How the US Recycles Child Soldiers as Paid Mercenaries

Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary explores the hidden history of the private mercenaries (aka “contractors”) who have been fighting the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Bush invaded Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), unbeknownst to the American public, he deployed nearly as many private mercenaries as enlisted troops. Although they cost at least ten times as much as GIs, using private mercenaries was far more palatable to taxpayers. For several reasons.

When the media reports “boots on the ground” in any given conflict, they never include private mercenaries. Likewise, deaths and injuries of mercenaries are never reported in casualty figures.

Besides the enormous expense of using mercenaries to fight US wars, an even bigger drawback is their failure to engage in “hearts and minds” operations that are essential in winning civilian support for US military occupation. For the post part, US-funded mercenaries are despised in Iraq and Afghanistan because of their arrogance, recklessness and lack of accountability for civilian deaths. The filmmakers depict this cocksure flamboyant swaggering quite brilliantly.

Initially a second major drawback was a total absence of coordination between number private companies providing mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon “solved” this problem by hiring yet another private company, the London-based firm Aegis, to coordinate all the other private companies.

When Bush finally withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2007-2008, the private mercenaries remained. However owing to the massive unpopularity of the war, the Defense Department significantly reduced their budget. Whereas mercenaries from the US and other developed countries are paid $1,000 a day, Peruvian and Columbia mercenaries are paid $1,000 a month (see America’s $33 Mercenaries).

Initially Aegis cut costs by switching to Ugandan mercenaries they paid $800 a month. Then they hit pay direct in Sierra Leon, with former child soldiers willing to fight in Iraq for $250 a month.

All the former child soldiers kidnapped to fight in Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991-2002) have been deeply traumatized. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars western countries have pumped into rehabilitating them, many remain too impulsive and aggressive to integrate into society. There are no jobs for them in Sierra Leone: thus their willingness to fight and die in Iraq for $8.30 a day.

The Pentagon keeps no official record of the number of mercenaries it deploys in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the number killed there, nor the number who are former child soldiers.

 

Turkish Invasion Pits Neocons Against Traditional Imperialists

Syrian Kurds celebrate a victory over ISIS. One of the most disciplined forces in the region—aside from Damascus’ own army and Hezbollah—they have been well armed and trained. Their military includes women fighters. Their alliance with the USA will probably cost them dearly.

 

US foreign policy in the Middle East is not merely adrift, it is in a state of severe crisis.

Even as Turkish tanks and warplanes continue to pound US allies in northwestern Syria (The Kurds), powerbrokers in the White House and the Pentagon are unable to settle on a way forward. The frantic attempts to placate their NATO ally, Turkey, while trying to assuage the fears of their mostly Kurdish proxy-army (Syrian Democratic Forces) has further underscored the dismal absence of a coherent policy that would not only address the rapidly-changing battlespace  but also deal with the prospect that a critical regional ally (Turkey) might seek strategic objectives that are directly at odds with those of Washington.  The present disaster that is unfolding in the Afrin canton in Syria’s northwest corner could have been avoided had the Trump administration abstained from announcing that it planned a permanent military presence in east Syria, which implied its tacit support for an independent Kurdish state. This, in fact, was the trigger for the current crisis, the provocation that set the dominoes in motion.

The unexpected escalation of fighting on the ground (Afrin), along with Turkey’s promise to clear the Syrian border all the way to Iraq, has only increased the sense of panic among Trump’s top national security advisors who are making every effort to minimize the damage by trying to bring Turkey’s invasion to a swift end. As yet, there is no sign that Turkey will stop its onslaught short of achieving its goals which involve defeating elements of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have joined the US-backed SDF. Ankara has already warned Washington that it will defend its national security against Kurdish forces (which it considers “terrorists”) whether US troops are located in the area or not. The possibility that one NATO ally might actually attack US Special Forces operating on the ground in Syria has ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity in Washington and across Europe. What started as an announcement that was intended to send a warning to Moscow and Tehran that the US planned to be in Syria “for the long-haul”, has dramatically backfired pitting Ankara against Washington while casting doubt on the Trump administration’s ability to diffuse a potentially-explosive situation. . .

Source: http://www.greanvillepost.com/2018/02/01/turkish-invasion-pits-neocons-against-traditional-imperialists/

Israel’s Secret 40-year War with Iran

The Secret with Iran: The 30-Year Covert Struggle for Control of a “Rogue” State

by Ronen Bergman

Translated by Ronnie Hope

Oneworld (2009)

Book Review

This is a very depressing book. The “secret war” referred to is the covert war Israeli intelligence has fought with Iran over the last [40] years. Most of The Secret War with Iran is an endless chronology of lawless tit-for-tat revenge killings, car bombings, kidnappings and extrajudicial assassinations Israeli intelligence and Hezbollah* impose on one another.

