Congress Bucks Air Force Again, Keeps A-10 Flying

The A-10 close support aircraft, better known as the “Warthog,” is one of the most prized planes for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The jet — which has the ability to fly low to the ground, loiter over a target for a considerable period of time, take hits from enemy ground fire and coordinate rescue missions for downed airmen — is one of the more versatile in the United States Air Force. Countless lives were undoubtably saved thanks to the unique capabilities of the A-10, particularly in Afghanistan where troops were often stationed in hard-to-reach, rural, mountainous terrain close to or surrounded by insurgent territory.

Washington’s spending problems have gotten so bad, however, that the Air Force is attempting to get rid of the A-10 fleet altogether. Read more “Congress Bucks Air Force Again, Keeps A-10 Flying”

Data Surveillance Debate Heats Up Again in Senate

Last fall, reformers of the surveillance system run by America’s National Security Agency were dealt a tough blow. After extensive negotiations between lawmakers, concessions granted from the intelligence community, agreement with telecommunications companies and a political environment in Washington that was conducive to eliminating the bulk collection of telephone metadata by the government, reform advocates were unable to defeat a Republican filibuster to proceed in the Senate. The USA Freedom Act — which would have transferred the storage of metadata from the government to private telecoms — was just two votes shy of the sixty votes needed to break the filibuster.

Undeterred, those pushing for changes in how the NSA picks up data on ordinary Americans are trying to get the issue back on the agenda. Read more “Data Surveillance Debate Heats Up Again in Senate”

America Declares End of Afghanistan War

American president Barack Obama called it an historic moment and commanders running the war referred to it as the final step on the road to Afghanistan’s full independence.

On Wednesday, the thirteen-year operation that the United States called Operation Enduring Freedom passed into history, replaced with a mission that consists purely of advising and assisting Afghan security forces and launching occasional counterterrorism raids on Al Qaeda or Taliban targets.

“Today’s ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country,” President Obama wrote in a statement. Read more “America Declares End of Afghanistan War”

Despite Bad Press, CIA Still Popular with Americans

On January 27, 1975, when it had emerged that the intelligence community was spying on American citizens at home and destabilizing foreign governments abroad, the United States Senate established what would later be referred to as the Church Committee. The special investigative body, led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, would delve into every dark corner of the intelligence business with three objectives: shedding light on abuses that were committed in the past, preventing other abuses from occurring and generating a movement that would coerce the government into reorganizing America’s intelligence agencies.

By the time the Church Committee concluded its report in May the following year — a report aided by eight hundred witnesses, millions of previously classified documents and hundreds of hearings — the findings were so shocking to ordinary Americans that President Gerald R. Ford issued a wide-ranging executive order to change the way the intelligence community did its work. The Central Intelligence Agency was no longer authorized to plan and conduct assassinations of political leaders in other countries; the Federal Bureau of Investigation was prohibited from opening the mail of ordinary Americans to monitor their activity; planting government agents in protest movements to influence their behavior was now considered taboo; and electronic surveillance against Americans could only occur with the explicit approval of the attorney general.

Congress also used the Church Committee report as justification for creating a permanent select committee overseeing the activities of the intelligence community, a degree of legislative involvement that, at the time, was opposed by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency as overt interference in their affairs.

Nearly forty years later, the CIA is once again in Congress’ crosshairs. After a five-year, $40 million dollar study reviewing the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program of suspected terrorists — a program that President Barack Obama abolished during his first week in office — the CIA leadership is experiencing perhaps its worst period of negative press since the mid 1970s. Read more “Despite Bad Press, CIA Still Popular with Americans”

Director Defends CIA Against Senate Torture Claims

After two straight days of pummeling by human rights advocates, Senate Democrats and most of the American media, CIA director John Brennan took to the airwaves on Thursday to respond to a much-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report about the agency’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program under the George W. Bush administration.

The roughly five-hundred page summary of the document, which into the thousands of pages, paints the picture of a rogue intelligence agency using techniques that most Americans, indeed most people around the world, would consider torture: dousing detainees with cold water, using waterboarding during interrogation sessions and forcing prisoners to stay awake for almost a week. The Senate report makes the case that the CIA not only lied to Congress about the use of these methods but provided misleading information to the Bush White House and the Justice Department, both about the intelligence that was derived from the enhanced interrogations and the quality of that intelligence.

John Brennan, a CIA veteran of over three decades, spoke to reporters on Thursday and provided a staunch defense of the agency’s conduct during the program’s seven years. Read more “Director Defends CIA Against Senate Torture Claims”

With Mubarak Acquitted, Egypt’s Arab Spring Is Over

Nearly four years ago, on January 25, 2011, millions of brave and patriotic Egyptians took over the streets of Cairo and demanded a change in the way they were governed. “The people want the fall of the regime” was heard around the country. It became the slogan of those wanting a future free of lengthy and arbitrary prison terms, unaccountable and corrupt government and a security state that administered the most brutal of beatings to even the slightest form of dissent.

