Tag Archives: WAR

INDOMITABLE: The Faces of Kobani

Photo by Aviram Valdman, The Tower Magazine
 

All photos by Aviram Valdman
Originally published in The Tower Magazine, November 2014

 

FOR WEEKS, the eyes of the world have turned to the small Syrian border town of Kobani, where Kurdish fighters are making a desperate stand against the barbaric terrorist army of the Islamic State, known to the world as ISIS. Despite the well-known savagery of ISIS, its repeated attempts at breaking through the town’s defenses, and limited aid from Western powers, Kobani has not fallen. Fearing mass slaughter if they are defeated, Kurdish forces have kept up a relentless defense, and just last week Kurdish reinforcements were finally allowed across the nearby Turkish border to join the battle. Many believe that the tide is turning, and ISIS is slowly being pushed back from the beleaguered town.

But this has come at a terrible price. Casualties have been enormous, with Kurdish fighters and civilians killed in battle, slaughtered en masse by their murderous enemy, beheaded by barbaric captors, or forced into exile in order to escape the fighting.

Photographer Aviram Valdman recently saw the horror of the situation firsthand. Refused entrance into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, he found himself in the Turkish town of Suruç. Barely 200 meters from the Syrian border and besieged Kobani, Suruç is now inundated with refugees—somewhere between 150-250,000 men, women, and children who have left everything behind, including loved ones both living and dead.

In Suruç, Valdman witnessed a scene of desperation. The streets are awash with people, living and sleeping wherever they can. Many of them stand on the border, nearly hysterical as they watch and listen to the ongoing battle for their town, wondering if those they left behind will survive.

And the city is in the grip of near-inconceivable fear. Many refugees refused Valdman’s requests for photographs, afraid that, if they are published, they or their loved ones will be murdered by ISIS in retaliation. Many of them have good reason to be afraid, with friends and relatives who have been captured, tortured, or killed by the Islamist terror group.

On the border, Valdman also caught a glimpse of the battle itself. Only a short distance away, bombs explode, gunfire erupts, and clouds of smoke spiral into the not-so distant sky. The meaning of such images is clear: This is not the movies. This is not television. This war is real. ISIS is slaughtering, the Kurds are fighting, refugees are fleeing, and the world is watching.

 
For higher resolution viewing, click individual images. To view the complete set of images, see link to original source materials at bottom of page.
Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Photo: Kobani - Aviram Valdman

Photo: Kobani – Aviram Valdman

 

Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower
Source: http://www.thetower.org/article/photos-faces-of-kobanis-horror-stricken-refugees/

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Stratfor: Terrorism as Theater

Originally published: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014 – 03:55

By Robert D. Kaplan

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

  • We don’t play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
  • America’s mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a “price tag,” to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
  • Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
  • We’re not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
  • We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.

Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age, with all of its visual ramifications.

Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast. Likewise, torture and gruesome death must be communicated to large numbers of people if they are to be effective. Technology, which the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest claim has liberated us with new forms of self-expression, has also brought us back to the worst sorts of barbarism. Communications technology is value neutral, it has no intrinsic moral worth, even as it can at times encourage the most hideous forms of exhibitionism: to wit, the Foley execution.

We are back to a medieval world of theater, in which the audience is global. Theater, when the actors are well-trained, can be among the most powerful and revelatory art forms. And nothing works in theater as much as symbols which the playwright manipulates. A short knife, a Guantanamo jumpsuit, a black-clad executioner with a British accent in the heart of the Middle East, are, taken together, symbols of power, sophistication, and retribution. We mean business. Are you in America capable of taking us on?

