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
Iran’s ability to launch several hundred missiles into Europe prompted the White House to begin overhauling the U.S. missile defense program. In a U.S. intelligence briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates informed cabinet and congressional members that Iran was getting very close to procuring 100s of missiles capable of striking most European nations.
The United States will begin work on the “phased adaptive approach” or the intergraded sea and land-based missile installations placed around the European allies.
At a congressional meeting on Thursday Gates suggested new intelligence is behind the new push for a more targeted approach for defense missiles.
“One of the elements of the intelligence that contributed to the decision on the phased adaptive array (approach) was the realization that if Iran were actually to launch a missile attack on Europe, it wouldn’t be just one or two missiles, or a handful,” he said. “It would more likely be a salvo kind of attack, where you would be dealing potentially with scores or even hundreds of missiles.”
Secretary Gates said the updated missile interceptors the defense department was developing would give the U.S. the ability to protect American interests abroad as well as our closest allies.
However, Gates pointed out that the new missile interceptors would not be in place until 2020.
“I think by 2020 we may well see it from other states, especially if we’re unsuccessful in stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons,” he explained.
Gates attempted to placate Russia who will always hate the U.S. missile defenses because they cannot match America’s missile defense technology.
“There is no meeting of the minds on missile defense,” Gates told the panel. “The Russians hate it. They’ve hated it since the late 1960s. They will always hate it, mostly because we’ll build it and they won’t.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State said the Russian’s statement noted the Russian government’s right to withdraw from the New START treaty if it feels threatened by the expansion of American defenses against ballistic missiles Iran is building.
“But that is not an agreed upon view. That is not in the treaty,” Clinton told the Armed Services Committee.
In the meantime the U.S. will keep 720 deployed weapons: 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (distributed among 14 submarines); 60 heavy bombers, and up to 420 single-warhead Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at their current three U.S. bases, Gates explained.
Newly-minted Senator Scott Brown (R-MASS) expressed his concern that Russia and France’s conflicting interests with Iran and said the fact they are maintaining commercial relationships, perhaps, helping Iran circumvent international sanctions regarding their nuclear program.
“Russian leadership have all made this statement that this treaty is contingent on the United States not changing, or qualitatively or quantitatively building up, missile defense systems,” Gates said. “That is bound to be worrisome to anyone. The Russians can say what they want. If it’s not in the treaty, it’s not binding on the United States.”
In the meantime the Obama administration will continue their pacifist foreign policy programs, cross their fingers and hope it works.