12 August 2016

Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen

Attached below is a stunning report describing the Saudi slaughter in Yemen and the U.S. culpability in abetting this slaughter.  This story is written by Andrew Cockburn, a good friend (caveat emptor: I am biased).  
Yemen has a population of almost 27 million, making it the seventh largest of the 22 Arab countries, exceeding the population of Syria (23 million).   And as Andrew shows in excruciating detal, the slaughter in Yemen is on a par with that in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.  Yet this catastrophe remains little known to the average American.  Nevertheless, as Andrew also shows, the American government, acting in the name of the American people, is complicit in creating the Yemeni horror — which is certainly closer to a genocide than anything Colonel Qaddafi did -- while American arms manufacturers are reaping billions in profits and bureaucrats and generals are landing lucrative post retirement jobs.
I urge readers to carefully study Andrew's devastating report.
Chuck Spinney 
LETTER FROM WASHINGTON — From the September 2016 issue
Acceptable Losses
Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.
Such was the dire condition of the country before Saudi Arabia unleashed a bombing campaign in March 2015, which has destroyed warehouses, factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, water tanks, gas stations, and bridges, along with miscellaneous targets ranging from donkey carts to wedding parties to archaeological monuments. Thousands of civilians — no one knows how many — have been killed or wounded. Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war, the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on the brink of starvation.

This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs, and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.) U.S. Navy ships aided the blockade. But no one that I talked to in Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far away. “Honestly,” he told me, “I think it’s because Saudi Arabia asked.”  … (continued)

03 August 2016

Killing the Hog (VI)