It has been said that the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 in Ekaterinburg by Lenin’s new government was a seminal crime: because if the Bolsheviks were willing to execute not only the Czar but his wife and children, too, they were also capable of murdering en masse. Indeed, that crime presaged the horrors to come of Bolshevik rule. The same might be said of the 1958 murder of Iraqi King Faisal II and his family and servants by military coup plotters, and the subsequent mutilation of the body of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said by a Baghdad mob — events that presaged decades of increasingly totalitarian rule, culminating in Saddam Hussein. The theatrical murder of James Foley may appear as singular to some; more likely, it presages something truly terrible unfolding in the postmodern Middle East.

To be sure, the worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it. Something has already emerged from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, even as Libya and Yemen — also in chaos — may be awaiting their own versions of the Islamic State. And remember, above all, what the video communicated was the fact that these people are literally capable of anything.

Terrorism as Theater is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Stratfor: Hellfire, Morality and Strategy

By George Friedman
Founder and Chairman
Stratfor Global Intelligence

 
Airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles have become a matter of serious dispute lately. The controversy focuses on the United States, which has the biggest fleet of these weapons and which employs them more frequently than any other country. On one side of this dispute are those who regard them simply as another weapon of war whose virtue is the precision with which they strike targets. On the other side are those who argue that in general, unmanned aerial vehicles are used to kill specific individuals, frequently civilians, thus denying the targeted individuals their basic right to some form of legal due process.

Let’s begin with the weapons systems, the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. The media call them drones, but they are actually remotely piloted aircraft. Rather than being in the cockpit, the pilot is at a ground station, receiving flight data and visual images from the aircraft and sending command signals back to it via a satellite data link. Numerous advanced systems and technologies work together to make this possible, but it is important to remember that most of these technologies have been around in some form for decades, and the U.S. government first integrated them in the 1990s. The Predator carries two Hellfire missiles — precision-guided munitions that, once locked onto the target by the pilot, guide themselves to the target with a high likelihood of striking it. The larger Reaper carries an even larger payload of ordnance — up to 14 Hellfire missiles or four Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs. Most airstrikes from these aircraft use Hellfire missiles, which cause less collateral damage.

Unlike a manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles can remain in the air for an extended period of time — an important capability for engaging targets that may only present a very narrow target window. This ability to loiter, and then strike quickly when a target presents itself, is what has made these weapons systems preferable to fixed wing aircraft and cruise missiles.

The Argument Against Airstrikes

What makes unmanned aerial vehicle strikes controversial is that they are used to deliberately target specific individuals — in other words, people who are known or suspected, frequently by name, of being actively hostile to the United States or allied governments. This distinguishes unmanned aerial vehicles from most weapons that have been used since the age of explosives began. The modern battlefield — and the ancient as well — has been marked by anonymity. The enemy was not a distinct individual but an army, and the killing of soldiers in an enemy army did not carry with it any sense of personal culpability. In general, no individual soldier was selected for special attention, and his death was not an act of punishment. He was killed because of his membership in an army and not because of any specific action he might have carried out.

Another facet of the controversy is that it is often not clear whether the individuals targeted by these weapons are members of an enemy force. U.S. military or intelligence services reach that conclusion about a target based on intelligence that convinces them of the individual’s membership in a hostile group.

There are those who object to all war and all killing; we are not addressing those issues here. We are addressing the arguments of those who object to this particular sort of killing. The reasoning is that when you are targeting a particular individual based on his relationships, you are introducing the idea of culpability, and that that culpability makes the decision-maker — whoever he is — both judge and executioner, without due process. Those who argue this line also believe that the use of these weapons is a process that is not only given to error but also fundamentally violates principles of human rights and gives the state the power of life and death without oversight. Again excluding absolute pacifists from this discussion, the objection is that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is not so much an act of war as an act of judgment and, as such, violates international law that requires due process for a soldier being judged and executed. To put it simply, the critics regard what they call drone strikes as summary executions, not acts of war.