The revolution culminated in the resignation of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak who was pushed aside by his own army after eighteen days of protests and after 29 years in power.

Today, the political climate couldn’t be more different. Egypt, for all intents and purposes, has regressed back in time to the pre-Tahrir Square period. What passes for democracy and human rights in Egypt is a joke to even Cairo’s strongest allies in the West. The current Egyptian government, voted in by over 90 percent of Egyptian voters in January, boils down to a mix of military men and former Mubarak advisors, all of whom share the goal of cracking down on any challenge to their authority. Read more “With Mubarak Acquitted, Egypt’s Arab Spring Is Over”

Afghanistan Finally Signs Security Agreement

Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has managed to be more productive in one day than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, was for months. After nearly a year of stalling by Karzai’s administration over concerns about excessive civilian casualties, Afghanistan and the United States finally ratified a Bilateral Security Agreement on Tuesday — a document that took Afghan and American negotiators a year to draft and one that was the subject of so much confusion and frustration for the Obama Administration this year.

Rather than signing the agreement, Karzai had pledged to leave the task to his successor. So when Ghani and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, formed a unity government after a disputed presidential election this summer, the new administration in Kabul signed the security document on its first official day of business. Read more “Afghanistan Finally Signs Security Agreement”

Israel Retaliates After Gaza Strikes, Escalation Unlikely

In November 2012, the last time the Israeli Defense Forces had to conduct a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip, the campaign against the militant group Hamas lasted eight long days. When all was said and done, over one hundred Palestinians were dead, Gaza’s already warscarred population was forced to again rebuild their lives while Israelis had been reminded that the horrors of indiscriminate terrorism were still lurking around the corner.

One and a half years later, Israel and Hamas are locked in another confrontation along the Gaza border, with hundreds of rockets flying out of the coastal enclave and hundreds of airstrikes conducted by the Israeli army in response. The shaky ceasefire that both sides signed in November 2012 has been shattered with a familiar cycle of rocket attacks and airstrikes that Israelis and Palestinians have grown to expect.

It is a pattern that has become all too familiar to citizens of Israel and Gaza who simply want to live their lives in a relative degree of peace. That is, an incident involving civilians from one side sparks a response from the other, only to escalate into a full-blown conflagration. After several days of intense fire, everyone involved begins to slow down, reassesses their assumptions and rethinks the direction they wish to go in, until finally exploring an end to hostilities. This is how Operation Cast Lead ended in 2009 and how Operation Pillar of Defense ended in 2012 — and it is how the latest flareup in violence is likely to stop. How long it will take to reach that point, however, is far from certain. Read more “Israel Retaliates After Gaza Strikes, Escalation Unlikely”

Islamist Militants Take Mosul, Discrediting Iraq’s Government

Even before the Tuesday morning assault into Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, by hundreds of militants affiliated to Al Qaeda, the Iraqi security forces were stretched thin across the country.

Last week, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the breakaway Al Qaeda faction that has solidified a presence in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, swept into Samarra in a renewed attempt to spark widespread sectarian conflict. While the Iraqi army was quickly dispatched to the city and managed to reclaim neighborhoods previously taken by ISIS fighters, the operation sent shockwaves in the hearts of Iraq’s political officials and once again raised the question of whether the country’s security is at all better since American troops left in 2011.

In yet another reminder of how potent militancy in Iraq has become — and how ineffectual the Iraqi government’s response to terrorist attacks has been — the Sunni extremist group took a large swath of Mosul with little to no army resistance. Banks were looted of what are rumored to be millions of dollars in stolen funds, military checkpoints and police stations were taken, civilians were forced to flee to the Kurdish regions of Iraq and the city’s residents awoke to new overlords. Read more “Islamist Militants Take Mosul, Discrediting Iraq’s Government”

Iraqi Election Unlikely to Effect Major Political Change

For the first time since American troops withdrew from Iraq, the country voted on Wednesday to elect a new parliament. With an estimated twenty million Iraqis registered to vote, millions were expected to trek to their nearest polling station to cast their ballots. Yet many were as concerned about the threat of violence as they might have been excited about having a say in their country’s political future.

Monday’s early balloting was an uninspiring indication of things to come. Members of Iraq’s security forces were allowed to vote two days earlier than the general population. Twenty-seven of those soldiers and policemen did not return to their families: coordinated attacks from eight suicide bombers struck polling places in Baghdad and elsewhere. Thirty Iraqis were killed in the northern city of Khanaqin when a suicide bomber blended in with a crowd of Kurds watching a video of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who is in Germany recuperating from a stroke. By the end of the day, 57 people were dead. Twelve more were killed on Tuesday. Read more “Iraqi Election Unlikely to Effect Major Political Change”