US provided weapons collected from deposed Libyan Dictator Qaddafi and moved them through its CIA clearinghouse in Turkey to supply al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups opposing the Assad regime. It’s worth pointing out that both Qatar and KSA have been major supporters of the anti-Assad insurgency that evolved from a national rebellion and morphed into a major jihadi operation.
Details of this massive military build-up can be found on the Department of State (DoS) website. The DoS oversees Government-to-Government defense transfers through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and is implemented through DoD’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Interestingly, “(I)n addition to FMS, the Department of State also issues export licenses to US companies providing defense articles and services through our Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) efforts, usually after an intensive interagency review to ensure that exports further US foreign policy and national security interests,” a State Department official said. However, “Export license information is not disclosed by the Department due to restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations, but general information is released from DCS.”
According to the State Department, in the case of either FMS or DCS, the United States takes into account political, military, economic, arms control, and human rights conditions in making decisions on the provision of military equipment and the licensing of direct commercial sales to any country, in accordance with the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, the Arms Export Control Act, and relevant international agreements
“Review and monitoring are an integral component of the process for US- origin defense articles delivered to any recipient nation. This is to make sure that those articles are being used in the manner intended and are consistent with our legal obligations, foreign policy goals, and values,” a Senior State Department official said.
And both State and Defense argue that Middle Eastern countries have agreed to work toward US security interests and abide by President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine.
However, looking at the current Middle East conflicts finds every country focused on sectarian protectionism, especially since the Obama administration has seemingly checked out. It is essential that this high-tech arsenal provided to foreign nations by US defense contractors be carefully monitored. The consequences of equipment falling into the wrong hands can be deadly, as it was for flight MH17 in Ukraine.
As the impact of ISIS’ offensive continues to sink in, US intelligence officials contend ISIS did not just randomly explode on the scene in 2014, they claim to have been reporting to high-level government officials the rise as well as the expansion of ISIS since 2012. This murderous organization is largely fueled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk testified before a Committee claiming, “The ISIS’ operations are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
“This was a very clear case in which the US knew what was going on but followed a policy of deliberate neglect,” said Vali Nasr, the Dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former State Department adviser for the Middle East. During its assault in the region, ISIS received protection from KSA and Qatar. Both nations warned the US not to interfere with ISIS’s march to conquer northwestern Iraq and its turn west toward Syria and Jordan. America obeyed and ISIS gobbled up the region and spoils of war that included American tanks, helicopters, and artillery.
Many military experts said the opportunity to strike ISIS came and went when the 7,500-man Islamic Army crossed the wide-open Damascus-Baghdad Highway.
Military generals said the terror group was vulnerable to air attack with minimal collateral damage concerns. In the end, ISIS got its free passage from Mosul to eastern Syria with US inaction, which was tantamount to acquiescence.
“We oppose all foreign intervention and interference. There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or by any other government. This is Iraq’s problem and they must sort it out themselves,” Saudi Prince Mohammed told the UK Telegraph. Just in case that bad intel was on the horizon, the Saudis immediately moved 30,000 combat troops to protect its border with Iraq.
Many Middle East policy experts say the Sunni’s view of ISIS as an Iraqi Sunni revolution against their Shiite oppressors is myopic and portends a broader Islamic war between Sunnis and Shiites.
From the US perspective, the ISIS campaign presents a myriad of conflicts. Qatar and KSA are major recipients of billions of dollars worth of US weapons through FMS, yet their direct support of ISIS, a terrorist group, means Qatar and KSA meet the definition of state sponsors of terrorism and should be banned from participation in the military program. Nevertheless, the end user certificates and export licenses are routinely approved by the State and Defense Departments, including an $11 billion sale to Qatar. (The Pentagon has refused multiple efforts to release the end-user agreements to this reporter as requested under FOIA.)
Furthermore, Qatar, KSA, and Kuwait are listed as Tier 2WL (Watch List) and Tier 3 under U.S. anti-trafficking in humans reports, which require a waiver by President Obama stating the sale is in national security interests. To the outside world, the US ostensibly appears to be violating its own anti-terrorism and anti-trafficking laws to provide sophisticated weapons systems to these human rights violators.