The Argument for Airstrikes

The counterargument is that the United States is engaged in a unique sort of war. Al Qaeda and the allied groups and sympathetic individuals that comprise the international jihadist movement are global, dispersed and sparse. They are not a hierarchical military organization. Where conventional forces have divisions and battalions, the global jihadist movement consists primarily of individuals who at times group together into distinct regional franchises, small groups and cells, and frequently even these groups are scattered. Their mission is to survive and to carry out acts of violence designed to demoralize the enemy and increase their political influence among the populations they wish to control.

The primary unit is the individual, and the individuals — particularly the commanders — isolate themselves and make themselves as difficult to find as possible. Given their political intentions and resources, sparse forces dispersed without regard to national boundaries use their isolation as the equivalent of technological stealth to make them survivable and able to carefully mount military operations against the enemy at unpredictable times and in unpredictable ways.

The argument for using strikes from unmanned aerial vehicles is that it is not an attack on an individual any more than an artillery barrage that kills a hundred is an attack on each individual. Rather, the jihadist movement presents a unique case in which the individual jihadist is the military unit.

In war, the goal is to render the enemy incapable of resisting through the use of force. In all wars and all militaries, imperfect intelligence, carelessness and sometimes malice have caused military action to strike at innocent people. In World War II, not only did bombing raids designed to attack legitimate military targets kill civilians not engaged in activities supporting the military, mission planners knew that in some cases innocents would be killed. This is true in every military conflict and is accepted as one of the consequences of war.

The argument in favor of using unmanned aerial vehicle strikes is, therefore, that the act of killing the individual is a military necessity dictated by the enemy’s strategy and that it is carried out with the understanding that both intelligence and precision might fail, no matter how much care is taken. This means not only that civilians might be killed in a particular strike but also that the strike might hit the wrong target. The fact that a specific known individual is being targeted does not change the issue from a military matter to a judicial one.

It would seem to me that these strikes do not violate the rules of war and that they require no more legal overview than was given in thousands of bomber raids in World War II. And we should be cautious in invoking international law. The Hague Convention of 1907 states that:

The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:
To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
To carry arms openly; and
To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

The 1949 Geneva Convention states that:

Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) that of carrying arms openly;
(d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Ignoring the question of whether jihadist operations are in accordance with the rules and customs of war, their failure to carry a “fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance” is a violation of both the Hague and Geneva conventions. This means that considerations given to soldiers under the rules of war do not apply to those waging war without insignia.

Open insignia is fundamental to the rules of war. It was instituted after the Franco-Prussian war, when French snipers dressed as civilians fired on Germans. It was viewed that the snipers had endangered civilians because it was a soldier’s right to defend himself and that since they were dressed as civilians, the French snipers — not the Germans — were responsible for the civilian deaths. It follows from this that, to the extent that jihadist militants provide no sign of who they are, they are responsible under international law when civilians are killed because of uncertainty as to who is a soldier and who is not. Thus the onus on ascertaining the nature of the target rests with the United States, but if there is error, the responsibility for that error rests with jihadists for not distinguishing themselves from civilians.

There is of course a greater complexity to this: attacking targets in countries that are not in a state of war with the United States and that have not consented to these attacks. For better or worse, the declaration of war has not been in fashion since World War II. But the jihadist movement has complicated this problem substantially. The jihadists’ strategy is to be dispersed. Part of its strategy is to move from areas where it is under military pressure to places that are more secure. Thus the al Qaeda core group moved its headquarters from Afghanistan to Pakistan. But in truth, jihadists operate wherever military and political advantages take them, from the Maghreb to Mumbai and beyond.

In a method of war where the individual is the prime unit and where lack of identification is a primary defensive method, the conduct of intelligence operations wherever the enemy might be, regardless of borders, follows. So do operations to destroy enemy units — individuals. If a country harbors such individuals knowingly, it is an enemy. If it is incapable of destroying the enemy units, it forfeits its right to claim sovereignty since part of sovereignty is a responsibility to prevent attacks on other countries.