This is the 8th in a series of postings decrying the Air Force’s plan to kill the low cost, hugely successful, combat-proven A-10 — affectionately known by its pilots and the grunts it supports on the ground as the “Hog.”  The AF game plan has been to replace the A-10 with the hugely expensive, unproven, problem-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The A-10 is the only airplane ever designed specifically for Close Air Support — i.e., supporting ground troops in close combat in time sensitive scenarios, where discrimination between friend and foe is crucially important.  In this mission the A-10 is peerless, but the Air Force does not like the CAS mission, because it subordinates the AF operations to the ground commander’s intentions.  This assignment of control flies in the face of strategic bombing theory, which claims you can achieve victory thru air power alone — and strategic bombing theory, dear reader, is the basic case used to justify the bureaucratic imperatives and huge budgets of an independent Air Force.  
Readers unfamiliar with A-10 and the background issues surrounding the never ending debate to kill the Hog will find earlier postings at these links:
The intervention of Congress temporarily has thwarted the AF game plan by directing the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) to conduct a realistic fly-off and shoot-off between the A-10 and the F-35. The sensible goal of this approach is to use the scientific method to determine empirically which plane is more effective in supporting ground troops in combat.  Currently that test is scheduled for 2018.  That the Air Force was forced by Congress to conduct such a common-sense test is a telling message in itself.  
But there is more.  An A-10/F-35 fly-off in 2018, while well intentioned and entirely appropriate, is also a charade.  The F-35 will not be cleared by 2018 to carry and fire the weapons appropriate for the Close Air Support mission, including its necessary command and control avionics.  Even if one makes the patently absurd assumption that there are no more delays in the problem-plagued F-35 program, the OT&E report evaluating the F-35’s capability to carry and fire these weapons in anything approaching a realistic CAS scenario will not be available until 2021.  How can the F-35 pass a fly-off/shoot-off comparative CAS test against the A-10 before we know what, if any,  CAS capabilities are possessed by the F-35?  To ask such a question is to answer it, so don’t expect any meaningful fly-off/shoot-off to be conducted in 2018.
Nevertheless, this mismatch between the F-35’s availability and capability, has not deterred the AF from its goal of trashing the A-10 — literally.  
Notwithstanding, the speed bump imposed by Congress, as my good friend James Stevenson explains below, the AF is making the retirement of the A-10 in favor of the F-35 inevitable by quietly destroying those A-10s now in long term storage.  There are currently 291 A-10s in active service, with another 99 A-10s in storage in the Arizona desert (including 50 recently modernized A-10Cs with gobs of flight time left on them).  But the Air Force is sending these stored aircraft (including A-10Cs) to the breakers.  In so doing, the AF is deliberately reducing its ability to maintain the existing active A-10 force structure over the long term. 
In short, the quiet AF strategy of destroying perfectly good A-10s guarantees the F-35 will replace the A-10, thereby rendering Congress’s direction for a fly-off/shoot-off irrelevant.  This makes a mockery of the powers assigned to the Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution — a document every member of the AF has sworn unconditionally to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic.
Chuck Spinney
Why Is the U.S. Air Force Dismantling Some of Its Stored A-10s?
Old Warthogs should remain flyable
by JAMES STEVENSON, War is Boring, 3 August 2016
[Re-posted with permission of the author.]
The U.S. Marine Corps, tired of waiting for the continuously-delayed F-35B, has gone to the Arizona boneyard to retrieve some of its preserved, first-edition F-18 Hornets to fulfill its close air support obligation to protect Marines on the ground.
Mindful of the aphorism “willful waste makes woeful want,” the Marine Corps preserved its F-18s in the boneyard just in case it ever needed them again.
Some of the preserved F-18s [in the “boneyard.”]
The U.S. Air Force, not feeling a similar obligation to protect U.S. Army soldiers on the ground and arguing that the F-35A can perform close air support as well as the A-10 Warthog can do, is now claiming it cannot afford the A-10s because it needs the money to support the forthcoming F-35A.
With a mentality reminiscent of Vietnam thinking“We had to destroy the village to protect it!”the Air Force is dismantling some of its stored A-10s.
Stored A-10s at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or AMARG, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Photos via the author
Even the warning from the popular musical Hamilton“Don’t throw away your shot!”is not enough to get the Air Force to reflect on the possibility the thin-skinned F-35A might not be up to the job of getting down low and slow to save soldiers’ lives.
The U.S. Air Force paid Fairchild Republic to build 716 Warthogs and 291 of them were still in service as of June 2016. As of late July, 49 A-10A and 50 A-10Cs were sunbathing at the Arizona boneyard.
The “C” version is an upgrade to the airframe that gives the airplane an additional 8,000 hours of flying time and new avionics. For reasons that remain unclear, the Air Force is destroying stored A-10s, even some of the A-10Cs, many of which still have thousands of hours of life remaining.
I wrote to the Air Force to ask for detailed information about the stored Warthogs. Terry Pittman from AMARG declined to answer all of my questions. “We consider this information to be for official use only,” Pittman wrote.
But Pittman did say that the Air Force has removed parts and engines from many of the stored A-10Cs. “Most of these aircraft have experienced some reclamation of critically-needed parts.” Just 20 A-10Cs in the highest category of preservation are exempt from “cannibalization.”
Why the Air Force decided not to leave their dormant airframes preserved in the Arizona sunshine is difficult to comprehend, as even the Navy’s ancient F-8 Crusaders, which have not flown since the 1980s, have remained intact at Davis-Monthan.
Because the A-10 has specific capabilities for protecting soldiers in combat, it has many defenders within the Air Force. Some brass have attempted to silence their voices.
“If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Maj. Gen. James Post, then vice commander of Air Combat Command, told a group of pilots in January 2015.
This concept of “treason” appears to be part of the Air Force’s culture, an ethos that abhors the more difficult and dangerous mission of providing close air support and brands anyone who disagrees with its doctrine of strategic bombingone that dates back to the 1920sas a traitor.

An A-10C with many of its parts stripped
Way back when the Air Force was known as the Army Air Service, it believed it could identify vital cogs in an enemy’s infrastructure that, once destroyed with with “pinpoint” bombing raids, would compel the enemy to surrender.
That mentality endures. In the mid-1980s, Chuck Spinney, then working in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense, prepared an issue paper that suggested it was time to begin studying a follow-on replacement for the A-10, one with an improved thrust-to-weight ratio for greater acceleration, longer loiter time and smaller size, while still retaining all the benefits of the A-10’s basic designparticularly its powerful gun and high survivability.
The deputy secretary of defense approved the issue paper, but Lt. Gen. Merrill McPeak, a few years from becoming the Air Force’s chief of staff, objected.
Spinney suggested that McPeak go down to Tampa, Florida, where Lt. Gen. Pete Quesada lived in retirement, because Quesada was known for his brilliant tactics supporting troops on the ground during the invasion of France in 1944.
McPeak declined the offer. “I wouldn’t talk to that traitor,” McPeak reportedly said.
“McPeak clearly meant that Quesada’s insistence on subordinating air operationsand a share of the Air Force [bomber] budgetto the needs of Army grunts in a ground battle was equivalent to being a ‘traitor’ to the Air Force’s ideology of victory thru air power alone, via its theory of strategic bombing,” Spinney told me.
“The thrust of McPeak’s point was philosophically identical to that made by Gen. Post when he used the word ‘treason’ almost 30 years later to characterize any Air Force officer’s verbal support of the A-10 to anyone in Congress,” Spinney added.
As the A-10 continues to attack ISIS in the Middle East, it strains credulity that the Air Force would consider destroying the newer, upgraded A-10C. But culture is a strong, and even when faced with a threat like ISIS, the moral imperative to reduce the probability of Army soldier dying from lack of close air support is not enough to make the Air Force put American lives before its doctrine.
This follows because the Air Force still believes it can identify the vital centers whose destruction will cause an enemy to lose its will and capacity to wage war. Of course, if that were true, the Army would not have needed to invade France on June 6, 1944.
James Perry Stevenson is the former editor of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s Topgun Journal and the author of The $5 Billion Misunderstanding and The Pentagon Paradox.