The infusion of military-grade weapons in the region only portends much more war. The war between the Sunnis and Shiites has grown more contentious due to the dysfunction of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916. Essentially the Agreement drew a twentieth-century map that granted control of Syria, Lebanon and Turkish Cilicia to the French and Palestine, Jordan and areas around the Persian Gulf, Baghdad to the British. That was followed by the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that outlined a “Kurdistan” as an entity by Şerif Pasha, who represented the Society for the Ascension of Kurdistan (Kürdistan Teali Cemiyeti). That promise was never kept and it’s doubtful the Kurds, who are Caucasian or Indo-European and not Arab, will wait another 100 years to establish their own country, one that will control its destiny through its own oil and revenues from oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea.
The complexity of the middle east today reflects Winston Churchill’s description of Russia in October 1939: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Perhaps Russia is the key to the Middle East today.
Neither agreement ever took into account the tribal nature of the region that will continue to dog the Middle East until new maps emerge, or complete Armageddon is achieved. Until that day, America will continue to find itself under the threat of attack from a region that really doesn’t offer the US much. So are we safer after 15 years of war? Stay tuned!
© Copyright 2016 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved
On Sunday the world collectively sighed when news broke the most wanted terrorist and brainchild of 9/11 was finally killed. Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight-in a Pakistan town with major military bases, academies and neighbors.
After nearly 10 years of searching for bin Laden, U.S. intelligence agencies finally put the puzzle pieces together and it doesn’t reflect well on Pakistan.
According to the Obama Administration, higher-up boots on the ground in Afghanistan determined last summer that Pakistanis may not be helping U.S. and NATO forces, but instead assisting the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists by providing safe havens and tipping them off to planned missions led by the Coalition forces.
However, to make that statement plausible, means someone in the military or intelligence didn’t do their homework, because in 2003/04, a plan was hatched by Army Lt. COL Anthony Shaffer entitled “Operation Dark Heart.” He reported that Pakistan officials were not friends of the U.S., and they were playing both sides of the war efforts.
In the midst of Intel gathering, COL Shaffer, who was running the Defense Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan, discovered credible intelligence that Pakistan was home to the “al Qaeda Hotel.” Multiple intelligence officers pin-pointed the town of Wana, located in Pakistan about 20 miles from Afghanistan, as a base where the Afghan insurgency would hold-up and re-group.
COL Shaffer and others determined the “al Qaeda Hotel” was much more than a resting point, “it was a full-blown military headquarters for insurgents.” The problem was the facility was located in Pakistan and the U.S. respected their sovereignty too much to cross the border without permission. And permission would have meant the insurgents would be tipped off to the U.S. raid.
Armed with this new information, COL Shaffer decided to draw up a mission- that became known as “Operation Dark Heart.” “I was hopeful that my superiors would give me a thumbs up to implement Dark Heart, especially since there was strong likelihood the site housed a high value target (HVT).” COL Shaffer said that HVT was al Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born doctor who adheres to the radical Islam theology and most likely contender for the al Qaeda top job.
During a preliminary presentation, COL Shaffer was given the green light to develop Operation Dark Heart. Shaffer says it only took about two weeks to draw up detailed plans. And only a few days gain approval from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. “It was good news,” he thought.
While COL Shaffer was planning the offensive he remembered his hero, George Patton’s statement; “In war, the only sure defense is offense and the efficiency of offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it.” With that in mind COL Shaffer put together a plan to break the back of the insurgency.
Operation Dark Heart seemed to be on the road to becoming a reality, in fact, COL Shaffer learned the Coalition General, supported the operation was confident that COL Shaffer’s approach would lead to success. However, the General would leave Afghanistan before Shaffer’s plan was operational.
The new General in charge of the Afghan War didn’t share the enthusiasm for Dark Heart and informed COL Shaffer it was over and the U.S. would not cross the Pakistani border without permission. Operation Dark Heart was being shelved.
During the planning stages of Dark Heart Shaffer feared the CIA would inadvertently leak the details regarding the operation to the ISI. “Once the Pakistanis knew, the Taliban would find out,” COL Shaffer stated.
He speculated that his intelligence regarding Wana, home of the al Qaeda Hotel had eventually been shared with the Pakistanis, who then “let al-Zawahiri escape…probably deliberately during the Battle of Wana,” Shaffer told Playboy magazine.