If we simply follow the logic we laid out here, then the critics of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes have a weak case. It is not illegitimate to target individuals in a military force like the jihadist movement, and international law holds them responsible for collateral damage, not the United States. Moreover, respecting national sovereignty requires that a country’s sovereignty be used to halt attacks against countries with which they are not at war. When a country cannot or will not take those steps, and people within their border pose a threat to the United States, the country has no basis for objecting to intelligence operations and airstrikes. The question, of course, is where this ends. Yemen or Mali might be one case, but the logic here does not preclude any country. Indeed, since al Qaeda tried in the past to operate in the United States itself, and its operatives might be in the United States, it logically follows that the United States could use unmanned aerial vehicles domestically as well. Citizenship is likewise no protection from attacks against a force hostile to the United States.

But within the United States, or countries like the United Kingdom, there are many other preferable means to neutralize jihadist threats. When the police or internal security forces can arrest jihadists plotting attacks, there quite simply is no need for airstrikes from unmanned aerial vehicles. They are tools to be used when a government cannot or will not take action to mitigate the threat.

The Strategic Drawback

There are two points I have been driving toward. The first is that the outrage at targeted killing is not, in my view, justified on moral or legal grounds. The second is that in using these techniques, the United States is on a slippery slope because of the basis on which it has chosen to wage war.

The United States has engaged an enemy that is dispersed across the globe. If the strategy is to go wherever the enemy is, then the war is limitless. It is also endless. The power of the jihadist movement is that it is diffuse. It does not need vast armies to be successful. Therefore, the destruction of some of its units will always result in their replacement. Quality might decline for a while but eventually will recover.

The enemy strategy is to draw the United States into an extended conflict that validates its narrative that the United States is permanently at war with Islam. It wants to force the United States to engage in as many countries as possible. From the U.S. point of view, unmanned aerial vehicles are the perfect weapon because they can attack the jihadist command structure without risk to ground forces. From the jihadist point of view as well, unmanned aerial vehicles are the perfect weapon because their efficiency allows the jihadists to lure the United States into other countries and, with sufficient manipulation, can increase the number of innocents who are killed.

In this sort of war, the problem of killing innocents is practical. It undermines the strategic effort. The argument that it is illegal is dubious, and to my mind, so is the argument that it is immoral. The argument that it is ineffective in achieving U.S. strategic goals of eliminating the threat of terrorist actions by jihadists is my point.

Unmanned aerial vehicles provide a highly efficient way to destroy key enemy targets with very little risk to personnel. But they also allow the enemy to draw the United States into additional theaters of operation because the means is so efficient and low cost. However, in the jihadists’ estimate, the political cost to the United States is substantial. The broader the engagement, the greater the perception of U.S. hostility to Islam, the easier the recruitment until the jihadist forces reach a size that can’t be dealt with by isolated airstrikes.

In warfare, enemies will try to get you to strike at what they least mind losing. The case against strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles is not that they are ineffective against specific targets but that the targets are not as vital as the United States thinks. The United States believes that the destruction of the leadership is the most efficient way to destroy the threat of the jihadist movement. In fact it only mitigates the threat while new leadership emerges. The strength of the jihadist movement is that it is global, sparse and dispersed. It does not provide a target whose destruction weakens the movement. However, the jihadist movement’s weakness derives from its strength: It is limited in what it can do and where.

The problem of unmanned aerial vehicles is that they are so effective from the U.S. point of view that they have become the weapon of first resort. Thus, the United States is being drawn into operations in new areas with what appears to be little cost. In the long run, it is not clear that the cost is so little. A military strategy to defeat the jihadists is impossible. At its root, the real struggle against the jihadists is ideological, and that struggle simply cannot be won with Hellfire missiles. A strategy of mitigation using airstrikes is possible, but such a campaign must not become geographically limitless. Unmanned aerial vehicles lead to geographical limitlessness. That is their charm; that is their danger.
 