02 August 2016

Post-Coup Turkey

Attached is an important report of the emerging situation in post-coup Turkey.  It is written by British journalist Patrick Cockburn, arguably the finest reporter now covering the Middle East.  
Chuck Spinney

Turkey, once the great hope of the Middle East, is left weak and unstable
The destabilisation of Turkey is good news for Isis as Turkish security organisations devote their efforts to hunting down Gulenists
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 29 July 2016
[Re-posted with permission of the author]
Coup attempt and purge are tearing Turkey apart. The Turkish armed forces, for long the backbone of the state, are in a state of turmoil. Some 40 per cent of its generals and admirals have been detained or dismissed, including senior army commanders. 
They are suspected of launching the abortive military takeover on 15-16 July, which left at least 246 people dead, saw parliament and various security headquarters bombed and a near successful bid to kill or capture President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 
In response, Erdogan and his government are carrying out a purge of everybody from soldiers to teachers connected in any way to the movement of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen accused of organising the coup attempt. 
Among media outlets closed in the past few days are 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels – including a children’s channel – and 23 radio stations. People fearful of being implicated in the plot have been hurriedly disposing of Gulenist books and papers by burning them, throwing it into rivers or stuffing them into rubbish bins. 
Five years ago, Turkey looked like the most stable and successful country in the Middle East – an example that its neighbours might like to follow. But, instead of Iraq and Syria becoming more like Turkey, it has become more like them in terms of political, ethnic and sectarian division.
Erdogan’s personal authority is being enhanced by his bravery and vigour in defeating the coup attempt and by the removal of remaining obstacles to his rule. But the failed putsch was also a sign that Turkey – a nation of 80 million people with an army 600,000-strong – is becoming weaker and more unstable. 
Its leaders will be absorbed in the immediate future in conducting an internal purge and deciding who is loyal and who is not. While this is going on, the country faces pressures on many fronts, notably the war with Kurdish guerrillas in the south east, terror attacks by the Islamic State and diplomatic isolation stemming from disastrous Turkish involvement in the war in Syria.
The destabilisation of Turkey is good news for Isis because Turkish security organisations, never very assiduous in pursuing salafi-jihadi rebels, will be devoting most of their efforts to hunting down Gulenists. Both Isis and other al-Qaeda-type movements like al-Nusra Front will benefit from the anti-American atmosphere in Turkey, where most believe that the US supported the coup attempt.
The Turkish armed forces used to be seen as a guarantee of Turkey’s stability, inside and outside the country. But the failed coup saw it break apart in a manner that will be very difficult to reverse. No less than 149 out of a total of 358 generals and admirals have been detained or dishonourably discharged. Those arrested include the army commander who was fighting the Kurdish insurrection in south east Turkey and the former chief of staff of the air force.
Many Turks have taken time to wake up to the seriousness of what has happened. But it is becoming clear that the attempted putsch was not just the work of a small clique of dissatisfied officers inside the armed forces; it was rather the product of a vast conspiracy to take over the Turkish state that was decades in the making and might well have succeeded. 
At the height of the uprising, the plotters had captured the army chief of staff and the commanders of land, sea and air forces.They were able to do so through the connivance of guards, private secretaries and aides who occupied crucial posts. 
The interior minister complains that he knew nothing about the coup bid until a very late stage because the intelligence arm reporting to him was manned by coup supporters. Erdogan gave a near comical account of how the first inkling he had that anything was amiss came between 4pm and 4.30pm on the day of the coup attempt from his brother-in-law, who had seen soldiers blocking off streets in Istanbul. He then spent four hours vainly trying to contact the head of the national intelligence agency, the chief of staff and the prime minister, none of whom could be found. Erdogan apparently escaped from his holiday hotel on the Aegean with 45 minutes to spare before the arrival of an elite squad of soldiers with orders to seize or kill him. 
There is little question left that the followers of Fethullah Gulen were behind the coup attempt, despite his repeated denials. “I don’t have any doubt that the brain and backbone of the coup were the Gulenists,” says Kadri Gursel, usually a critic of the government. He adds that he is astonished by the degree to which the Gulenists were able to infiltrate and subvert the armed forces, judiciary and civil service. The closest analogy to recent events, he says, is in the famous 1950s film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which aliens take over an American town without anybody noticing until it is almost too late.