Specifics regarding Operation Dark Heart, which could have led Americans to the capture of Al Qaeda’s number two leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, were eventually panned by Coalition Lieutenant General David Barno.
While Shaffer’s Dark Heart plan to penetrate the so-called “al Qaeda hotel” in Wana, Pakistan was shot down, his Intel proved to be on target. Ultimately the Pakistani Army engaged Taliban forces in Wana and surrounded one of bin Laden’s deputies.
However, Dark Heart weighed heavily on COL Shaffer and the U.S.’s inability to fight the war effectively led the Colonel to write a book detailing his Afghanistan War experiences. The book aptly titled “Operation Dark Heart” chronicled gritty details regarding Pakistan’s and U.S. complicity with insurgents and the contents eventually led to the Pentagon stepping forward, objecting to the recount of the war and trying to quash the tell-all book.
That book, which was originally approved by Department of Defense, would become a battle royal last summer. In the end the DoD would purchase all 10,000 first editions from the publishers, St. Martin Press, forcing them to re-release a heavily-redacted book. The orgional contents of the book even caused a bidding frenzy on eBay, many wanted to know what the Pentagon was trying to cover-up.
Flash forward to the bin Laden raid in Abottabad, Pakistan. As details of bin Laden’s demise emerged one couldn’t help but compare many of the principles behind Dark Heart to the raid on the Osama compound over the weekend.
When COL Shaffer was asked about the similarities he replied with humbleness. “It took awhile and I don’t know how much of my Operation Dark Heart plan they used, but I’m honored to have played a small role in bin Laden’s demise.”
Shaffer says, “It never came out in the book, because they made me lose it, but if Operation Dark Heart hadn’t been stopped, we might have broken the back of Al Qaeda…my guess is that the DIA forced the cuts [from my book] to minimize this incredibly bad call on a mission that might have led to the capture of Al Qaeda’s number two.”
If the military followed through with Shaffer’s plan to break the back of al Qaeda one wonders how many lives could have been save?
Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror
It appears that sometime in the past few years the major players in the military and intelligence fields finally came to the conclusion that Pakistan could not be trusted.
In a report released by the London School of Economics last year, the authors provided specific details that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were closely aligned with Afghan insurgents. Perhaps even more troubling is a report from the United Nations that illustrates that the ISI is currently working with jihad groups inside Afghanistan trying to undermine the U.S./NATO operations.
In recent months many high-ranking U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of collaborating with terrorists in the region. Admiral Mike Mullen, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said earlier this year that, “It’s fairly well known that ISI has a long standing relationship with the Haqqani network (a faction of the Taliban). And Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners…that’s the core (issue) that I think is the most difficult part of the (Pakistan) relationship.”
As war dragged on it became increasingly clear that Pakistan was not forthright about their ties to terrorist networks. In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, acknowledged that Pakistan was kept in the dark about the bin Laden operation.
“The Pakistanis did not know…And that was deliberate on our part that this would be conducted as a unilateral mission. President Obama had made it very clear to the Pakistanis that if we had good evidence as to where Osama bin Laden was located we were going to go in and get him,” Panetta said.
Perhaps even more concerning about the complicity Pakistanis have with insurgents inside their country is the fact bin Laden’s hide-out compound is home to many of Pakistan’s premier military bases and retired military residences- it’s hard to believe they didn’t noticed something strange about the million-dollar hide out bin Laden lived in for the past five years.
The bottom line is that after meticulous preparation by U.S.military Special Forces – America got bin Laden. And the message being spread around the world today is the elite U.S. military and intelligence officers will not stop hunting terrorists and there is no place to hide.
In the end, COL Shaffer agrees with Panetta on a few points. American intelligence and the Obama Administration learned from the failed and disastrous Iran hostage rescue as well as the Somali Black Hawk Down missions.
“(Those events) were clearly part of the debate,” Panetta said. “This was a risky mission…and the President obviously felt that we had that obligation to act.”
The gamble certainly paid off, but if America wants to keep the momentum going, COL Shaffer says it’s much like electoral politics in America it’s, “Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.” And in the Middle East it is “Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.”
Up next: Navy SEALs get the job done.
© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.