Hellfire, Morality and Strategy is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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the mortal condition

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Where there is life there may be war,
the ugly, rough and reddish thing
that seems to pause its ruthless rage
just long enough to scrape away
the souls that clot its muddy treads,
so slick, so sick, so raw, so red;
then suddenly it’s time again
to burn the ones who mourn the dead,
who’ve found their peace, or so it’s said.

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Amnesty from Reason

When it comes to the Middle East, Amnesty International appears not only to be promoting freedom from subjugation but from rationality as well.

Leading the group’s charge toward a brave, new, logic-free future (and possible self-inflicted irrelevance) is Ann Harrison, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, who was quoted yesterday on the group’s website: “The UN Security Council should meet urgently to impose an international arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.”

Absent from this simplistic demand is any recognition of the fact that arms smugglers and state sponsors of terror, like Iran, pay little heed to UN Security Council resolutions, let alone to pronouncements from human rights orgs like Amnesty — unless they’re directed against Israel, of course.

The proposal would be somewhat less ludicrous if Israel faced a threat only from Gaza, but militant groups (most of which aspire to the complete erasure of the Jewish state) are active in every country bordering Israel and receive open or covert support from sympathetic sources worldwide.

Perhaps Ms. Harrison and her colleagues are unfamiliar with this famous quote from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:  “If Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.”

When it comes to serious statements, elegant simplicity trumps simplistic superficiality every time.
 


 
For a nuanced view of the potential for peace in the Middle East, see the document A Peace of Jerusalem, an evolving, collaborative proposal that we have been proud to host here since 2009.
 

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Chavez: Prepare for War Against U.S?

Hugo Chavez in painting

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has told his military to prepare for war against the United States.

Citing American use of Colombian military bases for anti-drug interdictions, Chavez asserts that Colombia has now become part of the United States and that American troops may attempt to invade Venezuela.

(Bloomberg) […] “The empire hopes to send them to fight against their Venezuelan and Ecuadorean brothers and other Bolivarian and Alba peoples to crush the Venezuelan revolution, just as they tried to do with the Cuban revolution in April 1961,” Castro wrote in a “reflection” published on the Cubadebate.cu Web site. The Alba bloc is a nine-member group of Latin American countries led by Chavez.

The presence of U.S. troops in Colombia is a “shameless foreign intervention in their internal affairs,” Castro said. The agreement amounts to the U.S.’s “annexation” of the South American country, he said.

A military attack on Venezuela would spread to other countries in the region because Venezuela has “friends” from Mexico to Argentina, Chavez said during the program.

“If the Yankee empire tries to use Colombia to attack Venezuela, the war of 100 years would begin,” he said. “The war would extend to other countries in the continent, from Mexico to Argentina. No one believes that a war against Venezuela would only be in Venezuela.” […]

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Another interesting aspect of Venezuelan politics under Chavez

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Saudis Roll into Yemen

s_6360Saudi forces have crossed the border into northern Yemen in response to Houthi rebel incursions into the kingdom. Debkafile is reporting that a Saudi tank column rolled into Yemeni territory in support of the government in Sanaa, accompanied by Saudi armoured infantry with F-15s providing air support. This move is intended to counter growing IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) influence on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula and forestall a possible northward move by Yemeni rebels.

More details from AFP

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Map: BBC News

The Shi’a Houthi (also referred to as Zaidi or Yazdi) rebels in northern Yemen have been armed and supported by Iran and are thought to be part of a broader, more ambitious Iranian government plan to displace the House of Saud, guardians of the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

 

IranPlanVizReport published a chilling strategic analysis of Iran’s broader regional aspirations in 2005. Though our current timeframe is somewhat later than originally suggested in the report, the methods and conclusions suggested therein remain as relevant today as they were then. (Editor’s note: While we are presently unable to bring you the complete presentation, we did secure permission to post a much-condensed, low-resolution version of the report that was distributed in early 2006.)

Exclusive: Iran’s ChokePoint Strategy

QuickTime Player required. Right-click to download.

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