A second round of peace talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives, expected to begin before the end of July, 2015, suggests that some parties to the fighting want to declare a cease fire. But even in the short time since the first round on July 7th, fighting has intensified. The Taliban, the Afghan government forces, various militias and the U.S. have ramped up attacks, across Afghanistan.
Some analysts say the Taliban may be trying to gain territory and clout to give them leverage in ‘peace talks.’ Taliban forces, apparently beginning to splinter since the supposed death of Mullah Omar, are now competing with a new Islamic State presence in Afghanistan as various armed groups try to recruit new fighters from among ultra-conservative sectors of the regional population. Spectacular and frightening suicide bombings, hostage taking and a demonstrated capacity to force Afghan government soldiers into retreat or surrender might bolster a group’s claim to be effectively ejecting foreigners from Afghanistan.
However, the US, with its history of waging aerial attacks, using helicopters and weaponized drones, and engaging in constant aerial surveillance, along with its continued night raids and detention of civilians, effectively carries itself as the most formidable warlord in the region.
Throughout June, according to the New York Times, “American drones and warplanes fired against militants in Afghanistan more than twice as much as they had in any previous month this year, according to military statistics.” On July 19th, 2015, US helicopters even fired on an Afghan army facility in the Logar province, killing seven troops and wounding five others. The Afghan Ministry of Defense told CBS News that “coalition helicopters were flying through the area early Monday morning when they came under fire from insurgents. After the insurgents’ attack on the helicopters, the helicopters bombed the area, and as a result an Afghan army outpost was destroyed.”
US military officials are loudly bragging about their latest initiative to reassure Europe, a program that was called, unlikely enough, the European Reeassurance Initiative (ERI), and which to this point has involved moving a lot of sand around, and building some roads in rural parts of several Baltic states.
ERI is nominally the latest in a long line of programs the Obama Administration has announced to “combat Russian aggression,” and which are meant to build up nations along the Russian frontier to support massive US military deployments to spite Russia.
The plans are often ill-conceived, as the US idea to deploy huge amounts of tanks into several of these countries ran into problems because the tanks are stored in swampy areas where the mud makes it virtually impossible to drive a tank, and NATO has taken to having to “ship” those tanks back and forth to their various anti-Russia photo ops.
In this regard, ERI is trying to be the solution for the military-created problem, hauling thousands of tonnes of sand into those swampy areas to build “tank trails” that they can drive the tanks through, along with roads to support the infrastructure for the NATO operations in the area.
The army sees it as a win-win, as the pricey construction involves the use of contractors, and is subsequently popular with the host countries, and also lets the army deploy people to not-war-zones, which is “good for morale.”
That the whole program is make-work to “reassure” European nations about the US commitment to take part in some unlikely, disastrous future war with Russia is just gravy for them, as the Pentagon sees talk of a new Cold War as a great excuse to push for bigger budgets, and if they can’t physically position forces in the Baltic swamps for this scheme, they’ll build up the swamps so they can.
An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose providing any special compensation to the state of Israel in order to assuage its concerns about the Iran nuclear deal. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the Iran deal as an “existential threat” and retains Israel’s right to attack Iran.
Asked to indicate their level of support for various compensation options proposed during or after negotiations:
Only 7.9 percent support increasing annual US aid to Israel from $3.5 billion to $5 billion. Israel currently receives the largest share of the total US foreign aid budget. The Obama administration is offering increased aid to reduce Israeli opposition to the deal, though no specific package is on the table.
Just 4.1 percent favor giving Israel deep penetrating “bunker buster” bombs of the type designed to destroy fortified targets. Michael Makovsky, president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has widely promoted giving the weapons to Israel along with the bombers needed for delivery.
Last week’s U.S. drone strike in southern Somalia killed al Shabaab leaders Ismail Jabhad and Ismail Dhere. That’s according to both Somali intelligence and Kenyan officials, who offered incomplete and conflicting details on what appeared to be a larger strike against al Shabaab fighters near Bardere, along with a second US drone strike on al Shabaab in northern Kenya.
The one thing they were sure about – despite the secretive nature of US military operations in Somalia – is that a US drone carried out the strike in Somalia for at least the third time this year, one of dozens of US drone strikes on Somalia conservatively dating back to 2011. As US intervention continues to evolve and expand in the Horn of Africa, many of these missions have been confirmed in recent years by US military and intelligence officials, and by their diplomatic counterparts who are increasingly willing to concede there are American boots on the ground. As a token of the importance the US ascribes to tackling terrorism in Africa, President Obama will visit Kenya and Ethiopia later in July.
What is becoming less clear is how effective any US efforts are in securing a stable Somalia.
The latest strike comes just two weeks after a Foreign Policy magazine investigation revealed a US base in the southern Somalian port of Kismayo, as well as in Baledogle, operated by JSOC special operations personnel in support of the Somali military and African Union forces. Prior to the FP report, US drone strikes in Somalia were said to originate in neighboring Djibouti, one of several bases in Africa with a strategic eye on Somalia, including Ethiopia and the Seychelles.
This week’s episode from GritTV focuses on modern warfare and US imperialism. Is drone warfare here to stay? It’s one of the few things Republicans and Democrats agree on. Andrew Cockburn has been a rare critical voice on the subject. He is the Washington editor of Harper’s magazine and the author of several nonfiction books on war and international politics. His new book is Kill Chain: The Rise of High-Tech Assassins. And later in the show, an excerpt from a new film about a young man held in the US prison at Guantanamo, Fahd Ghazy.