While most of the narrative seems historically accurate, the author’s clear pro-Zionist bias results in a number of troubling inconsistencies. Examples include persistent claims about Iran’s mythical nuclear weapons arsenal – despite verification by US intelligence (see Iran Doesn’t Have a Nuclear Weapons Program) that their nuclear weapons program ceased in 2003; a clear attempt to minimize the role of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine in generating and perpetuating Middle East violence; repeated claims that Iran (rather than Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the CIA) was the key player in the birth of Al Qaeda; and an erroneous assertion that Saddam Hussein expelled UN nuclear inspectors in 1998 (Bill Clinton had them recalled so he could bomb Iraq – see Clinton’s Worst Crimes).

Despite these weaknesses, the book provides valuable insight about the Israeli origin of Iran bashing recently taken up by Trump and the Republican Congress. The book also contains important historical background on Ruhollah Khomeini and the 1979 Iranian revolution to overthrow the ruthless CIA-backed Shah. Prior to reading this book, I was unaware of the role Yassar Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) played in training Iran’s Revolutionary Guards nor the role of Iran in training, arming and funding Hezbollah, the Shi’ite militia group operating on the Israeli border in southern Lebanon.

After 1948 when the new state of Israel forcibly evicted millions of Palestinians from their lands, a sizeable proportion fled to southern Lebanon where they’re housed in refuge camps to this day. It was these camps that gave rise to the PLO.

After their UN-mandated expulsion from Lebanon in 1987, many PLO fighter returned to Palestine – where they launched the first Intifada.


*Hezbollah is a Shi’ite Islamist political party and milita group based in Lebanon. They enjoy strong support from Lebanon’s civilian population owing to their programs offering health, education and social services the Lebanese government is too poor to provide.

Restoration of Aleppo is Well Under Way

 Guest post by Sophie Mangal

According to the Inside Syria Media Center military correspondent on the ground, Aleppo, the largest Syrian city is beginning to come back to peaceful life. Just in December a number of districts of the city were held by terrorists, who were destroying urban infrastructure and keeping entire region in fear.

However after eight month of the city complete liberation, rehabilitation works are boiling in the streets right now. The locals and the representatives of the authorities are taking part in them. At the same time, Aleppo governor Hussain Diab personally supervises repair works at key infrastructure facilities.

Satellite view of Sheikh-Najjar area

The repair works are currently concentrated in the Sheikh-Najjar district, where are a lot of factories, plants and power plants. The water and electricity supply of the whole Aleppo depends on the smooth functioning of the region. Moreover, the economic well-being of the city also depends on the working capacity of the Sheikh-Najjar, as the cotton production facilities are concentrated there.

Hussain Diab inspects water pumping station[/caption]

Last week, Diab along with local entrepreneurs inspected the assessment of this area and drew up a plan of further restoration works. Also during this visit, the governor was shown a newly launched water pumping station and treatment facilities that provide the city with drinking water.

Despite the fact that the two-thirds of the railway tracks in Syria are destroyed due to hostilities, their restoration is also in full play. According to Najib Fares, head of Syrian railways, almost after a five-year break, the railway communication between Aleppo, Homs and Latakia provinces is restored.
Notably, since the beginning of 2017 more than 280 thousand Syrians have used rail transport.

Restoration of railway communication 

It also should be mentioned that, the pharmaceutical factory, which supplies Syrian medicines in more than 100 newly opened pharmacies in the city is reopened in Aleppo. Before the war, there were about 30 similar enterprises in the city.

Newly opened pharmacy in Aleppo People buying medicines

Most of restorations works take place in extremely difficult conditions, since Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham militants (ex Jabhat Al-Nusra) commit terrorist acts. Earlier this week, on August 7, a large explosion occurred inside the Tariq Bin Ziad base in Masaken Sabil area, 4 people were badly wounded.

Undoubtedly, the process of post-military restoration of Aleppo and the country as a whole will take place against the background of the international economic sanctions, which have been imposed by the U.S. and several European states.
Unfortunately, many European leaders do not understand that the imposed restrictions affect just ordinary people. Only by lifting the sanctions, having developed and accepting a joint post-war plan for the restoration of Syria, the Western countries can assist the Syrians, in rebuilding their destroyed homeland.

Sophie Mangal is the special investigative correspondent and co-editor of Inside Syria Media Center.

Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

Inside Afghanistan’s Opium Trade

Afghan Overdose: Inside the Opium Trade

RT (2015)

Film Review

Afghan Overdose is an RT documentary that seems more geared for Russian than foreign consumption. Although the narrator is dubbed in English, actual dialogue is Russian or Farsi with subtitles.

As its northern neighbor, Russia is one of the primary destinations of Afghan heroin smugglers – roughly 30,000 Russians die of heroin overdose annually. The Russian government is so concerned about their heroin epidemic that they routinely provide the Afghan government with satellite imagery of the country’s heroin labs.

