It’s Terrorism, Stupid

Anyone who heard about the night raids in Afghanistan should have been worried: it marks a shift from trying to engage an enemy on clear ground to hitting them where they live. As someone who grew up during the war in Vietnam, it’s hard not to think of “Search and Destroy” missions and the Phoenix Program.

For those of you who don’t know, the Phoenix Program was CIA’s contribution to the war effort: [wik]

The major two components of the program were Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) and regional interrogation centers. PRUs would kill or capture suspected VC members, as well as civilians who were thought to have information on VC activities. Many of these people were taken to interrogation centers and were tortured in an attempt to gain intelligence on VC activities in the area. The information extracted at the centers was given to military commanders, who would use it to task the PRU with further capture and assassination missions. The program’s effectiveness was measured in the number of VC members who were “neutralized”, a euphemism meaning imprisoned, persuaded to defect, or killed.

The program was in operation between 1965 and 1972, and similar efforts existed both before and after that period. By 1972, Phoenix operatives had “neutralized” 81,740 suspected VC operatives, informants and supporters, of whom between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed. During the same 1965–1972 period the VC killed 33,052 South Vietnamese village officials and civil servants.

It appears that the night raids were just the military/special forces side of the effort; the CIA had its own thing going on, straight out of their standard play-book, Phoenix-style, Contra-style, dirty war: [nyt]

NADER SHAH KOT, Afghanistan – Razo Khan woke up suddenly to the sight of assault rifles pointed at his face, and demands that he get out of bed and onto the floor.

Within minutes, the armed raiders had separated the men from the women and children. Then the shooting started.

As Mr. Khan was driven away for questioning, he watched his home go up in flames. Within were the bodies of two of his brothers and of his sister-in-law Khanzari, who was shot three times in the head. Villagers who rushed to the home found the burned body of her 3-year-old daughter, Marina, in a corner of a torched bedroom.

The men who raided the family’s home that March night, in the district of Nader Shah Kot, were members of an Afghan strike force trained and overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency in a parallel mission to the United States military’s, but with looser rules of engagement.

“Looser rules of engagement” means “no rules of engagement” more or less.

Those fighting forces, also referred to as counterterrorism pursuit teams, are recruited, trained and equipped by C.I.A. agents or contractors who work closely with them on their bases, according to several current and former senior Afghan security officials, and the members are paid nearly three times as much as regular Afghan soldiers.

Just as, during the Vietnam War, there’s the “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” dilemma: on one hand there are troops trying “hearts and minds” to win over the locals and, on the other, there are the daggers in the dark.

“The dilemma is this: The C.I.A. needs to fight its wars in the shadows,” said Karl Eikenberry, a former commander of American forces in Afghanistan who later served as the United States ambassador to Kabul. “But when the U.S. also takes on the mission of state-building, then the contradictions between the two approaches – stealth, black ops, and non-transparency vs. institution building, rule of law, and accountability – become extraordinarily difficult to resolve, and our standing as a nation suffers.”

Let me re-frame that a bit differently: while there’s one part of our forces trying to build a civil society, there’s another part doing whatever they can to prevent that from happening. That’s an irony that Woody Allen captured in his 1971 movie <i>Bananas<i> which has a scene where the hero is stuck on a C-130 full of commandos that are about to drop in and overthrow the government of a central american “banana republic” and one of the commandos says something to the effect of: “the CIA also has assets on the other side. That way, no matter what happens, we’ll be aligned with whoever wins.”

American defense officials in Washington say the C.I.A. operations in Afghanistan are largely opaque to military generals operating in the war zone. The C.I.A.’s level of partnership has been declining as the Afghan intelligence agency and its forces grow more mature, the officials said. But as American military forces are set to draw down, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency is only likely to grow in importance.

Translating: as the soldiers head home, the assassins will stay behind.

------ divider ------

Stanley McChrystal ran the Iraq version of the special forces night raider teams. So far, details about what they did have not come out, but there are plenty of indications that it’s the usual mix of assassinations and war crimes. McChrystal is considered a great success because his crew managed to find and kill Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi “the Sheik of The Slaughterers” [wik]

McChrystal’s Zarqawi unit, Task Force 6-26, became well known for its interrogation methods, particularly at Camp Nama, where it was accused of abusing detainees. After the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal became public in April 2004, 34 members of the task force were disciplined. McChrystal later said that, “we found that nearly every first-time jihadist claimed Abu Ghraib had first jolted him into action.”

Hearts and minds. McChrystal, remember, considers himself too moral to work for Donald Trump. I guess he’s the new Sheik Of The Slaughterers.

The bit about the task force members being disciplined did not get a lot of press coverage; the media was too busy dissecting poor ignorant Lynndie England and the designated gomers that got thrown under the bus.