The coup attempt was so unexpected and unprecedented that Turkey today is full of people asking questions about their future, and that of their country – questions to which there are no clear answers. 
Will Erdogan exploit the opportunity offered by the failed coup to demonise all opponents and not just Gulenists as terrorists? Some 15,000 people have been detained of whom 10,000 are soldiers. The presidential guard has been stood down. One third of the judiciary has been sacked. So far most of the journalists and media outlets targeted have some connection with the Gulenists, but few believe that the clamp down on dissent will end there. 
“Erdogan’s lust for power is too great for him show restraint in stifling opposition in general,” predicts one intellectual in Istanbul who, like many interviewed for this article, did not want his name published. When one small circulation satirical magazine published a cartoon mildly critical of the government last week, police went from shop-to-shop confiscating copies.
For the moment, Erdogan is benefiting from a degree of national solidarity against the conspirators. Many Turks (and not just his supporters) criticise foreign governments and media for making only a token condemnations of the coup attempt before demanding restraint in conduct of the purge. They point out that, if the coup had more successful, Turkey would have faced a full-blown military dictatorship or a civil war, or both. Erdogan said in an interview that foreign leaders who now counsel moderation would have danced for joy if he had been killed by the conspirators.
Sabiha Senyucel, the research director of the Public Policy and Democracy Studies think tank in Istanbul, says that the evening of the coup attempt “was the worst evening of my life”. She complains that foreign commentators did not take on board that “this was a battle between a democratically elected government and a military coup”.
She has co-authored a report citing biased foreign reporting hostile to Erdogan and only mildly critical of the coup-makers. She quotes a tweet from an MSNBC reporter at the height of the coup attempt, saying that “a US military source tells NBC News that Erdogan, refused landing rights in Istanbul, is reported to be seeking asylum in Germany”.
Turkey is deeply divided between those who adore and those who hate Erdogan. Senyucel says that “there are two parts of society that live side by side but have no contact with each other”.
But, even so, it is difficult to find anybody on the left or right who does not suspect that at some level the US was complicit in the coup attempt. Erdogan is probably convinced of this himself, despite US denials, and this will shape his foreign policy in future. 
“The lip-service support Erdogan got from Western states during and immediately after the coup attempt shows his international isolation,” said one observer. The Turkish leader is off to see Vladimir Putin on 9 August, though it is doubtful if an alliance with Russia and Iran is really an alternative to Turkey’s long-standing membership of Nato. 
Erdogan can claim that the alternative to him is a bloody-minded collection of brigadier generals who showed no restraint in killing civilians and bombing parliament. But the strength and reputation of the Turkish state is being damaged by revelations about the degree to which it has been systematically colonised since the 1980s by members of a secret society. 
Gulenist candidates for jobs in the Foreign Ministry were supplied with the answers to questions before they took exams, regardless of their abilities. The diplomatic service – once highly regarded internationally – received an influx of monoglot Turkish-speaking diplomats, according to the Foreign Minister. “The state is collapsing,” says one commentator – but adds that much will depend on what Erdogan will do next.
In the past he has shown a pragmatic as well as a Messianic strain, accompanied by an unceasing appetite for political combat and more power. His meeting last week with other party leaders, with the notable exception of the Kurds, may be a sign that he will be forced to ally himself with the secularists. He will need to replace the ousted Gulenist officers in the armed forces and many of these will secularist victims of past purges by the Gulenists.
Turkey is paying a heavy price for Erdogan’s past alliances and misalliances. Many chickens are coming home to roost. 
The Gulenists were able to penetrate the armed forces and state institution so easily because between 2002 and 2013 they were closely allied him and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in opposition to the secularists. Isis has been able to set up a network of cells in Turkey because, until recently, the Turkish security forces turned a blind eye to salafi-jihadis using Turkey as a rear base for the war in Syria. Erdogan arguably resumed confrontation and war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as an electoral ploy to garner nationalist support after his failure to win the general election on 7 June last year. 
Erdogan thrives on crisis and confrontation, of which the failed coup is the latest example. But a state of permanent crisis is weakening and destabilising Turkey at a moment when the rest of the region is gripped by war.