Segments from so-called opium “raids” leave no doubt the government’s heroin eradication efforts are purely cosmetic. Because the 15 1/2 year war with the US has totally destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, opium production is the only source of livelihood open to tens of thousands of residents

The arrival of ISIS in Afghanistan – who oppose the Taliban – only contributes to the overall chaos and instability.

The film’s only weakness is its lack of historical or political perspective. According to RT, opium production is the primary source of revenue for the Taliban (who control most of the country outside of Kabul). However it’s not clear how the Taliban switched over from being adamantly anti-opium prior to the US invasion to relying on it as their primary source of revenue.

It’s intriguing to hear to anti-Taliban locals talking about the US/CIA creating the Taliban as a cover for their heroin trafficking, about NATO soldiers fighting alongside the Taliban against anti-Taliban warlords and about US troops that directly engage in various aspects of opium production. I think this would have been a better documentary were some of these lines of inquiry pursued.

 

The June 6 US Airstrike Against Syria

Torture 101

Taxi to the Dark Side

Directed by Alex Gibney (2007)

Film Review

Taxi to the Dark Side is a detailed expose of Bush administration torture polices at three overseas US prisons: Bagram in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo in Cuba. It traces extensive documentary evidence that high level Bush administration officials (including Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney) personally approved illegal torture techniques and covered them up by court martially low level officers – who they dismissed as “a few bad apples.”

The film takes its title from an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar who was accidentally swept up by occupying forces in 2002. Dilawar died of torture-induced injuries within five days of detention, a death an Army pathologist classified as homicide. A total of 105 detainees had died in US torture facilities as of 2007 when this film was made. Of these, 37 were classified as homicide.

During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to “bring back torture.” His reversal earlier this week makes this documentary especially pertinent, as he’s likely to face some backlash from his neocon supporters.

 

American Soldiers Hoist U.S. flag in Syria, Set Up New Military Base

us-flag

A new batch of U.S. special forces have entered Syria through Turkey and set up camp at the Al-Monbath hill in the countryside of Tell Abyad, a Kurdish-held region north of Raqqa.

In total, 50 American troops – 10 of which are classified as combat advisors – are stationed at the base. The crew is armed to the teeth with heavy weaponry and accompanied by 17 armored vehicles. Communication equipment has been set up while U.S. flags have somewhat controversially been hoisted at the base.

Source: AMN

The Private Spook Behind Iraq’s Death Squads

James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq

BBC (2013)

Film Review

The main purpose of this documentary is to expose the paramilitary death squads Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld created in Iraq. Their ultimate was to suppress the Sunni insurgency which formed in early 2003 to oppose the US occupation.

The film goes a long way towards debunking the propaganda Bush and the corporate media dispensed to the American public that the US enemy in Iraq was an international terrorist organization called al Qaeda. The military force responsible for suicide bombings and roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices) was actually a spontaneous uprising in response to the US invasion and occupation. It was largely organized by Sunni troops and public servants who served in Saddam Hussein’s government and were stripped of their occupations and careers by Bush’s disastrous de-Baathification program.

Cheney and Rumsfeld knew the guerrillas fighting the occupation represented a genuine insurrection. Determined to preserve their puppet Baghdad government at all costs, they called in James Steele, their foremost counterinsurgency expert. Steele, a retired military officer, had extensive experience creating and managing local paramilitary death squads in Vietnam and El Salvador.

In Iraq, Steele organized death squads out of Shia militias who had been brutally oppressed by Saddam Hussein and were eager for revenge. What resulted was a bloody civil war between Shia and Sunni-led fighters. The civil war was responsible for 3,000 deaths a day prior to the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.

The film starts by interviewing embassy and DEA officials who worked directly with Colonel Steele when he was running El Salvador’s paramilitary death squads out of the US embassy in San Salvador.  The preponderance of evidence suggests it was Steele who oversaw the massacre of 25,000 Salvadoran civilians and most likely the assassination of human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero (in 1980 while he was saying mass) and the 1980 rape and murder of four American nuns (Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark and Ita Ford).

Reportedly it was Cheney who recruited Steele to implement the “Salvadoran option” in Iraq. As an ex-military civilian, Steele’s official cover was “energy consultant.” Nevertheless the Iraq commanders who worked with him leave no doubt he was in charge of the specially trained 5,000-strong police commando group formed from Shia militias.

The filmmakers also interview a number of Iraqis who worked in Iraqi prisons and interrogation centers and directly witnessed the torture overseen by Steele. Several members of the Oregon National Guard (deployed to an Iraqi prison detail) were so horrified by one torture session they tried to intervene to stop it. When their military superiors ordered them to stand down and forget what they had seen, they went straight to a local Oregon newspaper. The resulting scandal would lead to the withdrawal of Steele, Coffman and Petraeus from Iraq and the sacking of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.