  1. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Man that story about shooting the relatives, including the child, is fucked up. You are right Marcus: However cynical I become regarding the government, it’s not enough.

  2. says

    However cynical I become regarding the government, it’s not enough.

    It’s like they just can’t keep from hiring sociopaths and giving them guns and sending them out to kill people. They just can’t control it.

    (If you’re not familiar with the Phoenix Program, my advice is: stay that way)

  3. says

    Oh, the Vietnam War. One of the reasons why I’m dissatisfied with the education I got at school. Those people who wrote my school history textbooks wanted children to think that Americans were the good guys. Some of the things school taught me:

    – Agent Orange and napalm were used only for the purpose of destroying rainforests where soldiers were hiding. They weren’t intended to destroy anything else besides trees. Wait, there’s a photo of a girl being badly injured by napalm? An unfortunate accident.
    – Americans together with South Vietnamese people were fighting against North Vietnamese people. Americans fighting against South Vietnamese people? Never happened.

    I guess you can see why I was pretty pissed off once I finished school and started learning some additional info about this war on my own. My history textbooks talked about Soviet atrocities while pretending that American ones never even existed.

  4. komarov says

    Would this be the same “Democracy Box” McChrystal mentioned in a recent posting? And now I learn he peddled torture, too. Not someone whose merchandise I’d like to buy. But I guess it’s nice for everyone how Trump has become the (current) bottom of the barrel, giving them the easy illusion of moral superiority.

    And I think I’ll take your advice on remaining ignorant about phoenix. The wiki quote is hinting rather loudly at what to expect. The word “suspected” stands out. Then there’s how the author went with “killed or captured” rather than reverse. It could have been an “artistic” decision with no meaning at all, implied or otherwise. But: CIA. Vietnam. Assume te worst.

    The CIA has a such a sterling reputation that is simply incompatible with the notion of hearts and minds. If you’re serious about the mantra the first step would be not bringing them along. Maybe the next time the US sells its exhalted products to some unwilling customers they could even use that as a slogan: “Now torture free!”

  5. lorn says

    Hearts and minds are almost impossible to win over no matter what tactic you use. Gentle or harsh, generous or not. A lot of it comes down to a simple concept that the locals tend to understand: Are we staying permanently, or are we, eventually, leaving. If we are not settling in families it is simply a matter of time before we are gone and the people we fight against are still there. Seventeen years is a long time for us but these societies have histories that go back centuries.

  6. lochaber says

    I’ve got a bit of prior enlisted experience, and the Abu Ghraib thing bothered me a lot.

    Not that I think Lynndie England and the other scapegoats should be completely absolved of responsibility, but I really only think ~3 scenarios were likely.
    1.) The command actively ordered/promoted the torture and abuse, and should be held responsible, stripped of command, and disciplined.
    2.) The command was aware of the torture and abuse, and either ignored it or condoned it, and should be held responsible, stripped of command, and disciplined.
    3.) The command did not know what was going on, and was completely incompetent and negligent, and should be held responsible, stripped of command, and disciplined.

  7. says

    I plan to eventually do a review/some commentary on Standard Operating Procedure. It makes it pretty clear that the situation was complicated. Deliberately complicated in order to hide what was going on, and left complicated in order to serve the whitewash that came later. As I predicted in one of my postings about torture, the crimes left a bigger “footprint” than we are expected to believe. Rumsfeld and Sanchez were telling people “you have a chance here to make a difference” regarding getting intelligence from “high value detainees.”

    But, in terms of “complication” it is disclosed that there were multiple commands using the facility: CIA, Iraq Survey Group(!), DIA, FBI, Task Force 121 (Stan McChrystal’s spec ops guys?) – everyone was doing their own thing. There were several prisoners that were abused to death. One of the soldiers found guilty of abuse describes how the CIA and Task Force would bring in prisoners and tell them “don’t log them.” Also, prisoners were moved around and put in better conditions if the Red Cross was coming – a tacit admission that there was abuse going on. The CIA’s activities were not exposed or investigated because they were able to classify it and bury it; they killed at least one prisoner who was beaten to death.

    When the newspapers blew up the story, I wonder if Hersh knew there was more going on, too. It seems like it’d be hard to learn only part of that story.

    When the time for the whitewash came, I’m sure the powers that be were thrilled to find Graner, who appears to be a genuine home-grown sadist, and England, a room temperature intellect – they were perfect to mop up the blame.

    Rumsfeld knew. That asshole’s a control freak’s idea of a control freak. He’s also a very seasoned bureaucrat who knows how not to get his hand caught in the cookie jar; he’s teflon-covered. We know that Bush was informed about torture by Tenet. So I’d say that the entire chain of command: president, secdef, head of FBI, DCI, post commander, on down – should have all been locked up.